Porcupine Tree – Closure / Continuation (Album Review)

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You wanted it, you got it. Sure, it might have taken a decade longer than hoped for but – as Steven Wilson himself has mused – the legend of Porcupine Tree has grown over the intervening years as absence has made the heart has grown fonder. While many have embraced Wilson’s diverse solo career during that time, increasingly the keyboard warriors have taken to bemoaning his ever-changing musical directions and frequently pleading for a return to form…namely: for Porcupine Tree. How laughably predictable that already some criticisms of the new singles are making the rounds on social media. For a minority, perhaps, the new album will incomprehensibly fall short. Their loss. For the rest of us, “Closure/Continuation” is cause for celebration as it brings the band into a new decade with style, substance and snarl. Given time, this new release may well work its way into your Top 5 PT albums.

Let’s leave any further context for the end of the review and get to the heart of the matter: the songs themselves. Brand new single, “Rats Return”, totally nails it. This could have been the lead-off single and all naysayers would have just shut up and embraced the second coming of Porcupine Tree. Ambient haze gives way to a scorching crunchy riff which repeats often enough to get the point across. By the time it pulls back to reveal Wilson’s creepily processed opening vocal line, “Leave your principles at the door, spare me,” we’re completely in PT Territory. Damn, the band is back and we’re loving it. Gavin Harrison sounds freaking amazing and Richard Barbieri is in classic form with his signature sound treatments. This may be the song which least progresses from their previous songwriting formula but for that very reason, it’s a familiar and easy-access point. And it has to be said: that old formula still totally delivers.

Delving into the songs that haven’t yet been pre-released, “Dignity” floats in with the inspired pairing of Barbieri and Wilson as co-writers. The content seems like a dreamy reflection on the impacts that homelessness has on the psyche, keyboards at the fore as Harrison’s well-mixed drum kit surrounds the listener. We even get a moment of a wandering lead guitar, a rarity these days in Wilson’s repertoire, along with a primary electric guitar figure which jams out for the closing minute. “Walk the Plank” submerges deeper into Barbieri depths and is surely the sleeper of the album…in this case, sleeper means “hidden gem”. Wilson’s voice vulnerably cracks during “upon the echo of the day”, while the chorus is truly one of his most transcendent moments. Spine-tingling. The ambient middle section is a little frustrating – couldn’t Wilson offer just a glimmer of his early PT guitar soloing? No, the times have changed. As his soaring falsetto closes the track, it almost feels like this turns into “King Ghost, Part 2” (that’s meant as a compliment) and will undoubtedly be remarkable in the Dolby Atmos mix.

The longest track, “Chimera’s Wreck”, opens with the promise of being an extraordinary epic that would close the album and seal its destiny as a Porcupine Tree classic. Unfortunately it never fully realizes that potential, it’s always arriving somewhere but never quite here. Perhaps one killer chorus more would have gotten it over the hump but as it is, the repetitive “I’m afraid to be happy and I couldn’t care less if I was to die” line just doesn’t raise up the song into something truly special. Still, there’s plenty of interesting sections and classic PT vibe going on here to qualify as a good song, not to mention a knack for a “My Sharona” vibe near the end.

After 13 years, with only 7 songs on the actual album (the band wanted to keep it to a 45-minute listening experience), it’s pretty much required that every listener get the 3 bonus tracks. All of them are worthy, in fact it’s downright head-scratching that “Love In The Past Tense” didn’t somehow make the cut, or at least convince the band to extend the proper album length for its inclusion. Not only is it a lovely Wilson composition but it introduces new tones and shades to the Porcupine Tree repertoire and isn’t that what they wanted to achieve with this album? Opening with an innovative approach to mixing the acoustic guitar, this piece sees all three members shining on their respective instruments. It’s one of the best on the album and its bright, uplifting tone would have provided a nice balance earlier in the tracking list. “Never Have” sounds the most like it could have landed on a Wilson solo album, perhaps the “Grace For Drowning” era, and the end of its verse lifts a slight melodic idea from “I Drive The Hearse”. The middle sections of the song are more original, making this another winner track worthy of inclusion. Finally, the seven-minute instrumental “Population Three” is a satisfying excursion, especially for its Gavin Harrison tour de force. It ends up coming off as a great jam, though it doesn’t carry quite enough melodic ideas to make it a remarkable piece of artistry.

“Herd Culling” is in the strange position of being pre-released but only as a single edit. This dark, intense piece, mysteriously “about a specific event” is indeed elevated when you add in the missing three minutes, notably a powerful middle section which would usually be called a chorus but only occurs one time and was totally lifted out of the edited version. If the opening groove brought to mind “The Sound of Muzak” a little, this middle section has even more in common with Muzak’s chorus, providing one more familiar touchstone.

