Fear of a Blank Planet review

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Fear of a Blank Planet review

Post: # 102010Post yesireebob
Sun Apr 29, 2007 9:03 pm

I picked up FOABP the day it came out, and have listened to it at least three times a day ever since. This is AMAZING, I do believe this is the best thing PT has done, and I don't say that lightly. I'm still absorbing it, but it seems they have at last successfully combined the more ambient, spacier vibe of Sky Moves Sideways and Signify with the heavier sounds of In Absentia and Deadwing. I actually got it at Best Buy, on the Atlantic label, and then a few days later I found the special edition with the DVD-A disc at a different Best Buy. And get this -- it is #9 for music at Amazon.com. Not bad for a band that gets absolutely no mainstream radio play whatsoever!

Here is the DPRP dual review, they gave it a 9.5 and a 10 out of 10.

Ed Sander's Review
In 2006 Porcupine Tree returned to an old habit they used to have in the nineties: trying out new material live in front of an audience. In the past, this method has brought the band some of their best material (e.g. the full-length version of Even Less), but this time they took it to the extreme: they played the full new album as the first half of their gigs. Unfortunately I was travelling through Asia at the time and therefore had to depend on other people's feedback and the descriptions in the fine PT fanzine Carbon Nation. Two thing were clear: it was good and it was heavy. This sounded like a continuation of the approach the band had taken with In Absentia and Deadwing. Fortunately the album has turned out to be much, much more than that.

The band had gone through great efforts to keep people from recording these try-out performances but anxious as I was to hear the new material I managed to track down a recording of a show. Although it was an audience recording it was very obvious that the band were really onto something here. The live try-out were definitely paying off, like they had done for bands like Pink Floyd (who used to play material from Meddle, Dark Side, Wish You Were Here and Animals live for months before actually laying the tracks down). The actual album differs very little from the live performances, with the exception of 'track 5', which was replaced by a different song (Way Out Of Here).

The album mirrors Deadwing in many ways. It starts with an in-you-face opener with a remarkable vocal and lyrical style (this time actually reminding me of some of Wilson's experiments on his debut On The Sunday Of Life, e.g. The Nostalgia Factory or Linton Samuel Dawson), continues with a lovely ballad, has a big mofo epic in the middle followed by some tracks that experiment with various moods. In places the album is indeed the heaviest thing the band has ever done, but as we've come to know the band in tracks like Blackest Eyes, the heaviness is always functional, never too offensive and serves to emphasize the quieter parts that follow or precede it. The whole album has just one moment (a few bars in the middle of Anesthetize) that goes just a tad too far for my own musical taste. The rest of the time the heaviness works splendidly and the aggressive dirty riffs help to stress the point Steve Wilson is trying to make with the concept.

Talking about the concept, it's one of the reasons why this album feels a lot more coherent than Deadwing. Of course on Deadwing some of the songs were based on a film script Steve Wilson had written, but the album still felt like a collection of loose songs. Partly because the actual story was never very clear to the listener. On this new album Steve was inspired by the book 'Lunar Park' by Brett Easton Ellis, specifically the character of a ten year old boy. It's not a story in the sense of The Wall or Brave but all of the songs touch upon a certain theme, like for instance Dark Side Of The Moon does, or some of the songs on In Absentia. The album paints a very bleak picture of the world of teenagers who just play computer games, hang around in malls, play with guns and are kept sedated by prescription drugs. The album opener Fear Of A Blank Planet serves as a sort of wrap-up of this concept and all of the tracks that follow elaborate on it. For me personally this makes the album a lot more interesting, and being the father of a 13 year old some of it is all too shockingly familiar ...

