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Old 07-01-2009, 11:23 PM   #1 (permalink)
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Default Porcupine Tree - In Absentia

I suspect this review will be a bit controversial; I hope it will provoke some discussion. It's an interesting record, to be sure.



Artist: Porcupine Tree
Album: In Absentia
Year: 2002
Genre: Rock
Styles: Progressive rock, alternative rock
Rating: 5.5/10

English art-rockers Porcupine Tree have been going for over 20 years now, ever since Steven Wilson imagined them as a joke (a fake long-lost psychedelic band of the '60s) in the late 1980s. Beginning as a solo project, Porcupine Tree became a full-fledged band during the 1990s, even as it developed a unique sound drawing on modern rock, psychedelia, pop, and the more atmospheric side of prog--Genesis, Tangerine Dream, and especially Pink Floyd. The band endured in obscurity for many years before finding a wide audience among proggers and metalheads in the early 2000s, thanks to tours with Yes and Dream Theater and production work by Steven Wilson on the Opeth classic Blackwater Park. In Absentia was their breakthrough album, and while its sales have since been surpassed by its two follow-ups, it remains the Porcupine Tree album with the greatest reputation among fans. However, unlike most, I do not feel that it is Steven Wilson's best work. I have written this review to articulate why.

Admittedly, this album has its merits. I know it's a cliche, but I really do think "Trains" is probably the best pop song Steven Wilson has ever written, or at least the best pop song he's written with Porcupine Tree. The arrangements are ornate, with a passage of involved vocal counterpoint and some vintage keyboards deep in the mix, and the closing riff has a prog grandiosity, but otherwise it is basically just folky rock, simple and honest and emotional. It is one of the few Porcupine Tree songs that does not have a real weak moment, but is consistently rich and enjoyable throughout.

The album as a whole isn't nearly as consistent, however. This is considered the album where Porcupine Tree started to "go metal", and while the guitar riffs are really in a modern hard rock/post-grunge style rather than a metal one, it is true that there is far more heavy material on this album than its pop-oriented predecessor Lightbulb Sun. Songs like "Strip the Soul" and "The Creator Has a Mastertape" are nothing more than bland alt-rock, more layered than your typical modern-rock radio track maybe but no better--far worse, in fact, because they lack the hooks.

The more experimental pieces here--"Lips of Ashes", "Gravity Eyelids", and ".3" are weak. The first two come across as mood pieces, the third is pleasant and all but nothing to get excited about. They're much too safe, too polished and pretty, not adventurous enough to be the avant-garde they want to be. The instrumental outing "Wedding Nails" attempts to be discordant and ugly, but fails, mainly due to the super-clean production and uptight performances. The album is at its best when it is in pop mode. "Trains" is great, as stated earlier; the opener "Blackest Eyes" is solid and catchy, with a beautiful mix of acoustic and electric guitars, although unfortunately it is marred by one very terrible line ("It's so erotic when your makeup runs"--no Porcupine Tree album is complete without Wilson singing something cringeworthy); "The Sound of Muzak" has annoying lyrics about the record industry (most social commentary in rock is crap in general, and Wilson, a dubious lyricist as he is, does not belong to the small cache of songwriters who can do it well), but is otherwise almost as compelling as "Trains", with truly incredible harmonies in the chorus. "Collapse the Light Into Earth" is in my opinion too sentimental (if Keane had done it instead it wouldn't be taken seriously) and has been since by surpassed by "Lazarus" on Deadwing, but is nice enough.

Overall I feel that this is a deeply flawed release, and I think it's unfortunate that many do not venture further back into this band's back catalogue. I much more heartily recommend its underrated (and recently reissued) predecessor Lightbulb Sun, a far more convincing pop/rock affair.

Last edited by Megadead2; 07-02-2009 at 01:45 PM.
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Old 07-02-2009, 10:41 AM   #2 (permalink)
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This review is so full of wrong.
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Old 07-02-2009, 10:49 AM   #3 (permalink)
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Lightbulb Sun is nowhere near as good as In Absentia. I wouldn't consider In Absentia their best though. Fear of a Blank Planet is just so damn good.
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Old 07-02-2009, 11:03 AM   #4 (permalink)
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Originally Posted by boo boo View Post
This review is so full of wrong.
haha i was waiting for you to respond


but yeah tbh, this is my favorite album of theirs, and i've heard basically their entire studio discography(woo torrents).

I do agree that Blackest Eyes and Trains are the best songs on the album, hell, Trains is one of the best songs i've ever heard, but it seems like you're missing the real beauty of the rest of the album. idk, it seems like you're falling back on a bit of hate for the band to realize that these are really good songs, even if it's not like some of their previous works. It looks like you're really overanalyzing the songs instead of actually sitting back and enjoying them. i.e., I think Wedding Nails isn't trying to be "discordant and ugly" as much as it's just trying to pump you up and kick you in the face.

i also feel that this has much more going for it as far as instrumentally and in terms of singability/catchyness. but then again, i'm a rocker/metalhead mainly, and i can understand if you don't enjoy this as much as it's pop oriented predecessor.
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Last edited by Antonio; 07-02-2009 at 11:23 AM.
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Old 07-02-2009, 11:17 AM   #5 (permalink)
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The live version of Trains on Arriving Somewhere is godly. The only difference is that he moves the capo to the second fret instead of the fifth. There are like a couple other things, but the main thing being that. They don't seem to move around much live, but they certainly show passion.
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Old 07-02-2009, 11:20 AM   #6 (permalink)
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I think this is just a throwback to the old proggie tradition of lambasting whatever a band's most accessible work is.

