Porcupine Tree - In Absentia

Year of Release: 2002
Label: Lava/Atlantic
Catalog Number: 83604-2
Format: CD
Total Time: 68:18:00

Porcupine Tree have gained the respect they have by creating intelligent rock that glides down as smooth as silk (most of the time) only to reveal its true taste once inside ? sardonic, sarcastic, caustic, cautionary, gloomy, groovy, and zillion other flavours at once tart and sweet, bitter and bland. Take a track like "Blackest Eyes," which opens P-Tree's latest, In Absentia. Here you have a slick and catchy piece with the blackest of themes ? you find yourself singing along and being "creeped out" at the same time. It rings eerily true, given (for example) the number of abducted and murdered young girls this past year (though has the number gone up or just the reporting of such incidents?). And rather than being a commentary on how awful the world is becoming, we see it from the inside. And the cheerful way Wilson sings this makes it all the creepier than if he had just been editorializing.

There's irony in "The Sound Of Muzak," in the lyric "The music of the future / will not entertain?" That irony is this ? Wilson doesn't write music to "entertain." Well, at least not to merely entertain. If he did, his lyrics would be vacuous odes to pre-teen urges with all the nutrition of cotton candy and just about as much substance. Rather, the whole "entertainment" value in Porcupine Tree's music is all part of the irony. Wilson writes about the tortured, fragile, unsettled folks that get marginalized by a society ? at least Western society ? that values the beautiful and rich. If you don't have the right looks or can't afford to buy the right looks, you don't really matter. You might be thinking this is changing, with the so called "geeks" being in positions of great power ? think Bill Gates, for example. But, hasn't he "bought" his "beautiful person" status by building a financial empire on the backs of others? And yes, the irony in that is that I'm writing this review, and that anti-Bill statement, using Microsoft Word and a Microsoft keyboard (and Microsoft mouse) on a Microsoft Windows ME machine. So, yes, we "unbeautiful" people do benefit. But what benefit, beyond titillation (though not for me), do we get from Pamela Anderson? Britney Spears? Justin Timberlake (just for the sake of fairness)? Nothing. Well, merely entertainment. And, music should be more than mere entertainment, given the role that music has played in various cultures ? rituals, ceremonies, etc. Nowadays, music is a commodity, a thing, not an expression, and art form. (Well, outside of progressive, perhaps, one of the few remaining bastions of artful expression).

If Steven Wilson had been alive about 200 years ago, he probably would have "run" with Keats, Lord Byron, and the other Romantic poets. Keats in particular was not untroubled, being a man preoccupied with thoughts of his own death, and fears he would die before he had exhausted all that he wanted to write?to accomplish. Wilson takes the same kind of fragile souls and tells their story ? maybe his story ? in song. Only, these individuals are much darker than Keats' self-portraits, tormented not by poor physical health (Keats had tuberculosis) but by their own inner demons. Or rather, controlled by their inner demons, as Wilson's characters don't seem tortured by the choices they've made ("Prodigal" might be the exception). He wraps it all in melodies, sometimes quite beautifully rendered. Wilson's vocal delivery and guitar lines represent the two sides of the characters he writes about or portrays ? where one is fragile, the other is muscular. Even when the tones of his guitar are light and airy as in "Lips Of Ashes." This is stunningly beautiful track... gossamer-like and breathy. This is followed by the taut, tense "The Sound Of Musak." We get this kind of dichotomy in "Gravity Eyelids" as well. It starts out very understated, new branch Gavin Harrison's percussion pulsing like a slightly irregular heartbeat. Before too long, it explodes into surging guitars, heavy drumming, and keyboard effects that arc across the rhythm.

Aiding Wilson in this is Richard Barbieri on keyboards, Colin Edwin on bass and Harrison on drums. This quartet is tight and so laid back in their approach, even when they are playing it hard and big, that they make it all seem so effortless. That harder edge is certainly an element that Wilson absorbed from having worked with dark metal band Opeth. Of course, darkness in subject matter isn't new to P-Tree, but the heavier approach. Fans who discovered the band with Stupid Dream won't feel lost, as there is a direct through line from some of the feel of that album to this.

The high-octane, energized-throughout rocker is the instrumental "Wedding Nails" (co-written by Wilson and Barbieri). There's a rawness and slight industrial feel to this piece at times. It lends itself well to being used as the music behind an action sequence ? and was in an episode of the short-lived Birds Of Prey series.

It's hard to not want to comment on every track, as there is surely something that can be said about each one. "Prodigal" is a melding of the 70s, surf music and the Beatles, and yet that doesn't really tell you anything? it's ELOish at times? "3" is another glimmering track that starts off with another pulsing drum rhythm over which a laid back guitar groove is applied before it just floats away, undulating in a holding pattern, before launching itself into flight ? "Strip The Soul" is another pulsating, funky, driving piece that, like "Blackest Eyes" and elsewhere in the album, reflects some very dark themes.

The latter part of the lyric in "The Sound Of Muzak" reads "it's only meant to repress / and neutralize your brain." As long as artists like Porcupine Tree keep making music that makes you think, at least there's hope that that will turn out to be wrong. Of course, there would have to be a profound and fundamental change in the way music makes it way from creation to reception. Ah, but now I'm editorializing again? go listen to In Absentia for yourself?

Blackest Eyes (4:23) / Trains (5:56) / Lips Of Ashes (4:39) / The Sound Of Muzak (4:59) / Gravity Eyelids (7:56) / Wedding Nails (6:33) / Prodigal (5:32) / 3 (5:25) / The Creator Has A Mastertape (5:21) / Heartattack In A Layby (4:15) / Strip The Soul (7:12) / Collapse The Light Into Earth (5:54)

Richard Barbieri ? keyboards
Colin Edwin ? bass
Gavin Harrison ? drums
Steven Wilson ? guitars, keyboards, vocals

Additional musicians: John Wesley ? guitars & vocals
Aviv Geffen ? background vocals

On The Sunday Of Life... (1991)
Voyage 34 (1992)
Up The Downstair (1993)
Voyage 34: Remixes (1993)
Staircase Infinities (1994)
Moonloop E.P. (1994)
The Sky Moves Sideways (1995)
Signify (1996)
Coma Divine - Recorded Live In Rome (1997)
Stupid Dream (1999)
Voyage 34 - The Complete Trip (2000/2004/2005
'4 Chords That Made A Million' (2000)
Lightbulb Sun (2000/2008)
'Shesmovedon' (2000)
Lightbulb Sun - Special Edition (2001)
Recordings (2001)
Stars Die: The Delerium Years 1991 - 1997(2002/2005)
Metanoia (2002)
In Absentia (2002)
In Absentia (European version) (2003)
Warszawa (2005)
Deadwing (2005)
Porcupine Tree (2006)
Fear Of A Blank Planet (2007)
Nil Recurring (2008)
The Incident (2009)

Arriving Somewhere... (DVD) (2006)

Genre: Progressive Rock

Origin UK

Added: January 12th 2003
Reviewer: Stephanie Sollow
Artist website: www.porcupinetree.com
Hits: 1337
Language: english


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