PORCUPINE TREE Albums From Worst to Best by Prog Sphere

Porcupine Tree

It’s been several years now since Steven Wilson decided to put Porcupine Tree on hiatus and work on his solo material. For some people that’s terrible, and it seems that it’s going to stay like that for a long time, considering that Wilson announced his fifth solo release for 2017.

Prog Sphere ranked Porcupne Tree albums from worst to best, although that sounds a bit harsh. Check the list below and make sure to tell us what are your favourite Porcupine records.

10. On the Sunday of Life (1992)

Before you look at this album as a Porcupine Tree album, understand that it can be better described as an hour-long experiment. Essentially, it’s Steven Wilson‘s science project, just for music. He explores many different aspects of progressive and psychedelic rock without committing to one particular idea or theme. Since the album is a primarily a compilation of songs that he recorded during the two years prior to the LP’s release, the record is far from cohesive and only scratches the surface of the band’s later styles. Nonetheless, On the Sunday of Life has a few notable and intrepid ideas.

One thing that detracts from the album’s quality is its conspicuous untidiness. Despite its very interesting moments, On the Sunday of Life is jumbled, confusing, and disorganized. Aside from a few strange musical bridges like “Hymn” and “Begonia Seduction Scene,” there is nothing really linking these tracks. The album quickly leaps from one idea to the next with no sense of handling. That would not be such a problem if the album wasn’t so long. However, it is formatted similarly to a progressive concept album when, in reality, it is simply a long trek through Wilson‘s various musical inclinations. As an experiment, On the Sunday of Life operates in a “trial and error” fashion; some things work, while others don’t.

09. The Incident (2009)

It is noticeable to those familiar with Porcupine Tree‘s discography how there is a lack of anything especially ‘new’ about The Incident. Whereas the previous nine Porcupine Tree albums each added something to the band’s sound this does not, preferring instead to focus on blending sounds to create something close to the definitive Porcupine Tree record.

What is truly remarkable about the album’s first disc, consisting entirely of the fifty-five minute song cycle The Incident is that the songs are so memorable. The likes of “Blind House” and “Drawing The Line” are catchy enough to be radio favourites, they won’t of course because commercial radio only plays things from the Top 40 but that’s not the point. Even short interludes such as “Great Expectations” and “Your Unpleasant Family” etch themselves into the brain on first listen. Wilson has always been a fantastic songwriter above all else and he really does prove it here with the epic eleven minute “Time Flies” sounding accessible enough for the mainstream audience of today to not have a heart attack while listening to it. Wilson‘s skills are further emphasised on the second disc which, despite being slightly weaker than the rest of the album, features four very decent songs with “Flicker” and “Remember Me Lover” being the highlights.

The overall tone is a huge factor ensuring the albums success. PT have always excelled in keeping with the darker elements of the human psychology through the use of creepy samples and keyboards, this album is no different. The opening track creates imagery of a dark forest full of mystery and repressed trauma; the song exemplifies the whole concept of The Incident perfectly before delving into the perfect blend of hard and soft rock that is “Blind House.”

Sure the album stumbles in the lyric department and there aren’t many standout tracks to be found, but this album demands your undivided attention. It is best heard from start to finish, makes sense really.

08. Signify (1996)

This is the first Porcupine Tree album with a full band to perform with Steven Wilson. Right from the opening of the surprisingly heavy title track, there’s a strengthened sense of unity and focus in the material; while the trippy arrangements and vast soundscapes of previous records return here as well, they aren’t always the main focus this time around. As suggested by the shorter running times of the songs, a lot of musical fat is trimmed and the psychedelic aspects are a bit toned down, but instrumental tracks like “Idiot Prayer” and “Intermediate Jesus” play with the group’s spacey side with extended atmospheric jams. One of the best things about this album (one thing that plagued previous records by the band) is that there’s a great stylistic balance; the album combines multiple genres and sounds, but distributes them all very well. You’ve got the first real song “Signify” (the first track is just an intro) which kicks things off with a hard-hitting riff and gets the listener pumped, only to be followed by a beautiful ballad in “Sleep of No Dreaming” as well as multiple improvisational jams and other ballads. “Sever” is the track in which the harder-rocking sound comes back into play, and it’s brilliantly placed in the middle as a good way to kick up the volume at just the right time.

