Tuesday, 29 September 2009

The Incident/The Resistance

Gah! Fuck. Lateness. I’ve had no internet all week so be glad you’re getting a blog this week at all. Anyway, a few weeks ago a couple of mysterious packages landed on my desk courtesy of Amazon. These packages contained two brand new spanking albums, The Incident by Porcupine Tree and The Resistance by Muse. Given that I am massive fans of both these bands and have had a huge hard on for these two albums for some months now I was really looking forward to getting them and hoping beyond hope that they wouldn’t be shit. I thought I’d review them for you because I’m nice like that.

I’m actually listening to The Incident as I type this, so we may as well start with that one. Don’t be fooled by the claim that the first CD (did I not mention it was a double album?) contains one long 55 minute song, it doesn’t. The ‘song’ is split into 14 different parts which work just as well independently as they do played as one track. Now is it me or is that just an album? I think Steve Wilson and co. need to extract their heads from their arses and stop trying to be too prog. There’s no reason why ‘The Incident’ couldn’t just be 14 songs as part of an album, to call the first CD a single ‘song’ is a complete misnomer.

Moving away from this rather semantic point, the music itself offers very little that’s new for Porcupine Tree. It has the same Prog Rock feel mixed in with some heavy elements and some more popularist stuff. Essentially this album sums up the Porcupine Tree sound; it is almost a summary of all their music to date. The very beginning of the album has echoes of In Absentia, while songs like ‘Time Flies’ and ‘I Drive the Hearse’ call back to their earlier, more psychedelic days. Unfortunately it sometimes feels slightly recycled; ‘Time Flies’ especially fells a lot like ‘Stars Die’. Musically it’s pretty astute without being much new. The second CD is far more like their early music that the first, which, as a big fan of their early psychedelic sound, I really like.

Where the album really excels is in the lyrics. I don’t think I truly came to appreciate it until I listened with the lyric book open in front of me. Porcupine Tree songs have always been fairly rich lyrically, but here Wilson has excelled himself. Songs like ‘Your Unpleasant Family’, ‘Octane Twist’ and ‘Remember me Lover’ provide lyrical highlights which are both very viral and beautifully meaningful. Wilson’s lyrics are typically dreamy and slightly bizarre without being so strange as to descent into absurdity. While the music does not add much new, they set a platform for some of the most imaginative and well written lyrics Porcupine Tree have ever produced, some praise given the strength of their back catalogue.

Overall then, the album is not anywhere near the level of In Absentia, which remains one of my favourite albums of all time, but it holds it’s own against the rest of Porcupine Tree’s work. In many ways it amounts to the summation of Porcupine Tree’s sound. I guess if you want a feeling for all Porcupine Tree stand for, good of bad, then The Incident sums it up. It has its prog rock absurdities, it has its heavy metal interludes and its moments of brilliance, but brings very little new to the party. At this point Porcupine Tree runs the risk of going stale, stagnating in what they’ve already achieved. Fair enough they’ve existed for 20 years now, but they need to come up with something new in time for the next album or they will start to fizzle out. Wilson has proved with this album that he still has the capacity to produce some astonishing music, but he needs to rediscover the innovation which made In Absentia such a great album if Porcupine Tree is to remain one of the finest uncovered gems of the music industry.

I’ve probably been looking forward to the new Muse album for as long as I’ve ever looked forward to a new release before, which is saying something, given how much I like my music. Over the past months, maybe even over a year I’ve been hearing great things from the Muse camp about fully orchestrates Symphonies and a fuckton on innovative sounds. Frankly on hearing The Resistance I was underwhelmed.

The album could perhaps be accused of being slightly more prog than previous albums, but it does innovation is such a safe way that it is hardly exciting. The much touted symphony is split into three radio friendly chunks which takes away from the ingenuity of it. While Porcupine Tree try too hard to be prog, claiming to have a 55 minute song, Muse try to hide it away, almost embarrassed at the prospect of any if their music being labelled progressive. Just because the late 70s and 80s took innovation to a level which took it beyond the ridiculous should not discredit the value of experimentation. It is ok to have songs which last more than six minutes, radio stations may not like them very much, but it the song is good enough to be played, it will be played, no matter how long it is. If you really care about radio time then release an abridged version of a song, but there’s no point in dividing into three parts.

Elsewhere the album suffers from being too viral; Matt Bellamy seems to have sacrificed musical integrity for something which gets stuck into your head. Songs like ‘The Resistance’ and Uprising’ suffer from over commercial choruses which are very easy to sing along to, but are pretty devoid of musical interest and lyrically ingenuity. The main issue I have with this is that songs like ‘Guiding Light’ and ‘Unnatural Selection’, along with almost every other popular song Muse have ever had, prove that there’s no need to pander to the lowest common denominator for songs to be popular. There’s no need to popularise music in order to get radio time, especially if you’re Muse, one of the biggest, most popular alternative rock bands on the planet.

At times is feels like Muse are trying too hard. United States of Eurasia sounds a lot like a Queen song, now there’s nothing wrong with that as an idea, but the delivery is poor. The song feels totally disorganised. It’s meant to emulate the tempo changes and full throttle musical explosions that made Queen so great, but instead it is a mess of misplaced and clunky rubbish. Similarly the lyrics seem to be trying to emulate the brilliance of past albums. ‘Guiding Light’ is a pale imitation of ‘Starlight’ and the occasional reference to 1984 just doesn’t cut it when held up to the genius of ‘Citizen Erased’, especially when it is cut with meaningless and seemingly random soppy romance lyrics. In previous albums one or two songs have essentially been love songs, but this time they all seem to contain an element of the love song. When delivered well, love songs can be a real highlight of an album, but in The Resistance is just descends into cliché.

Overall this album tries to hard to reach the blistering heights of Muse’s past brilliance. It’s not a bad album per se, but it’s not realty a good one either. If I was being kind I’d call it decent, if I was being unkind I’d call it painfully mediocre. I hope this is a blip, not the beginning of a trend. I would hate to see Muse peter out after just 5 albums. Bellamy and co. have for more to offer the world of music that they have done thus far. Muse need to remember the sound that got them where they are today and stop pandering to the record companies; they are popular enough not to need to.

So two very different albums, neither of which are exactly brilliant but there you go, life would be dull of every album were perfect. Wait what am I saying? If only every album were perfect. Anyway, October brings new album from Nine Black Alps and The Flaming Lips, so I’ll review those when I get them, in the meantime next week will be on time (hopefully). In fact my lack of internet has given me time to play through the new Batman game, so I’ll probably review that next week. Fun times.


  1. Nice post. I suggest you edit the second half. You seem to have accidentally posted the text twice. Just thought I'd get in before some eejit goes LOLZORZ FAIL at you. :)

    See you on LRR!

  2. oh snap! thanks for that James