The Friday Morning Listen: Porcupine Tree – The Incident (2009)

I don’t usually spend a lot of time dumping on music that I don’t like. This is pretty much an ironclad rule when it comes to reviews. It’s the most pointless kind of writing, rarely rising above the level of drunken frat-boy snark. But sometimes it’s interesting to dig into the why’s and why not’s of dislike. So this morning, the subject will be prog rock.

This investigation was brought on by Something Else! watercooler chatter concerning Steve Wilson’s announcement that Porcupine Tree is more or less done. My initial (and only) comment was “I’m crushed.” Of course, I was kidding, but I’ll get back to that in a bit.

So yes: progressive or “art” rock. Much like my issues with certain vocalists, why I like or dislike a particular group seems like a complete mystery, especially since there so many contradictions.

Going back to my early years: King Crimson and Emerson, Lake, and Palmer. I didn’t become aware of Crimson until Red came out, but that made me go all the way back to their beginning. ELP had a lot of radio play, especially with “Lucky Man.” Despite their excesses, I totally dug every crazed drum solo, keyboard interlude, and silly classical music interpretation. But during that same time, there was Peter Gabriel’s Genesis, who to this day I cannot stomach. I know that The Lamb Lies Down On Broadway is supposed to be this epic achievement, but there’s just nothing there for me. And yet I always kinda dug Yes. Was it that they were more commercial than Genesis? That’s not even a fair characterization because Yes’ radio hits can’t hide the length, structure, and complexity of most of their early canon.

[SOMETHING ELSE! INTERVIEW: John Wetton examines three of his most important musical stops – Asia, King Crimson and UK – while frankly discussing how drinking nearly ruined all of it.]

I do realize that I’ve only covered a tiny portion of early progressive rock, but this is with good reason: I never cared for the rest of it. Gentle Giant, Gong, The Moody Blues, Procol Harum, Soft Machine…they didn’t exist in my listening world. Sorry, guys.

I see bands like Pink Floyd and Rush as bridges to the more modern prog era. Both bands were so popular and had so much commercial success that sometimes it’s hard to think of them as prog, but their influence is undeniable. And yeah, I’ve got a ton of their albums. OK, I’ve got all of them.

Which brings me to everything from Marillion to Spock’s Beard to Porcupine Tree. I’ve had so many people tell me how incredible these groups are. I’ve given them all a try, bought a few discs, and have come up nearly empty in the process. Again, I can’t put my finger on the issue. Clearly, these are all talented musicians. Sometimes, the vocals ruin it for me — Marillion being a prime example. For everything else? I dunno, it all seems just so … serious? That’s probably a little vague. Contradictory too. I mean, when was King Crimson not serious, “Ladies Of The Road” aside? I also want to say that it feels cold to me. That’s what keeps me from being a real fan of Radiohead, who my ears say would be improved if the vocals were removed. But again, Crimson? No, they didn’t exactly wrap their arms around you with their enveloping warmth.

[ONE TRACK MIND: Greg Lake takes over our One Track Mind feature to talk about key songs from Emerson Lake and Palmer, King Crimson’s seminal debut and his collaborations with Gary Moore.]

My one experience with Porcupine Tree was the purchase of 2007’s Fear Of A Blank Planet. It was one of those albums where I gave in to the hype and was completely let down. After several listens I could remember absolutely nothing about the record. Nothing. You might think that my loud guitar-lovin’ self would have dug into this material, but no. It was very much like my one experience with Dream Theater. It was loud, it went on for a while, and then it ended.

I’m glad for the fans of Steve Wilson, that he’ll be carrying on in his own prolific way. I’m really not a hater, just a realist. And in that spirit, I’ll give Porcupine Tree one last try, this time with The Incident, because I hear that it’s really incredible.

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Mark Saleski

Mark Saleski is a writer and music obsessive based out of the woods of central New Hampshire. A past contributor to Jazz.com, Blogcritics.org and Salon, he writes several weekly features including the Friday Morning Listen, (Cross the) Heartland, WTF! Wednesday, and Sparks Fly on E Street. Follow him on Twitter: @msaleski. Contact Something Else! at reviews@somethingelsereviews.com.
  • Bob

    When reading this missive, one can only be reminded of Irish author Brendan Behan, who once waxed: “Critics are like eunuchs in a harem; they know how it’s done, they’ve seen it done every day, but they’re unable to do it themselves.”

    • S. Victor Aaron

      Behan also advised “it is a good deed to forget a poor joke.”

  • http://somethingelsereviews.com/ Mark Saleski

    when reading this comment, one can only be reminded of the great actress Betty White, who said:

    “Trolls suck.”

  • Bob

    Thank the stars for day jobs, huh?

  • http://somethingelsereviews.com/ Mark Saleski

    that’s true. because otherwise you’d be just another jerk on the internet.

  • Glen Boyd

    Further proof that music is most often purely a subjective thing — you either “get” something, or you don’t — and that one man’s Steven Wilson is another’s Jandek (sorry, couldn’t resist…).

    Funny what you said about Radiohead though. I actually share some of your view that OK Computer is somewhat derivative of seventies prog. But I also like it — a lot, actually — and the biggest reason I do is because of Thom Yorke’s voice.

    That eerie, haunting tonal quality is even more evident on later albums like Kid A, Amnesiac, and In Rainbows, which is also why I like those even better.

    -Glen

  • http://www.smsjazz.com mort weiss

    REGARDING ALL THAT WAS NOTED ABOVE —who-i ask you-who could ever forget the far seeing and further reaching that the (DIVA) ( whose words have gotten me through some pretty dark times) MARY ANN FAITHFUL said when asked? That being- “who are those who din to be percievd as such that would carry same”?aaahhhman almost as cool as those vestial virgins going to the coast-MARK. peace, my bothers. MORT WEISS

  • http://www.smsjazz.com mort weiss

    THE TROLL THING—–(as the new /old kid on the block) i must ask (in all joevillity ) did BETTY WHITE really say that? MORT

  • http://www.smsjazz.com mort weiss

    Well did she? Mort

  • S. Victor Aaron