Stylistically the title track and album opener is comparable to the title track of Deadwing and sets the mood for what's to come. It's remarkable how the combination of Steve Wilson's voice with the heavy riffs creates the perfect balance. I can imagine the same song being performed with a 'grunter', which would immediately destroy the piece. Wilson's love for dissonant guitar solo's is again displayed during the instrumental section of the song. This time it is less offensive than on Deadwing though and the song ends in the characteristic dreamy style, setting the right mood for the wonderfully emotional My Ashes which Wilson and Barbieri co-wrote. It starts with the organ sound we know from Revenant, continues with piano and acoustic guitar before massive strings of the London Session Orchestra come in, followed by the rhythm section of drums and bass.

The album has been described as a 'continuous piece of music' but don't expect the six tracks to flow into each other seamlessly. Such a flow can however be detected in the almost 18 minutes long centrepiece of the album, Anesthetize. Unlike other Porcupine Tree epics this isn't really one piece of music with a start, instrumental middle piece and return to the original melody, like we've seen in songs like Even Less (full length), Russia On Ice or Arriving Somewhere But Not Here. Instead this new epic is actually three songs joined together. Combined it is indeed, like some people have said, one of the best pieces of music the band has ever recorded. It starts with a nice drum pattern while glockenspiel (!) and guitar lay down the chords. Wilson's vocals and lyrics perfectly capture the feel of disillusion of a teenager and the song gets progressively aggressive, until it breaks and goes through a series of guitar solos. After 5 minutes it suddenly changes into an almost industrial chunking guitar riff and the second portion of the epic starts. Driving rhythm section, spooky synth scapes and a wonderfully catchy chorus drive the song towards an explosion of aggression before it suddenly collapses on itself to make way for the last section after some 12 minutes. This closing section is completely different from the other parts and is a heart wrenchingly beautiful ballad most notable for its vocal harmony in canon.

Sentimental is a song that wouldn't have been out of place on Stupid Dream or Lightbulb Sun. The piano instantly reminds me of How's Your Life Today, but the processed drum sound takes the song in a different direction. The song is a typical emotional Porcupine Tree ballad that even contains a Spanish guitar solo that should have been longer than the 12 seconds it lasts. My only point of criticism toward this track is that the chords of the break resemble the chords of Trains a bit too much.

As mentioned, Way Out Of Here replaces the original 5th track played during the try-out gigs. Probably a wise decision because that song wasn't the strongest one in the set. I have to admit however that Way Out Of Here sounds a bit patchy and feels like the band has tried to quickly throw a replacement together. It has good moments but as a whole is a bit incoherent, as if it was composed of some interesting left-overs. Still, it's a good track that explores many different ideas within seven and a half minutes. It's the only full band composition and as such often feels like something that could have come straight of Signify. The chorus that sounds quite a bit like Sleep Of No Dreaming and the end section with soundscapes by Robert Fripp, which reminds me of the Metanoia jam sessions for Signify only enhance the feeling of recognition. The song also features a section with some of the loudest metal riffs on the album. Very tastefully done though.

Sleep Together starts with subdued vocals and synth effects. Initially I feared that this would be a dragging closing peace like Glass Arm Shattering, but I shouldn't have worried. Before long a stomping drum beat comes in and the song eventually builds to a climax with a massive use of orchestral strings. Not the restrained album closer we've come to expect from the band, but you won't hear me complaining.

In many ways this is one of the best Porcupine Tree albums (if not the best). Lyrically it's a lot more understandable and I like the concept used for the lyrics. Musically the album seems like the accumulation of everything the band has done before, thereby creating a total that's greater than sum of the individual parts. It's got the almost rap-like lyrical experimenting of the early albums, the dreaminess of the Sky Moves and Signify era, melodic strength and vocal harmonies of the Stupid Dream to In Absentia period and the functional heaviness stressing the atmospheric parts of In Absentia and Deadwing. All of this accumulates to a masterpiece that should be in every prog rock lover's collection.

