Porcupine Tree - The Incident
Roadrunner Records
Progressive Rock
Disc 1: 14 songs (55:14) Disc 2: 4 songs (20:42)
Release year: 2009
Porcupine Tree, Roadrunner Records
Reviewed by Goat

Although I’ve heard and enjoyed enough of Porcupine Tree’s back catalogue to count myself a fan, there has always been that small, subconscious voice that holds me back from sheer fanboyism. My colleague James said in a review here that Steve Wilson wants to be David Gilmour, Thom Yorke and Mikael Åkerfeldt all in one, and that’s a fair summary; for a project that started as a joke, Porcupine Tree has done remarkable things, and yet it does sometimes seem less than a sum of its parts – never as good as people think they are. Fear not, fanboys, this isn’t a hate-fuelled review. I’ve given The Incident multiple listens now, and it’s consistently striking me as an album that deserves the praise thrown at it, but only as an album, a collection of songs.

As an album, the first CD is great, moving between stormy drama and melancholic psychedelia easily, sudden bursts of Alt Metal heaviness implemented with professional style – from a casual listener’s perspective, it’s another intriguing step on this fascinating project’s career path. Attempt to look at The Incident as a single long song, however, and the cracks start to appear. Although there are links between songs, they simply aren’t enough to hold them together in the perfect flow that a single long piece of music needs, and the cynical part of me suspects that the band simply wrote an album and stuck it together. Of course, this is pretty pretentious of the band even if you accept The Incident at face value, but then that’s prog for you; Wilson apparently took the concept from the way he observed rubberneckers at a car accident.

The music itself is of a usual high standard, although I found myself thinking that it was a bit Porcupine Tree-by-numbers here and there. All the usual PT elements that we’ve come to expect from the band are there, from weird ambience to sudden acoustic guitar, folky bits and metal bits thrown together with abandon. No doubt if you’ve never heard either you’d be suitably impressed, and I found myself enjoying The Incident most when I made myself forget the superfluous ‘one-long-song’ nonsense, and listened to it for what it is. The band have done absolutely nothing new here, and it isn’t the earth-shaking masterpiece that Steve and Roadrunner would like me to think it is, but it is unquestionably an enjoyable album, despite my criticisms. You can’t call moments like the sudden lurch into Meshuggah territory on Circle Of Manias genius without smiling (what on earth is the point of such heaviness here?) but neither can anyone seriously claim that I Drive The Hearse isn’t a wonderful song, unashamedly catchy without being too mainstream, and the juxtaposition of the two is deliberate and cynical rather than groundbreaking. Not genius by any means, but professionally done and more than worthy of your ears.

I suppose you’d do best to think of The Incident as a particularly good Alt-Rock album, something that you come to with no expectations whatsoever. Heavy moments and light moments are bound together throughout with considerably more intelligence and style than was evident from, say, the last Muse album – yes, the two deserve comparison, since as proggy as the ‘Tree can be, it always seems to be a modern sort of ‘Alt’ Prog rather than the traditionally experimental voyages of King Crimson and the like. No doubt I’ll receive hatemail for this, but some moments on The Incident seemed closer to Britpop than what I will here call ‘genuine’ Prog – The Blind House especially seems to be the band on autopilot, and the whimsical likes of Great Expectations have been more than surpassed by both Steve Wilson’s wonderful solo project and bands like The Manic Street Preachers.

Even fans will admit that Porcupine Tree have done much better, yet however easy this is to criticise, I can’t deny that the songs as a whole are of a generally high quality, even the shorter ones which I haven’t mentioned much. Lay back, forget everything, and The Incident is a perfectly pleasant release, and it’s in those terms which I, finally, praise this without reservation. Drawing The Line has a melancholic undercurrent which few bands are capable of reaching, with a genuinely vigorous and uplifting chorus, whilst the title track is wonderfully catchy and the eleven-minute Time Flies builds subtly from acoustic beginnings to ambient-kissed melodies, never less than enjoyable in its sheer grandiose yet unshowy nature. Octane Twisted stomps about with grandiose designs, groovy heaviness next to proggy melody, but it’s the aforementioned I Drive The Hearse’s lovely melody that ultimately stays with you after, the band putting their songwriting skills to best use.

The second disc contains four songs which could probably have been shoehorned in on the main album, but they are worth a listen despite this relegation. Flicker is the best, a dreamy acoustic bit of psychedelic rock, ‘dadada’-ing chorus and soft, unthreatening melodies – the others work best if you only regard them as bonus tracks, especially Bonnie The Cat, which takes Nine Inch Nails-esque drum-led gloom and prolongs it for just under six minutes, and the slightly boring Black Dhalia. Remember Me Lover starts as a nice ballad-y style song, but soon develops into heavy dramatic prog, and finishes everything off well. The Incident is well worth your time, but don’t expect Porcupine Tree at their best.

Killing Songs :
The Blind House, Drawing The Line, The Incident, Time Flies, Octane Twisted, I Drive The Hearse & Flicker, Remember Me Lover
Goat quoted 79 / 100
Other albums by Porcupine Tree that we have reviewed:
Porcupine Tree - Up The Downstair reviewed by Goat and quoted 85 / 100
Porcupine Tree - On The Sunday Of Life reviewed by Goat and quoted 79 / 100
Porcupine Tree - Deadwing reviewed by Boris and quoted 89 / 100
Porcupine Tree - Stupid Dream reviewed by Khelek and quoted 94 / 100
Porcupine Tree - Lightbulb Sun reviewed by Khelek and quoted 91 / 100
To see all 9 reviews click here
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