Fear of a Blank Planet is the third album of what I would qualify as the more "Metal" phase of the band. It is also the most progressive of the three, featuring an Epic lenght track "Anesthetize", clocking at nearly eighteen minutes.
Fear of a Blank Planet's story line is about the troubled period of adolescence. Drugs, video games, sex, violence and suicide are all ingredients of the lyrics. Needless to say that the music is not on the light and poppy side. The mood is quite dark and heavy with some melancholic passages blended in.
This latest offering by Porcupine Tree is a great album. The three longest tracks, "Fear of a Blank Planet", "Anesthetize" and "Sleep Together" are the highlights, but there is not a weak moment on this CD. Is this the band's best album to date? hard to say, because they've put out so many great ones. Certainly Fear of a Blank Planet makes me wonder how Steven Wison manages to constantly raise the bar on every new project he works on.
My highest recommendation indeed.
Why add a review about a CD countless critics had commented upon? Simply because, in my opinion, it is a true masterpiece. Porcupine Tree is a group which is for me of the same stature as are the giants of progressive rock such as King Crimson, Yes, Genesis and Gentle Giant. Fear of a Blank Planet have captured my imagination and my listening time as no other work of musical art has in the last decades.
This masterpiece is a work of art, an outstanding achievement that engender awe and where every component blends in perfectly well. The theme, the lyrics, the music, the composition, the overall emotional effect; it is a truly complete musical experience. I'm still fascinated each time I listen to it. And it has been going on like that for the last few months. I confess that I'm addicted to this CD. But, let's not forget that musical beauty is in the ears of the beholder. I'm conscious that some reviewers had almost hated it or have found numerous [frivolous?] flaws. I strongly disagree with them. It is to my mind, from now on, one of the best progressive rock recordings of all time!
First of all, it is a brilliant concept album about the sad and troubling experience many youths lived today. That it had produced, on many reviewers, such diverse and polemic reactions is a testimony to its accuracy and artistic value as a statement about our occidental children. Evidently, it is not all youths that are described here by Wilson, but a fair portion of them as far as my own experience shows me. This is the first layer of the masterpiece, the framework. The next layer is the music. It is a mature musical work. The group has superbly blended and mixed his roots and influences here to achieve greatness. Yes, it is reminiscent of Deadwing or In Abstentia by its more metal passages, but also Lightbulb Sun or Metanoia by its progressive construction. Each group has its signature and cannot completely reinvent itself when composing. Instead, they offer us an evolution, a progress, a more enjoyable opus than their previous one. Some reviewers had said that their music is not a revolution, so what? The choice of musical styles had been arranged to convey perfectly well the framework and the moods it depicts. They have attained a new stage of mastery and the guests they invited are like the exact spices needed to season this feast. Each member of the group contributes excellent musicianship: Steve Wilson as the conductor/singer (and also great composer, guitarist, lyricist and producer), Richard Barbieri superb and mood enhancing keyboards, Colin Edwin effective bass, and last, but certainly not least, one of the best progressive drummer of all time Gavin Harrison. Since Fear of a Blank Planet had received hundreds of reviews and a Grammy nomination, my comments will only reflect what seems to be a general perception. Furthermore, I'm also conscious that my writing or my musical knowledge is not up to the magnificence of this CD.
The title song Fear of a Blank Planet with its mesmerizing, steady beat and great guitar begins en force this CD. The first sound of what seems to be a computer connecting to the internet followed by the guitar, then the drum open a soundscape both heavy and to the point. Its alternance of quiet dream like moments and superb rock guitar is a magnificent introduction to what will follow, a roller coaster of emotions where forceful burst are followed by waves of quietness and dreamlike apathy. The lyrics X-Box is a god to me, A finger on the switch, My mother is a bitch, My father gave up ever trying to talk to me really captured the zeitgeist. The chorus is also very catchy. The heaviness of the guitar is in phase with the situation it describes, where drugs are not a choice but a fact of youths life. The modern world seems to like his children quiet and legally stoned. Consequently, they don't do drugs for fun, but to escape boredom or just to endure the day!
My Ashes is a superb ballad. It is like a transition from the title track to the epic Anesthetise. I loved it very much. Anesthetise has been saluted as a new high in progressive rock. I agree with that statement wholeheartedly. It is for me on the same footing as Supper's Ready by Genesis or Awaken by Yes. It deployed itself in three distinct parts with a great solo by Alex Lifeson of Rush. I can only say experience it!
Sentimental, such emotion! Another ballad which is haunting me, since I first heard it. So sad, but at the same time so beautiful. It is a concentrate of pure nostalgia and melancholy. From the first piano notes to the ambient finish, it is a precious gem song. Wilson shows masterfully how to render musically the idea and emotion behind the term sentimental in the adolescent mind. As always, the chorus put a spell on me. Sullen and bored the kids stay And in this way wish away each day. Its not just lyrics, its poetry. Never want to be old, but life goes on. Adolescence is but a passage, so what kind of adults will they be? Each generation asks that question and each generation is surprised!
Way Out of Here, true to the concept, we advance in the gloominess of today's youth who cannot see the way out of their misery. With Robert Fripp soundscapes this song is another highlight of this project.
Sleep Together is the ultimate escape drug. Fuck friend for relief. It closes nicely the gloom circle.
What I find exceptional in this production is its incredible appeal. This opus is not only for the aficionados of progressive rock but for all lovers of rock music. I may be mistaken, but I also perceived the members of the group as concerned parents trying to make sense of the situation. Maybe I'm biased as I am myself a parent. I would like to add that of all the CDs I have heard in 2007, only the debut album of Days Between Stations came near that achievement. Finally, I know that I will enjoy Fear of a Blank Planet for many many years to come.