The Sky Moves Sideways
REVIEW BY: Bruce Rusk
ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED: 02/17/2011
The origins of Porcupine Tree leave some ambiguity as to what their first official release was. For most of the world, that falls upon founder Steven Wilson’s extravagant opus The Sky Moves Sideways. Previous releases of EPs and demos were merged into compilations, but this was the first fully conceived album. This same album would tag them with the honor of being proclaimed the “next Pink Floyd," a label the band would make an effort to shed over the next decade.
This was also the first album to feature the four original members all on the same disc, as opposed to the essentially DIY efforts of the earlier recordings that were largely Wilson playing everything. The contributions of Richard Barbieri on keys and the amazing rhythm section of Chris Maitland on drums and Colin Edwin on bass help shore up Wilson's complex arrangements beautifully. Sky is so classically progressive rock, it could be written off as a template for the past, or Spinal Tap’s experiments in prog-rock. Thankfully it’s neither. The lush, expansive composition is so dynamic and creative; it elevates itself to sixty minutes of prog-rock brilliance, replete with huge sprawling soundscapes punctuated by surging hard rock and gentle acoustic segues. Among the classic prog-rock threads, Wilson weaves in elements of techno and electronica that give his compositions are far more modern feel and add a unique dynamic energy. Then, they paint the whole thing liberally with Wilson’s incredible guitar work. Whether he’s plucking out delicate accents and acoustic fills or thrashing out metal riffs, his virtuoso playing is highlight of an PT album and an ambitious psychedelic tour-de-force of great vision and power that few bands could pull off.
So, the question remains, is PT the new Pink Floyd? No, not really, but it becomes clear why the comparison is made. The album is essentially one song broken into separate movements. There are a lot of instrumental passages, and they tend to develop into sustained but mutating grooves, much like the cyclic, looping arrangements of the Floyd’s early work. The arrangements are dense, thickly textured and full of surging walls of synths and echoey guitars. Sounds familiar. Add in some spacey stream-of-consciousness lyrics (de rigueur for any prog band), and you have a complete package. One listen, however, dispels any notion that PT was mimicking anyone at all. There’s no question that Wilson is inspired by, and influenced by, progressive bands like The Floyd. However, his great achievement is making the music his own while maintaining a sonic touchstone to those sources.
The Sky Moves Sideways deserves a place among the best albums of the modern era of progressive rock, in part for being an excellent bridge between bands like Pink Floyd and King Crimson, to today’s neo-prog bands. But mainly, it deserves recognition because it’s a masterpiece in its own right, a complex, labyrinthine work of many colors and textures. Like many great pieces of music, the more you listen the more you hear. Repeated listening reveals new layers to discover and a rich tapestry of sound and vision.
[Author's note: There are several versions of the album available depending on where you shop. I recommend the 2007 2-disc remaster, which includes some excellent bonus tracks.]