Fear Of A Blank Planet

Porcupine Tree

Atlantic, 2007


REVIEW BY: Vish Iyer


Porcupine Tree’s latest Fear Of A Blank Planet tries to condense the essence of the entire record in the title itself, similar to what Public Enemy did when it came up with a nearly identical and brilliant title for a brilliant album 17 years ago.

But unlike the Public Enemy record, where the message was of substance, the message on PT’s record is so hackneyed that it comes across as blatantly silly and extremely stupid. And yet, the disc works.

The whole record revolves around the theme of teens going astray. And it is not just one or two songs, but every song on this record revolves around the same theme. The band’s espousal of this concept is displayed in such an in-your-face way that it is as strayed as a cheap instructional video where the actors try extra hard to deliver the message, but the acting is so poor that the result is embarrassing, if anything.

FOABP  is definitely the worst PT record lyrically. Take the word “pills” that’s beaten to death on this record: “How can I be sure I'm here? The pills that I've been taking confuse me” (“Fear Of A Blank Planet”); or “Only apathy from the pills in me, it's all in me” (“Anesthetize”); or “And I'm not really sure if the pills I've been taking are helping” (“Sentimental”). my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250 FOABP was created the same time frontman Steven Wilson was working on the second record by Blackfield, his side project, and maybe the trite “teenage-resentment” slant of Blackfield affected Wilson’s songwriting for the PT record.

PT does get zero points for the torturous concept and atrocious songwriting. But it gets full points for everything else it does here. Only a band as immensely gifted as Porcupine Tree can pull off a great record in spite of making such an apparent lyrical blunder. FOABP follows the same pattern of prog-metal of In Absentia and Deadwing, with no shocking surprises, except that the band has pushed its musical limits a bit further and has made this its hardest record to date.

The epic “Anesthetize” might not be the best track PT has ever recorded, but it surely is the most exciting one. Almost 18 minutes long, “Anesthetize” is a song in three parts, and the second part is where the excitement lies, where it goes into a manic frenzy with the drums and the guitar jamming at trash metal speeds to create a sound so sonic it is almost trance-like.

Steven Wilson is blessed with an amazing band with a rhythm section to die for, especially in the form of drummer Gavin Harrison. No doubt Harrison’s stunning drumming never went unnoticed on previous albums, but on FOABP he transcends everything he has ever done on any PT record. The wild drumming patterns and the way the drums hold the songs together is clearly a highlight of this record.

With PT’s new modern-rock/prog-metal incarnation Wilson shows the depth of his musical ability, but he is inherently a pop musician with a strong affinity for melody, of which he shows a fine display on “My Ashes” and “Sentimental,” the only two ballads on the album. Even though these modest numbers are overshadowed by the dazzling rest of the record, they offer another dimension to it that makes it interesting not just for its ostentatious display of muscle guitars and drums, but also for its simplicity.

Clocking over 50 minutes, FOABP is a mere seven songs long, enough that it feels satisfying without being too long and tedious. In spite of the long and complicated numbers, this is still the most accessible Porcupine Tree record and one of the better discs all year. The whole album is so captivating that it demands to be heard again and again, and the poor lyrics hardly seem to matter at all after the first spin itself.

Rating: A-

User Rating: A-


First of all, no pressing of this disc contains 7 tracks--this is a 6-track album. Second of all, the whole theme is based on a book by Bret Easton Ellis called "Lunar Park" (also the author of "American Psycho")...the only difference being that in the book the point-of-view rests on the father's shoulders, whereas the PT album shows us the viewpoint of the son from the story.

The book follows a writer through a world of turmoil involving drugs (yes, pills, as well a cocaine and others...), alcohol, his estranged pre-teen son, and a very odd ghost story to tie it all together. The lyrics borrow heavily from the book's pages, some of them almost verbatim ("I do a good impression of myself" being the first line of the book). If you've listened to many other PT albums, you should know that the lyric process for Steven Wilson is somewhat painstaking. And I believe that the recurrence of the word "pills" isn't reason enough to call these lyrics bad...it ties the songs together, because this is a concept album. A narrative about a child's hard life due to a faltering father may involve many instances of drug use (in the kid's case, Mogadon which is a prescription pill for insomnia and is mentioned in the lyrics). His mother, in the book, has him on mood stabalizers, which for many kids causes them to be bland and disconnected (much like the kids in the video for "FOABP").

I would probably say that 'In Absentia' is the most accessible album, mainly because it starts with a poppy sort of track, and doesn't contain any tracks that are nearly as long as "Anesthetize"--FOABP goes against the grain of pop-society, having a mere 6 tracks--none of them being less than 5 minutes.

All in all, not a bad review. There's got to be some criticism for the band, but I felt that some of your critical points in this review needed some clarification.

Cheers! Rock on...

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