It’s been over half a year since “Harridan” was first released, its opening bass riff ultimately revealing a prime reason that Colin Edwin is not involved on this album. [Sidebar: for those not in the know, the original songwriting happened with Harrison jamming on drums and Wilson coming up with bass lines in his own style; after writing a number of these songs, and not having heard much from Edwin out of his own volition, the trio decided the new songs were not in Edwin’s style of playing and thus they would continue without him.] This track is a modern PT masterpiece, bringing the past “Nil Recurring”-era into the 2020’s with an exciting futuristic sheen. Gloriously making the most of a Harrison and Wilson co-write, it’s also one of the most satisfying examples of Harrison’s brilliance on the drum kit. “Of The New Day” was the perfect follow-up release, a sublime example of the more tender side of the band while still containing a tasty dose of bite. Really, how some listeners are slagging off these two pre-released tracks is confounding. To these ears, the band have served up exactly what most PT fans would want, and done it with integrity and style.

There may be a few accusations of Wilson bringing occasional signatures from his solo career into Porcupine Tree’s domain: the quick “yeah” in “Harridan” that we first heard in “Story Of I” and “Eminent Sleaze”, the deep announcer voice from “Self” and elsewhere that shows up in “Walk the Plank”, the ever-increasing falsetto sections soaring above the mix, and of course the jagged bass lines. Guilty. But is this really a negative aspect or rather, is it an identifying characteristic of an artist? More importantly, Porcupine Tree now benefits from everything that Wilson has learned over the past 13 years, including his impeccable hand at production. Say what you will about the content, “The Future Bites” was a sonic marvel to experience and that learning curve pays off handsomely on “Closure/Continuation”.

If you’re still bemoaning the absence of Edwin (or Wesley), perhaps pick up Wilson’s new autobiography to understand his mindset a little better. There’s an insightful chapter which contrasts rock music’s diehard fan loyalty in adhering to consistent band personnel, versus the freewheeling jazz scene where musicians come together and depart as an inherent part of their approach to creating music – spontaneous improvisation at its very essence. Sure, PT is definitely not jazz, but there’s an understandable yearning in Wilson’s artistic DNA that doesn’t want to be tied down to the confines of fan-boy absolutism. Beyond that, the book is a fascinating read (or listen to the audio, read by Wilson) and recommended to fans.

In recent years Wilson has been saying that Porcupine Tree could return “when people least expect it”. Given the downtime of the pandemic years, along with cancelled solo tours, it wasn’t totally unexpected that this could be PT’s time. It’s not even surprising that the new album is as good as it is. But it is a relief. Given all that the world been through, there’s a sentiment of gratitude that a beloved band can return with an album as satisfying as “Closure/Continuation”. A few listeners will inevitably have been holding out for something different…maybe a return to “The Sky Moves Sideways” years. That’s not here…but that hasn’t been here for decades, either. This is Porcupine Tree of the future and it doesn’t bite. While not a perfect album nor arguably their best one, 2022 is a whole lot brighter with its inclusion. By having his solo career and PT career simultaneously evolving, Wilson gets to have his cake and eat it, too. Why not share the dessert with him – it tastes damn good.

Released By: Music For Nations / Sony
Release Date: June 24th, 2022
Genre:  Progressive Rock

  Band Members:

  • Steven Wilson / Vocals, guitars, bass, mixing
  • Gavin Harrinson / Drums, percussion
  • Richard Barbieri / Keyboards, synthesizers, sound processing

“Closure/Continuation”  Track Listing:

1. Harridan
2. Of The New Day
3. Rats Return
4. Dignity
5. Herd Culling
6. Walk The Plank
7. Chimera’s Wreck
8. Population Three (Bonus Track – Deluxe Edition only)
9. Never Have (Bonus Track – Deluxe Edition only)
10. Love In The Past Tense (Bonus Track – Deluxe Edition only)

“Closure/Continuation” is available for pre-order here.

9.1 Excellent

Closure/Continuation pulls off the daunting task of giving a majority of Porcupine Tree fans what they want while maintaining artistic inspiration and integrity. Familiar and fresh at the same time, this is a modern Porcupine Tree for a new decade, deftly embracing its signature sounds without wallowing in nostalgia. Final statement or start of a new chapter…either way, this is a win for the band and its fans

  • Songwriting 9
  • Musicianship 9.5
  • Originality 8
  • Production 10

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