I've been hoodwinked. Hornswaggled, if you will. Lied to for years. About what, you ask? Well, I'll tell you, you nosey sons of bitches. Porcupine Tree. For years I've had people tell me "Dude, (yes, dude is their preferred nomenclature) you need to check out Porcupine Tree. I know you hate prog, but check these guys out". Prog. Pfffft.
You stupid, ignorant bastards. You call them prog and expect me to want to "check them out?" Fools. Prog is for arrogant scenesters. Prog is for the twee and lovers thereof. Prog is the musical juxtaposition of the self-indulgent and ostentatious. Prog is stupid and wrong and stupid.
Well, I stand before you, humbled. I stand before you, my elitest ignorance exposed for the world to see. I was wrong. Dead wrong. With Fear of a Blank Planet, Porcupine Tree have created quite possibly one of the best albums of the year. In my sorry-ass defense, I had been misled by those who would simplify the band's sound so as to pigeonhole them in the most dreaded of genres (okay, so emo is more dreaded but you get my meaning). True, in researching the band's earlier music they might have been more apt to fall into the trappings of the genre, but Fear of a Blank Planet transcends the jokes, the stigma, and all the preconceived notions that cynical, overweight (it's glandular) pricks like myself ever had about the band.
The album opener and also the title track should have the listener convinced within the first two of the seven-and-a-half minutes comprising it, that simple categorization is for the weak and lazy. More "rocking' than expected, it grabs you with an immediate energy and an almost angry quality i.e. "Your mouth should be boarded up - Talking all day with nothing to say - Your shallow proclamations - All misinformation" that at the same time will have you all-a-quiver with anticipation of what's to come.
Next, we have "My Ashes", probably the closest to the scarlet "P" that you'll find on the album is still a highly palatable and earnest song about wishes and regret. This leads into what is undoubtedly meant to be the albums' centerpiece. At almost eighteen minutes, "Anesthetize" is essentially a triptych of very different songs that segue as one through the common theme of numbness and apathy. This is then followed by "Sentimental", a soft, gentle song that is exactly as the title suggests, but somehow manages to convey the emotion without the listener manipulation commonly found in this type of song.
In researching the ol' interweb, it would appear that the band has a rare respect from other music communities like the metal-crowd. An effect bolstered, it would seem by singer Steven Wilson's production work with Opeth. Even with those credentials, Porcupine Tree seems to be getting the crossover appeal hushed-whispers of admiration usually reserved for the likes of Radiohead.
To the uninitiated, the overall album stats can be scary. Almost an hour. Only six songs. Guest appearances by both Robert Fripp and Alex Lifeson. If I glanced at it in a record store, my thought would be (in a gruff but not altogether unpleasing tone) "Jesus. It's gotta be like a Chaucer poem put to music for an hour. Sounds excruciating. Fuck that shit." But I implore you, gentle readers - do not dismiss so easily. Put this album on. Close the curtains. Light some candles. Get naked. Whatever you sick fucks do to get in the chill zone, just do it and give this album a chance. Fear of a Blank Planet is one of the best ways (aurally, at least) that you'll find to spend an hour this year.