Fear of a Blank Planet
No one can accuse Porcupine Tree of thinking small. The British prog band's latest, Fear of a Blank Planet (Atlantic/60), is frontman Steven Wilson's vision of future teenagers growing up in a society devoid of art and love, but full of easy sensual enticements.
As heavy-handed as the lyrics can feel—a cross between juvenile-novelist Robert Cormier (author of I Am the Cheese) and Method acting—Wilson gets credit for trying a different tack in portraying teenage turmoil. Avoiding emo's operatic tragedy, teen pop's sentimentality, and metal and punk's spazzy fury, Wilson opts for something more uncomfortable. Tales of drug overload and sexual ennui are relayed through a quiet fog of near-paralyzing numbness, with the occasional bitterly funny quip cutting through: "My friend says he wants to die/He's in a band/They sound like Pearl Jam/The clothes are all black/The music is crap".
Musically, the arrangements are textured and complex, but they still retain a rhythmic lightness. The band leavens "Anesthetize"'s somberness with guitar atmospherics from Wilson and Rush's Alex Lifeson, and drops in a coda with gorgeous, staggered harmonies. "Sentimental" has a lovely, lilting melody set to an austere arrangement where Gavin Harrison's drumming flows around echoed piano chords like water around a rock in a stream. The words in "Sleep Together" promise a sliver of opportunity, with Wilson singing in his sweet, reedy voice, "This is your escape/This is your way out." But the jittery strings and darkly burbling keyboards don't hold out much hope. No one would ever call them cockeyed optimists, either.