When I first heard Porcupine Tree’s Stupid Dream over 20 years ago, I was instantly impressed. The band seemed to have the perfect blend of melodicism, melancholy, and malaise that made them a joy for my young soul to revel in. Since then, I’ve considered myself a fan of Porcupine Tree and Wilson’s various other projects, and have eagerly anticipated every release. But, I have to qualify the word “fan” a bit.
I’m a fan in the sense that the albums I connected with and love are still in regular rotation, and I’ll always have an affection for the band, but I don’t love every release equally, and they sort of lost me near the end. I consider Stupid Dream, In Absentia, and Deadwing to be some of my favorite albums. But for whatever reason, Fear of a Blank Planet didn’t grab me (with the exception of “Anesthitize”, which I think might be one of the best progressive rock tracks of the 00s), and I had an even harder time connecting with The Incident. This lack of interest didn’t make the band seem any less interesting or important to me; I just started to notice that I wasn’t feeling the same excitement that I did for prior releases. Taste is ephemeral. Interestingly enough, as Wilson’s solo career began to pick up, I found myself connecting with that much more than I had with prior albums. I loved The Raven That Refused to Sing, Hand.Cannot.Erase, and To The Bone as much as I loved those Porcupine Tree albums back in the 90s and early 00s. So when I saw Porcupine Tree was reuniting for a new album, I was genuinely curious to hear whether it would be, for lack of a better frame of discussion, more pop-oriented like the Wilson I have been enjoying lately, or more prog-oriented like the band that lost me some 14 years ago.
As a brief aside, Being a prog fan for over 20 years means I’ve been delighted to see these relatively obscure progressive acts like Dream Theater and Porcupine Tree gain some proper appraisals. Dream Theater, the band my friends teased me for liking, is winning Grammy awards. I am thrilled to see prog on the charts. So, I think if I were Wilson, and I saw that there was genuine interest in prior project that was now gaining the respect that I always felt it deserved, I’d definitely capitalize on that. Especially if I had, like they said, a hard drive full of nearly complete songs that had been sitting on my computer for years.
Now that I’ve framed my personal history with the band and rambled a bit, I can actually start talking about my thoughts regarding Closure/Continuation. I’ve had this album for a few months, and I’ve listened to it numerous times. Do I feel the same excitement every time I hear it that I felt way back when, hearing Stupid Dream or In Absentia the first time? Probably not. I hear some excellent tracks with interesting compositional choices, and some absolutely stellar playing. But, I don’t feel the particular affection I have had for other Porcupine Tree/Wilson releases. I’ve tried to figure out why, and I honestly am not sure what I’m missing.
That’s not to say I don’t like the album. I enjoyed the bass-driven opener “Harridan”, and loved the strong, catchy chorus. Tracks like “Of The New Day” and “Dignity”, like warm blankets, remind me of the atmosphere-laden Porcupine Tree tracks from that late 90s/early 00s era I loved so much. Certain tracks like “Rats Return” and “Herd Culling”, in the same vein as “Slave Called Shiver”, “Halo”, and “Strip the Soul”, tap into that sinister and dark side of Porcupine Tree’s musical world. The album, as it was released, is a great collection of tunes, definitely worthy of the Porcupine Tree title. They just didn’t grab me like I may have hoped. No strong feelings either way.
Their faces in this picture are probably after they hear me say, carefully and diplomatically, “Don’t worry Porcupine Tree, it’s totally not you. It’s me.”
The bonus tracks, however, ended up being my favorite tracks on the record. “Population Three” is a riff-filled, complex, “Wedding Nails”-like track that would be a joy to see live. The forlorn “Never Have” is beautiful and melodic and almost reminiscent of early Blackfield, and “Love In The Past Tense” struck me as a strong contender for a leading single, with lovely melodies and a very cool ending. If I put on my producer hat, I can totally see why these tracks are not on the main album, as they seem to carry a very different vibe. But, if this iteration of Porcupine Tree is, in fact, a continuation (see what I did there? eh?) I hope they continue to channel that equal blend of melodicism and complexity that drew me to the band initially.
As I really consider my feelings, I am realizing that the more pop-oriented tracks were the ones I loved more, and the longer, more “progressive” tracks, were ones that didn’t grab me. I should probably just fold and sell this website to a true prog rock fan, shouldn’t I? In all, it’s a good album, one that I enjoy listening to but probably won’t be playing on repeat. It could be that these songs lack the immediacy and cohesion that other records I like have, which could be easily attributed to the fact that it is a collection of previously unheard songs, released over countless remote and live writing sessions over a decade and a half. But who knows.
Art can sometimes feel like a joyful, fun process or more like a or purge- something that needs to be released so the artists can move on with their lives, and based on the tentativeness of the title, I’m not completely sure which one this album is. The whole Closure/Continuation name and concept seems to be that the band itself is unsure of its own future, but not particularly worried either way. In interviews, it seems like they love the songs and are looking forward to tour with them, but are not sure how things will feel among the three of them, and would be fine if this was the last record and tour as a band. So, either continuation, or proper closure. Perhaps a fan’s ideal scenario would be that, in playing shows and touring, they’ll reconnect with the magic they had felt many years prior, and will return to the writing room with ideas for a new record. But, with so many unknowns in the world already, we will all just wait and see.