It has been a while since Porcupine Tree became one of the standards of progressive rock. It’s a title fully deserved by Steven Wilson’s compositional genius, taking influence from the great prog bands of the 70s and mixing it with distorted guitar riffs, managing to create an innovative soundscape. Wilson himself considers his music very simple, and states that the complexity is in the atmosphere and arrangements that he injects into his songs; that may well be the case, but Pink Floyd too made relatively simple music with details and arrangements that made it brilliant.
With two albums released in just over a month during 2007, one from his Blackfield side-project, and one from Porcupine Tree, Steven Wilson continued to demonstrate his genius. Fear Of A Blank Planet became Porcupine Tree’s best selling album to date, until surpassed by The Incident in 2010. With a formula consisting of soft, simple passages fused with heavy guitar riffs, psychedelic keyboards and Portnoy-influenced drumming, along with Wilson’s ingenious lyrics about youth in a post-modern society, teamed with excellent album production, it’s no wonder this six-track album became a success. The music videos are something else too, visually narrating what Steven Wilson et al want to tell us with their lyrics; apathy, a young man with a gun, an iPod destroying itself, depressed teenagers, pills, fights with parents, pornography, mobile phones and everything that is still part of today’s society.
The album starts very much along the lines of Deadwing (2005) with the tougher, more disturbing side of Porcupine Tree. However, the real jewel of the crown in this album is its third song, “Anesthetize”. Standing at just under 18 minutes length, it possesses an unparalleled composition featuring Alex Lifeson from Rush, which takes us through the music evolution that Porcupine Tree have experienced over time, from environmental and dark moments to riffs with complicated time signatures, once again reminding us of Dream Theater.
Another important contribution is given by Robert Fripp from King Crimson, one of Porcupine Tree’s greatest influences, in “Way Out Of Here”. The music varies from calm and melodic, but still tense and melancholic, to electronic loops and heavier hard rock. If you want to listen to something in addition to this album, Porcupine Tree also released an EP the same year, Nil Recurring, which serves as an extension of Fear Of A Blank Planet and contains four songs written during its production.
I was lucky enough to listen to this album live in its entirety and literally everyone looked absolutely stunned by the time it was over. It’s always very risky to make statements such as this, but I’d go as far as to say this album was probably one of the best prog rock records of the decade – and for me, undoubtedly the best record of the year. It may be excessive to label it as Wilson’s best ever record, but it certainly lives up to other wonders of his discography, such as The Sky Moves Sideways or Stupid Dream; truly spectacular from start to finish.