07. Up the Downstair (1993)

There is no denying that Steven Wilson‘s chops, his talent especially shines through on this record, him being the sole songwriter and playing the majority of the instruments. His guitar work especially is extremely impressive and at the top of its game on this record, his heavily Gilmour inspired leads blend magnificently with the dark brooding rhythm section. His lyrical output is also vastly superior to his later conceptual offerings. The production is also more pleasing than the bands later outputs, being less harsh and overblown which gives the subtle samples, synths and instruments room to breathe.

06. Stupid Dream (1999)

Stupid Dream is basically Wilson‘s first foray into more commercial pop and alternative rock music, complete with shorter songs and much cleaner musical arrangements. The instrumental work is incredibly tight and crisp, but many of the songs are much more uplifting in tone (especially “Stranger by the Minute” and “Piano Lessons”) despite some very depressing lyrical themes. Traces of the old Porcupine Tree sound are definitely present, especially in longer tracks such as “Tinto Brass” and “Don’t Hate Me.” The lyrics also happen to be a strength of the record despite Wilson‘s unfortunate track record of having consistently weak lyrical work in other records, ranging from subjects such as survival (“A Smart Kid”), tragedy (“This is No Rehearsal”), complacency (“Stop Swimming”), and multiple other subjects throughout the experience. Interestingly enough, however, the atmosphere of the record usually remains pretty sunny and light, making the whole thing a comfortable entry for newcomers to progressive rock music in general. However, just as with most Porcupine Tree albums, there are still many complexities and inner-workings that serve to make Stupid Dream a compelling listen; Richard Barbieri in particular has wonderfully layered keyboard work that melds wonderfully with Wilson‘s melodic guitar lines. The production is also a strong reason for this, being exceptionally lush while highlighting every instrument perfectly; it’s clean, but has enough edge during the heavier and more distorted moments.

05. Fear of a Blank Planet (2007)

Fear of a Blank Planet rests in a perfect balance between a sense of cohesive flow and distinction between songs. The title track gives a dense blast of dark art rock and introduces the subject matter. “My Ashes” and the spacey piano-driven “Sentimental” are a more relaxed slice of Porcupine Tree, toning down the energy and heaviness without losing any of the feel. “Anesthetize” is the album’s seventeen-minute cornerstone, an absolute monster of a track that summarizes everything the album is about, featuring both the album’s most mellow, and most aggressive moments all within one composition. “Way Out Of Here” is possibly the most immediately appealing track, with the melancholy now amped up to 11. Finally, “Sleep Together” ends the journey on an ambiguous note, with exotic string sections blazing and dark electronics filling up the sound. The album ends with Wilson singing about relieving the pressure, and burning his possessions. Has he found enlightenment and broken through his apathy, or killed himself? These things are left up to the mind of the listener, and makes Fear of a Blank Planet the greatest statement from one of today’s most impressive rock groups.

04. The Sky Moves Sideways (1995)

The Sky Moves Sideways is the band’s first masterpiece, and arguably one of the finest examples of a band establishing their presence in their genre early into their tenure. While it may not be the best album by Porcupine Tree, it definitely s way up there and is a clear display of just how talented, and maybe even mad Steven Wilson is, and also shows how well he works when given the right musicians. At 65 minutes, never is a single second wasted, and it also serves as a great tarting point for future PT fans and even prog-rock newbies.

03. In Absentia (2002)

As Wilson‘s influences grew and Porcupine Tree began to have more full-time members, and quit being a Wilson solo project, the band slowly changed towards a more rock and progressive sound that would dominate their later releases.

