Artist: Porcupine Tree
Album Title: Closer / Continuation
Label: Music For Nations
Date of Release: 24 June 2022
I want to start this review by being completely transparent and honest. I have never been a particularly big fan of Porcupine Tree. I have a few of their albums in my collection, but I cannot remember the last time that I actually chose to play any of them. I bought them because, as a fan of progressive rock, I felt that I had to have them in my collection. A couple of them are limited edition boxsets that have never even been opened. I even went to one of their shows once, at Norwich UEA, but I had to check my concert tickets to confirm that I wasn’t dreaming it.
My apathy isn’t for the want of trying though; in the past I have listened long and hard to the likes of ‘Fear Of A Blank Planet’, ‘Deadwing’, and ‘The Incident’ in the hope or expectation that I’d finally experience that moment of clarity, that magical feeling when the mists clear and you finally click with the music. But it never came with Porcupine Tree, unfortunately. The same could be said for most of Steven Wilson’s solo material, but that’s not as relevant to this review.
Part of the problem, I believe, is that the chosen melodies, and their chosen areas of experimentation just didn’t resonate as strongly as I wanted them to. Regardless of whether Porcupine delivered heavier, softer, more, or less progressive music, I drew much the same conclusion, that I was left unmoved and cold by large swathes of the material. It was maddening to begin with. I couldn’t accept that here I was, a fan of so much progressive music, and yet one of the most highly lauded bands in the prog rock world left me numb and largely disinterested. It is even more bizarre given how many bands they have inspired, most notably for me, Katatonia in the last fifteen years or so. Now though, I just accept that this might be a band with which I will never have that affinity in the same way as I’m not a big fan of other much-loved bands like Opeth and Tool. Well, I’ve almost made peace with this.
And that’s why, after much deliberation, I have decided to review ‘Closure / Continuation’, the long-awaited, brand-new album from Porcupine Tree, their first for some thirteen years. I wanted to give it one last go. Either I’ll finally love an album by the band, or I can rest easy, knowing that I have given them every chance of having an impact on my life. I fully realise that my opinion will have absolutely zero sway on most of you. You’ve either already bought ‘Closure/Continuation’, or you’re not going to go anywhere near it. I get that, but I’m writing this review anyway, for me. Read on, or dismiss the review, the choice is yours.
Once again, the situation is a complex one. I have listened many, many times to ‘Closure / Continuation’ ahead of this review and my opinion hasn’t drastically changed in that time. Undeniably, there is some great material to be heard, but there are also some parts of the album that I am definitely less keen on. And yet, there is something pulling me back to it, forcing me to listen again and again, even those tracks about which I am less positive about. Am I trying too hard, am I doing it out of a sense of obligation, or is there something genuinely interesting going on that is creating this apparent magnetism?
To be consistent with other reviews, and my personal views, I have to say that ‘Closure / Continuation’ is too long. When you factor in the bonus tracks, it runs for over 65 minutes, with four of the ten tracks clocking in at between seven and nearly ten minutes. I’m all for longer compositions if they offer value for their whole duration, but I can point to a few times on this album where this is not the case for me.
The first example is with ‘Harridan’, the eight-minute opening track. I like the funky intro and the clever musicianship in the early stages from Wilson, Richard Barbieri (keys) and Gavin Harrison (drums) that immediately signals that the band are on top form. I also like the surprisingly meaty guitar tones that deliver some heavier than expected riffage. I have even grown to like the chorus, which is a catchy affair once it digs its claws into you. But I suffer the same problem with the song every time I listen, be it on headphones whilst out on my bike, late at night whilst the kids are asleep, or when cranked up as company whilst I work in my home office. And this problem is that I always seem to lose focus in the middle section, only jolted back to the present with the return on the chorus near the end. I don’t think that the music is at all bad, but it just doesn’t hold my attention enough.
‘Of The New Day’, on the other hand, is a much warmer and more inviting song all round. It sounds a little too close to the jangly world of Indie insofar as the guitar tones and riffs are concerned. But notwithstanding, and despite more overt experimentation and frequent shifts within the song, it has a much more melodic, and rich feel to it.
The same cannot be said of ‘Rats Return’, which is an all-out dystopian progressive rock song, bordering on avant-garde at times. It isn’t meant to be an immediate song by any means, but the weird electronics that feature heavily throughout give the song a dark and menacing undertone, not diminished by the sense of unease caused by moments of near dissonance and unexpected detours that the song takes. Oddly though, perhaps because it is one of the most striking compositions on the album, I find myself rather liking it. Morbid fascination it might be, but there’s something about it that I enjoy.
I wrestle internally with ‘Dignity’ every time it begins. On the one hand, it is one of the more melodic and catchy songs that seems to channel its inner Pink Floyd with some bright and breezy acoustic guitars alongside a gentle drumbeat. I also rather like the story that is told through the lyrics, of someone who doesn’t seem to fit in. Familiar, much? But something about it prevents me from diving headlong into it and loving it. Again, I think the song is too long, with an unnecessary foray into minimalist territory just after the halfway point, even if the subtle and precise lead guitar work is striking. Plus, I realise that I’m not a huge fan of the vocals themselves. Wilson can certainly sing and does a great job, but I’m just not that fussed by his delivery. Why do I get the feeling that pitchforks are being sharpened?
There are some cool parts to be heard within ‘Herd Calling’, especially when it explodes with unexpected heaviness after a quiet introductory passage. But I’m not certain that the song warrants the seven-minute run-time quite honestly. Meanwhile the odd minimalist electronic ‘Walk The Plank’ is easily my least favourite song on ‘Closure / Continuation’. I just feel totally unmoved by it in its entirety.
In fact, my interest generally wanes at this point, through ‘Chimera’s Wreck’ and ‘Population Three’, both of which are perfectly decent tracks but which both lack any kind of killer blow in my opinion. ‘I’m afraid to be happy, I couldn’t care less if I was to die’ is the stark line that catches my attention within the former, but the music itself largely fails to reciprocate in the same way.
It isn’t until the arrival of ‘Never Have’ that I am faced with another composition that actually fires a little enthusiasm within me. The piano intro is truly beautiful, as is the ensuing melody that becomes the song’s central chorus. Additionally, there’s a vibrancy and energy to the track that is sorely lacking in many of the preceding few compositions. If only more of the other songs had foregone a little of their experimentation in favour of a truly memorable hook or melody, then I could easily foresee my review being far more positive overall. But unfortunately, that’s not the case. And whilst I’ve read lots of positivity for the album closer, ‘Love In The Past Tense’, it isn’t a showstopper for me. I stress that the song is not bad; to suggest that of any of the music on this album would be foolish in the extreme quite frankly. It’s just that, for my personal tastes, the healthy majority of music within ‘Closer / Continuation’ simply doesn’t do it for me. I’m genuinely disappointed too, because I desperately wanted to like this new album more than I do. Maybe therefore, it is time to cut my losses, accept that Porcupine Tree and I are not meant to form a beautiful friendship, and leave it there. Damnit.
The Score of Much Metal: 70%
Check out my other 2022 reviews here:
You can also check out my other reviews from previous years right here: