A new Porcupine Tree album; stranger things have happened in the past couple of years, but I suspect not many people thought this would. It has been thirteen years since they delivered what we thought was their final album, the ambitious yet underwhelming The Incident, and all band members have moved on to a number of other projects. Closure / Continuation (C/C) seems like an apt name, but what can the trio come up with here?
Trio? Yes. For this, their eleventh album, the band consists of Steven Wilson, Gavin Harrison, and Richard Barbieri. Gone is Colin Edwin, apparently (according to Wilson) because he never reached out to say hello over the past ten years. Anyhow, on C/C Wilson handles bass guitar duties in passable fashion, but of course with a much different style than Edwin.
Ironically (or perhaps out of spite), album opener “Harridan” kicks off with a somewhat funky bass riff. Wilson and Harrison wrote the song on drums and bass, and it’s a great way to start the album. The drums come in on 5/4 time and it truly sounds like a Porcupine Tree song. It feels like the band is picking up even before they left off, as “Harridan” is closer in quality to the material from Fear of a Blank Planet.
The second track, “Of the New Day,” is a quiet and morose song, and also “feels” like a Porcupine Tree number. Acoustic guitars and synth pads lead the way, with a laid-back rhythm and Wilson’s trademark vocals. “Rats Return” gives us a stop-and-start harder rocking prog song with creepy verses. All told it’s a pretty strong and typical Porcupine Tree opening trio of songs.
Other notable standout tracks include “Herd Culling” and “Chimera’s Wreck.” The former is a menacing track with an apocalyptic feel to it. It’s the only song here written by the entire band, and it deals with today’s pervading paranoia. The second is the longest song, almost ten minutes, with a slow and suspenseful build taking the first four. A cool, dirty bass riff leads into the more up-tempo part of the song, and Wilson drops an excellent guitar solo as well, showing the band can still kick a decent amount of butt when it wants to.
The clear-headed amongst us expecting a monumental album loaded with memorable material might be disappointed, though, as there are certainly some repetitive and less than inspiring tracks to be found. The band’s propensity for ordering the songs in interesting – slow – interesting – slow fashion has us losing focus, and not every track features compelling work.
As far as progressive rock goes, Wilson built his reputation on slick pop-oriented harmonies and arrangements, stellar musicianship, and near-perfect production. C/C has these qualities to a degree, especially the musicianship and production, but the songs aren’t all quite there. Harrison of course is a joy to listen to, and nobody uses more tasteful and song-appropriate sounds than Barbieri, but in the past Wilson’s slick arrangements (instrumental and vocal) often carried tracks. Here they aren’t quite as strong.
There’s definitely some strong material here, with highs greater than The Incident and lows not quite as low. Filler exists, although ardent fans will likely think everything is perfect. Closure / Continuation is a step up in quality from The Incident, but it doesn’t compare to the six stellar albums that came before that. If Porcupine Tree records any more new material (indications are not favorable), this is a great step in the right direction.
(released June 24, 2022 on Music for Nations/Megaforce Records)
Heavy Music HQ Rating:
Listen To Porcupine Tree – “Herd Culling”