To me In Absentia is a very consistant, almost flawless album. I wouldn't call Wilson an amazing lyricist but I do love the stories he tells in a lot of his songs.

I'd rate the songs in order.

1. Trains
2. Prodigal
3. Wedding Nails
4. Lips of Ashes
5. 3
6. Gravity Eyelids
7. Blackest Eyes
8. Heartattack by a Lay By
9. Strip the Soul
10. Sound of Muzak
11. Collapse the Night into Earth
12. The Creator has a Mastertape

The last 3 aren't as remarkable as the rest, but I wouldn't say any of the tracks are bad.

Also, "bland alt rock" is a term I hate hearing, prog fans seem to use it obsessively. Strip the Soul is a 7 minute song that certainly doesn't follow the traditional pop structure and has long build ups and instrumental interludes, it's not like the radio is really logjammed with that kinda thing.
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Old 07-02-2009, 12:45 PM   #7 (permalink)
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Quote:
1. Trains
2. Prodigal
3. Wedding Nails
4. Lips of Ashes
5. 3
6. Gravity Eyelids
7. Blackest Eyes
8. Heartattack by a Lay By
9. Strip the Soul
10. Sound of Muzak
11. Collapse the Night into Earth
12. The Creator has a Mastertape
for srs? It's one of the best songs on there IMO.

It's probably my favorite album, but Lightbubl Sun is close. I would rate the tracks like this:

1.Trains
2.Wedding Nails
3.3
4.The Creator Has A Mastertape
5.Gravity eyelides
6.Sound of Muzak
7.Prodigal
8.Blackest Eyes
9.Lips of ashes
10.Heart Attack by a lay by
11.Collapse The Night In The Earth
12.Strip The Soul

4-6 are interchangeable, but you get the gist.
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Last edited by FaSho; 07-02-2009 at 01:01 PM.
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Old 07-02-2009, 01:12 PM   #8 (permalink)
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Originally Posted by Inuzuka Skysword View Post
Lightbulb Sun is nowhere near as good as In Absentia. I wouldn't consider In Absentia their best though. Fear of a Blank Planet is just so damn good.
I actually like FoaBP even less than I like In Absentia, but that's for a different review.

Quote:
but yeah tbh, this is my favorite album of theirs, and i've heard basically their entire studio discography(woo torrents). I do agree that Blackest Eyes and Trains are the best songs on the album, hell, Trains is one of the best songs i've ever heard, but it seems like you're missing the real beauty of the rest of the album. idk, it seems like you're falling back on a bit of hate for the band to realize that these are really good songs, even if it's not like some of their previous works. It looks like you're really overanalyzing the songs instead of actually sitting back and enjoying them. i.e., I think Wedding Nails isn't trying to be "discordant and ugly" as much as it's just trying to pump you up and kick you in the face.
I have no hate for the band, in fact I also have their discography, but I do find all of their albums really frustrating because they contain material I love and cherish, but tend to not live up to that promise all the way through. I've had this CD for years and years and I've tried to tell myself I love it, but if I'm honest with myself there's only three or four songs on it that I actually listen to. A lot of people do tell me that I "overanalyze" but the thing is I can't help it, I try to engage music on every possible. I just don't think songs like "Strip the Soul" or "Lips of Ashes" are all that good, I feel like I could be listening to something else when they're on. I don't think "Wedding Nails" does as good a job of pumping me and kicking me in the face as it could, not in a world where bands like Shellac exist; it feels lukewarm, dull.

Quote:
i also feel that this has much more going for it as far as instrumentally and in terms of singability/catchyness. but then again, i'm a rocker/metalhead mainly, and i can understand if you don't enjoy this as much as it's pop oriented predecessor.
Personally I find Lightbulb Sun much catchier. Every song on that album has some sort of rich memorable melody.

Quote:
I think this is just a throwback to the old proggie tradition of lambasting whatever a band's most accessible work is.
Eh? I prefer Lightbulb Sun...and I dig mainstream dance-pop as well.

Quote:
Also, "bland alt rock" is a term I hate hearing, prog fans seem to use it obsessively. Strip the Soul is a 7 minute song that certainly doesn't follow the traditional pop structure and has long build ups and instrumental interludes, it's not like the radio is really logjammed with that kinda thing.
Realize that it's the "bland" and not the "alt rock" I take issue with (I'm a huge fan of Radiohead and Tool among others). Sure it's not a pop song structurally (maybe it would be better if it was, it might be more concise, I don't know) but it just isn't very memorable, or enjoyable for me to listen to. I also find your ranking of the songs completely bizarre except for #1, but different strokes I guess.
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Old 07-02-2009, 01:42 PM   #9 (permalink)
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I think it's a solid review. The Porcupine Tree tracks I like are REALLY REALLY good but every album does have filler on and Blackest Eyes is bland boring alt rock that could be written by a multitude of bands.
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Old 07-02-2009, 02:23 PM   #10 (permalink)
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I like Blackest Eyes but it's often one of the first songs people hear from this band, and it can give people the wrong impression.

Anyway. I like In Absentia more than Blank Planet. It's my personal favorite but Lightbulb Sun is up there too.
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