Released: June 24, 2022
- Steven Wilson: Guitar, bass, vocals, piano
- Gavin Harrison: drums
- Richard Barbieri: keyboards, synths
- Of the New Day
- Rats Return
- Herd Culling
- Walk the Plank
- Chimera’s Wreck
- Population Three
- Never Have
- Love in the Past Tense
It is fair to say that, amongst a certain fan base, the most highly anticipated album of 2022 has been the new one from a newly resurrected Porcupine Tree. It is a slightly revised PT, however: for … reasons (given in various interviews from both sides if you are interested), Colin Edwin is not part of this version of the band, so Steven Wilson takes care of the bass playing. In recent interviews Wilson has also insisted that he never explicitly claimed that PT had ceased operations, and while this may be technically true, he spent a lot of the intervening years avoiding and redirecting questions about the band’s potential future, so the claim comes across as somewhat disingenuous, at best.
At any rate, huge excitement, hopeful caution, and downright cynicism accompanied the announcement of a new Porcupine Tree album and tour. Still, whatever one’s opinion about the reasons for the reunion, one thing was true — the singles that were released in the months preceding the album were not disappointing.
Porcupine Tree is a band I’ve been listening to for about a dozen or so years, having come across them just about the time The Incident came out; after that they called it quits. Or went on hiatus. Or something. I like them well enough: I think at least one of their albums is among the best in my entire collection, but I also find a couple of their albums unlistenable — in short, they are a pretty good band but not among my favourites. Interestingly, while I have reviewed several Steven Wilson solo efforts for my blog, I’ve not done any PT albums. So this will be a first.
Closure/Continuation consists of a main release of seven songs, and a bonus version with three extra tracks. The album is a good length (I always prefer an album that leaves you wanting more over one that makes you wonder when it will end), it has a well-organized mix of heavy tracks and more sedate balladry, and it probably goes without saying that the production values are top-notch.
I quite like this album — it is better than I expected, given my general opinion of Steven Wilson’s solo albums (competently done but mostly uninteresting). It sounds like what it is: a new version of Porcupine Tree that channels what is arguably the band’s best (or at least most popular) era: the In Absentia/Deadwing years, with nods to Wilson’s early solo work before he wandered off into Pop Hell. There are delicate melodies interspersed with charging heaviness, ethereal lightness and pounding density — any SW/PT fans know this well.
The first single released, and the first track on the album, is “Harridan” — it is a solid, old-style heavy PT rocker that chugs relentlessly along, and we know right out of the gate that this is a Gavin Harrison vehicle. However, I consider it the weakest track on the album; at least, it doesn’t really hold up to repeated plays. This is followed by what was the second single: “On the New Day”, a slow ballady number that evokes Steven Wilson solo more than Porcupine Tree, but really — at some level that is a distinction without a difference. The album follows this pattern: heavy complex tracks interspersed with slower songs, and they manage to maintain my interest for the entire album.
My favourite song at the moment is “Herd Culling”. It is the only one written by all three members, and it sounds (to my ears) the most like classic Porcupine Tree: cohesive and tight, all members contributing equally, and it is a very heavy ass-kicker. The other tracks, as good as they are, tend to feature whoever wrote them: Wilson and Harrison on the heavy ones, Wilson and Barbieri on the slower numbers — but on “Herd Culling” there is true unity among the band members.
There are three bonus tracks, a hard instrumental (“Population Three”) that doesn’t really seem to go anywhere, “Never Have” which I know is pleasant but is otherwise unmemorable, and “Love in the Past Tense”, which sounds like a Deadwing outtake.
Overall it is a pretty good album, and certainly familiar territory — there is no doubt who we are listening to, and I like it a lot better than any of Wilson’s solo albums save the first. On the other hand, there are no really great tracks here — nothing like “Anesthetize” or “Arriving Somewhere” or “Trains”. Closure/Continuation is a solid, competent release, reminiscent of the Porcupine Tree of old, but without bringing anything new to the table. It is not the best album I’ve heard this year, but it is likely to make the top 10. I guess we’ll have to wait and see which half of the title pertains to the future of the outfit.