Porcupine Tree - In Absentia [European Version]

Year of Release: 2002
Label: Lava/Atlantic
Catalog Number: 83604-2 / 7567 93163-2
Format: CD
Total Time: 68:18:00

I'm sure everyone was very much interested to hear what Steve Wilson and his band Porcupine Tree had got up their sleeves on their very first output for a major label. Could they top the quality of Lightbulb Sun was anyone's guess, whilst the new album would also be the first recorded output with new drummer Gavin Harrison. To make things even more surreal than they already are, the album In Absentia was already released in America long before anyone in Europe had the slightest idea there was a new PT album in the pipeline! With PT fans being a very impatient lot no doubt thousands of import copies have by now been sold. So in a way to compensate the situation, the record company in Europe thought it wouldn't be such a bad idea to release a European version of the new album by adding an extra disc. Sadly the extra disc is not a full album and only contains three tracks. Recorded during the same sessions, though, we can easily say that the European version of In Absentia is (as yet) the most complete, so try to flock your US version as soon as you can and get your filthy paws onto this little treasure.

With the song "Wedding Nails" being performed on the new [and now defunct] series Birds Of Prey and the video for "Strip The Soul" having been MTV2 material, it finally looks like the band is about to receive the recognition it truly deserves. With around twenty releases out in as little as nine years Steve Wilson has walked away from his Pink Floyd shadow as much as possible in order to introduce his love for metal not only by producing the likes of Opeth, but also by adding a fair slice of heavy guitars into his brand new songs. The PT recipe however still contains a fair amount of acoustic passages and truly wonderful harmonies to make it unique and acceptable both for the diehard progressive rock fan as well as the metal oriented rocker.

Listening to the opening track "Blackest Eyes" has you wonder for less than a minute whether at all this really is Porcupine Tree. By adding strong metal oriented guitar riffs to the experimental intro backed by newcomer Gavin Harrison's powerful drumming this is indeed a brand new band we hear, a band which fuses the more acoustic approach with contemporary elements before arriving at a very catchy part. The song is also released as a single and if radio stations still have people with ears working for them then this should get heavy rotation even if there are some Zeppelin licks to be discovered. For my own taste Richard Barbieri could rock that organ much more towards the end, however it pleases me to hear how strong the band opens this album. "Trains" continues focussing on acoustic guitar interspersed with psychedelic touches before evolving towards latter-day Marillion material. Great guitar solo, too, by the way and what an original way to introduce the folky sound of the banjo before the song ends in a bombastic way!

Although the band surely wants to reach a younger audience by adding heavy guitars to their music, PT nevertheless remains loyal to their soft arrangements as is apparent during "Lips Of Ashes." Here the guys deliver kind of a Beach Boys meet CSNY song where vocal duties are concerned. On "The Sound Of Muzak," Wilson teams up with his Blackfield partner Aviv Geffen who delivers some backing vocals together with John Wesley. Over the years Wilson has proved to the world that he's superb at approaching the surreal from a musical perspective. "Gravity Eyelids" is a superb example of that, maybe enabling Richard Barbieri to deliver sounds which get the closest to his Japan heritage than ever before. But that's before the song changes towards a double bass rhythm as if hell breaks loose. And Barbieri shares the spotlights with "Wedding Nails" which he co-wrote with Wilson. This is some "ass-kicking" material powered by a ravenous guitar leading towards an experimental section. The next song, "Prodigal," probably gets the closest to the Pink Floyd comparaison mainly because of the Gilmour-like slide guitar although the song evolves towards authentic Yes in the end.

Mainly instrumental, "3" clearly shows what Porcupine Tree is capable of, once it's given the chance to work with a full orchestra. Arranged by XTC's Dave Gregory, the violins, violas and celli do an excellent job here, expanding the scope of the song as it passes by. Time to illustrate the quality of bass player Colin Edwin during "The Creator Has A Mastertape" which has Colin repeat the same line over and over again backing Steve's masked voice. Throughout his career Wilson has often opted to record his voice through a selection of devices which he does again here making sure his guitar also sounds very distorted and aggressive. I also very much like Gavin's drumming here indeed illustrating what a great talent he is. The quality and diversity of Porcupine Tree is constantly illustrated by balancing hard edged outbursts with soft melodic parts. A nice resting point comes with the soft floating sounds of "Heartattack In A Lay By" which contains some nice acoustic guitar and wonderful vocal harmonies. Surely the vocals on this album are outstanding and another great asset to the ever growing and expanding PT sound!

"Strip The Soul" has been chosen to be edited as a single but on the full album you do get the full version. No doubt this song sounds very much "now" as it once again contains some loud guitars in places, back to back with atmospheric guitars "twanging" their way through the song as if Duane Eddy is visiting! This song has bottle and delivers the same kind of panache we got to know and love from bands such as Soundgarden, Pearl Jam, Kyuss. Whilst "Collapse The Light Into Earth" begins with a rather rudimentary piano rubbing shoulders with the pure demo approach, the song evolves into a bombastic manifesto backed by an outstanding classical arrangement by Dave Gregory. Pop the full CD into your PC and you get to see the (weird) video for "Strip The Soul" as well.

The In Absentia sessions certainly were very productive because more material was recorded than what was issued on the original, US release of the album. Maybe some extra songs were recorded to be featured on singles pulled from the album? Regardless of the reason, two of these tracks now turn up on the bonus disc that adorns this European release. "Drown With Me" once again is built upon the combination of acoustic and electric guitars which kind of form the spine of the song. Lovely harmonies and a great melodic hook turn the composition in yet another candidate for a possible single choice. Although written by Wilson and ex-drummer Chris Maitland, the percussion during "Chloroform" is performed by newcomer Gavin Harrison. It concerns a rather ambient sounding song with soft percussion being the main ingredient, backed by vocals that sometimes sound like breathing turned up to very loud volume. Spacey sounds and Fender Rhodes bring this rather special song to a close. The bonus disc ends with the video edit of "Strip The Soul" so here you get the music without the visuals.

In a way, it remains a sad affair that Porcupine Tree fans in Europe had to wait well over three months before they could spend their hard earned cash onto the band's latest effort. As Steve pointed out, some diehard fans simply couldn't wait and bought an import copy. The others receive this 2CD edition for the long wait. Personally, I'm not sure whether at all this is enough as compensation. Luckily, from a musical perspective In Absentia contains enough beauty and anger all rolled into one. Surely the band is ready for bigger and better things and no doubt Lava records will help them every inch of the way. All we, the fans, surely want to see happen is that the four lads remain loyal to their fanbase and also stick to their logical musical evolution in the same way In Absentia is the logical follow-up to Lightbulb Sun. With one step at a time on the ladder of recognition surely more treats are coming our way as time passes by.

Disc One: 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)

Drown with me (5:22) / Chloroform (7:15) / Strip The Soul (Video Edit) (3:35)

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: February 1st 2003
Reviewer: John "Bobo" Bollenberg

Artist website: www.porcupinetree.com
Hits: 1130
Language: english


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