In Absentia is one such release and it showcases a lot of variety. The Pink Floyd influences are not altogether gone from the scene, they definitely have remained, in such pieces as “Lips of Ashes” or “.3,” but Steven Wilson‘s genre has become more refined and explored different types of music. In Absentia truly has metal riffs, which can be attributed to his work with Swedish metal giants Opeth, and some other riffs (like the one in “Blackest Eyes”) are very reminiscent of Tool‘s staccato guitar techniques as well. Many bass lines in songs seem to fit in very well with Awake/Falling Into Infinity era Dream Theater, parts of “Strip The Soul” being very reminiscent of “New Millenium.” The band somehow manages to combine those harder influences, with the Pink Floyd sound already mentioned, and mixes in some Oasis and Radiohead touches for good measure.

02. Deadwing (2005)

A lot of the songwriting elements that made In Absentia such a fan favorite are still here in spades, but there’s a bit more emphasis on metal here than on their previous records. “Shallow,” “Halo,” and “Open Car” are all songs that one could imagine getting airplay on alternative metal radio stations; hell, “Shallow” actually made its way into the action movie Four Brothers! But despite the presence of intense and almost grungy riffing, the same old Porcupine Tree we all know and love is still on this record. Even the heavier songs have softer and more atmospheric portions to even them out, such as the beautiful piano-driven pre-choruses of “Shallow” or the drumless outro of “Open Car” which features some nice harmonized vocals from Wilson. Speaking of “piano-driven,” Richard Barbieri was really given the chance to shine on Deadwing. He was always widely regarded as a great keyboardist, especially when he was in the new wave band Japan, but he was often reduced to just providing background atmosphere with his layered effects and sampling. But here, there’s much more of a balance as tracks such as “Lazarus” and “Start of Something Beautiful” (mainly the second half of the latter) showcase much more traditional piano playing in which Barbieri displays his virtuosity a bit more. Bassist Colin Edwin and drummer Gavin Harrison are fantastic as usual, providing a very solid and proficient rhythm section for Wilson to work with.

01. Lightbulb Sun (2000)

I strongly believe that this is Porcupine Tree‘s best work. Bridging the gap between the band’s spacey progressive past and their metallic, riffy future, Lightbulb Sun handpicks the best things about Signify and Stupid Dream and melds them into one jaw-dropping, life-changing package. Utilizing the unsettling soundscapes and tight instrumentals of Signify (“Last Chance To Evacuate”, “Hatesong”, “Russia On Ice”) and the bright, poppy melodies of Stupid Dream (title track, “Shesmovedon”, “The Rest Will Flow”) this album is an amalgam of influences, and a melting pot of ideas that begs to be heard.

Most songs here have strong hooks, quite poppy choruses, most of them don’t exceed five or six minutes (with two exceptions), the use of acoustic guitars is liberal, and there is an almost obsessive reliance on vocal harmonies and layering.

In fact, this album has less in common with Atom Heart Mother or even Close to the Edge than it does with OK Computer. “Lightbulb Sun,” “Shesmovedon,” and “The Rest Will Flow” are all conventional pop/rock songs, very subdued and mellow, with a sparing blast of power chords here and there to get a head slightly nodding, but nothing mind-boggling; it might be one of the easiest Porcupine Tree albums to get into (which, on the whole, is a bit nicer than the artistically fantastic but damn-the-conventions approach of Fear of a Blank Planet).

3 Comments

  1. Hugo van den Bos

    October 13, 2015 at 11:17 am

    My personal list looks almost the same, but goes deeper into the sound of the albums. For my personal list: http://www.platendraaier.nl/toplijsten/top-10-de-beste-albums-van-porcupine-tree/

    • Giwrgos Nihal Eleftheriou

      January 1, 2016 at 12:33 pm

      Being a fan of PC for almost 2o years now, I think I have a say in this.
      In my opinion, 1st should have been, ‘In Absentia’ with ‘Lightbulb Sun’ in the 2nd place, but with a small difference. As for Deadwing, it’s not even in my Top-5 albums. Anyway, it doesn’t really matter though, right? :-)

  2. Pingback: PORCUPINE TREE Live Albums Ranked - Progzilla Radio

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