Dave Baird's Review
I first heard this new material when I saw Porcupine Tree on their last tour at Hof Ter Lo in Antwerp. It was clear to me at that time, that this would be a special CD and I wasn't wrong, Fear Of A Blank Planet is an incredibly good album, in fact in my opinion, it's the best Porcupine Tree to date. What makes this better than In Absentia, Deadwing, Stupid Dream and Lightbulb Sun is threefold - firstly there are no weak tracks on this CD, no Glass Arm Shattering, Four Chords That Made A Million or Shallow lurking in the shadows of the better tracks - I hit the skip button every time they show-up. The second aspect I like here, is that the music is altogether less poppy than previous releases. Sure, one of Steve Wilson's (many) musical talents is his ability to write strong and catchy melodies, unfortunately sometimes they sound a bit too radio-friendly and at times, In Absentia, despite its unquestionable brilliance suffered somewhat from this.

Perhaps most importantly though is the evolution of the music from what has gone before. Deadwing was also a wonderful release but it always sounded a bit like a "best of" to me, essentially gathering together the styles from the four previous albums, without adding too much more. Porcupine Tree have always excelled when they're being ambient, melancholy and, more recently, heavy, even bordering on metal. With Fear Of A Blank Planet, Steve Wilson has focused on these three elements and gone are the pop pretensions, the trademark harmony vocals and any hint of happiness. Instead we're treated to 50 minutes of intense and dark, yet nevertheless very listenable catchy music.

Allegedly a "concept" album, it is built around the daily life of a young teenager who's going through difficult times with his parents, who also don't seem to be capable to reach and understand or help. The young man is detached from society and life around him, desensitised by sensory overload, a poster-child of the attention deficit disorder generation, pumped up full of prescription drugs to make them "normal". We are told about the absolute boredom of life and getting through the day by filling it with meaningless activity - hence the album title of course. As the music continues we learn more about the boy, his perceived parental rejection and the problems he inherited from his mother and father, discomfort with attention of elders and a growing idea to enter into some kind of suicide pact. There's also reference to some kind of relationship that has failed, but whether this is a reference to a girl or perhaps just his parents, it's difficult to say. This is all from the darker side of life even by Wilson's standards but they're very relevant for many kids these days and a lot of people will relate to it I'm sure. This is Steve Wilson at his bleakest and best.

Musically this is a real fusion of heavy and ambient. There's the metal, driving riff style that was introduced on In Absentia and refined somewhat on Deadwing and there's an awful lot of atmospheric, twiddly, swirly synthesizer sounds - Barbieri is much more prevalent than than on recent releases, especially on Sleep Together with its pulsing synth which plays throughout the whole track and sweeping strings during the climax of the song. Guest musician Robert Fripp adds to the atmosphere playing some soundscapes on Way Out Of Here - the opening of this track is one of the most beautiful things I've ever heard, unfortunately this doesn't last as they ramp it up after a minute or so. The most talked-about track will undoubtedly be Anesthetize, and with a running time of nearly 18 minutes it's the longest track they've put out for more than a decade and probably the finest also. A highly diverse track it contains a short but very intense metal section that would not be out of place on an Opeth CD as well as an excellent melodic, haunting solo by another guest, the mighty Alex Lifeson from Rush. Gavin Harrison's drumming again is very loud throughout a lot of the CD and although he's tried to be a little arty in places, I do admit that I preferred Chris Maitland's style more. That being said, if Gavin's inclusion has helped lead them in this direction then he's forgiven!

It's difficult to find any fault in this album, it's strong in every respect and doesn't have a dull moment - sure, quiet moments but not dull. For the sake of finding something, I do find the drum-roll right at the end a little off-putting every time I hear it, but I do wonder if this is not symbolic of a gun being fired? Perhaps pure speculation but after the symphonic ending I can't think why else to put that in there otherwise spoiling what was a great end to the CD.

I really can't find a reason not to give this a perfect 10, this is Porcupine Tree at their very best, miss it and weep!


ED SANDER : 9.5 out of 10
DAVE BAIRD : 10 out of 10

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Post: # 102011Post tardistraveler
Sun Apr 29, 2007 9:59 pm

Wow - thanks for sharing these reviews, Linda . . . can't wait to hear this!

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Post: # 102421Post stinky britches
Fri Jun 01, 2007 10:53 pm

yesireebob wrote:This is AMAZING, I do believe this is the best thing PT has done, and I don't say that lightly
It's a truly wonderful album

I'm not prepared to give it a final ranking just yet. It's certainly one of their very, very best, but I need to live with it for a while longer.

At the moment, it's hardly out of my CD player.

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Post: # 102567Post IGSXIII
Tue Jun 12, 2007 11:56 pm

I finally picked up the album last week and I like it a lot. The heaviness of Deadwing took me a while to get used to, but after a while I developed a fond taste for it. When I picked up FOABP, I guess my ear was already expecting that kind of heaviness, and it was great! My advice for anyone who buys this album: it's probably their most 'metal-ish' album yet, but even if this isn't your forte, don't push it aside, give it a chance and it'll grow on you!
Please check out my music website!

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Post: # 102568Post stinky britches
Wed Jun 13, 2007 1:28 am

IGSXIII wrote:it's probably their most 'metal-ish' album yet, but even if this isn't your forte, don't push it aside, give it a chance and it'll grow on you!
I absolutely agree

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Its good....

Post: # 102697Post Mr. Stout
Thu Jun 28, 2007 5:38 pm

,,but I would not call it their best effort. `Signify 'was their best and most progressive. I have been following Porcupine Tree for over 12 years since the `Sky moves sideways.'
Musically, it`s quite strong, and even though Im turned off by thrash riffing, it dint bother me at all on this effort. Coupled with ambient interludes, it makes for a strong combination.
Lyrically, it`s a bit over the top, painting teenagers as pill-popping , catatonic, walking around shopping malls in a haze and slavish to compuer games. I dont see what is so bad about playing compuer games. Now I don`t own Playstation or X- box, but there are far worse ways of spending time. And the last time I was in a shopping mall, I saw teens and they seemed content to me
Having said that, it`s a gross generalization and stereotyping of teenagers. There are alot of good teeenagrs out there and the older generations always compalin about the younger genearations. Steve Wilson comes across as cranky and petulant. Perhaps he was pissed off because kids would rather play with computer games than buy his album.

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Re: Fear of a Blank Planet review

Post: # 103065Post psychopomp95
Wed Jul 18, 2007 5:07 am

Interesting points that Stout makes, and I DO think maybe Wilson is overgeneralizing a bit... but at the same time, the rather dark picture of many young people is an accurate one. Being a relatively young person myself, I have to say that it scares me at times just HOW absorbed we can all get into our computers and other 'existential' ways of living, myself included, but it seems especially true for the generation born in the 90's... they're now as old as 17, one of whom is my younger cousin. He's doing great with his life but I've heard stories of kids he knows who aren't doing as well..! And computers CAN play a large part in that, which is really all Steve Wilson was trying to say.

Anyways, to the music - on THIS level the album is absolutely brilliant. Until this one I had counted myself as a big fan of PT's earlier stuff, and not so much of their post-Signify efforts, but I must agree this is the strongest thing they've ever done! It does strike a nice balance, and coming after the disappointing (IMO) Deadwing, which I could never really get into, it's about as strong a 'comeback' as you could hope for! "Sleep Together" was stuck in my head for days, and I just read an interview where Wilson says he wanted it to sound like "NIN, with drums by John Bonham, remixed by Massive Attack" - mission accomplished! :D Great disc, I easily give it a 9 out of 10!

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Re: Fear of a Blank Planet review

Post: # 105581Post yesman90125
Sat Feb 16, 2008 5:54 pm

hey; fear of a blank planet is up for a grammy nomination this year for best surround sound cd

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Re: Fear of a Blank Planet review

Post: # 105601Post tardistraveler
Tue Feb 19, 2008 7:29 pm

The Grammy Awards have already been given out. Although PT was nominated, Beatles Love took the award in that category.

I guess if you've gotta lose, losing to The Beatles isn't TOO bad . . . ;)

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