Porcupine Tree, The Incident (Roadrunner Records, 2009)

For well over a decade at this point, England's Porcupine Tree have been the leading proponents of contemporary progressive rock. Steven Wilson (vocals, guitar, piano), Richard Barbieri (keyboards), Colin Edwin (bass), and Gavin Harrison (drums) have churned out a number of solid concept albums, the best of which was Deadwing in 2005. Their 2007 CD Fear of a Blank Planet wasn't quite as good, though, and I was worried that the band was starting to head in the wrong direction. Happily, the new album The Incident is a return to form.

The Incident is a double CD. The first disc is a continuous song cycle running about an hour. Wilson takes his inspiration from news events, like the raid at the Yearning for Zion Ranch in Texas last year, and from less newsworthy but no less traumatic occurrences like car crashes. The underlying theme is that people keep themselves emotionally detached from sad or disturbing events when they hear about them, but the people who suffer through these events are just as human as the rest of us and have stories that need telling. It's a weighty subject to base a whole album around, but thankfully Wilson and the band churn out some solid rock and roll and keep things from getting too bleak. Like a lot of the "art rock" albums made by bands like Pink Floyd, King Crimson, or Genesis, the highlights on the first part of The Incident are often song fragments or portions of particular tracks; the chorus of "Drawing the Line" is especially inspired in that regard. This doesn't make the album particularly iPod friendly, but Wilson happily aims his work at listeners with enough of an attention span to listen to the album as whole.

The second disc is actually quite short, with four stand-alone songs. Of these, the last two songs are noteworthy. "Black Dahlia" has the best chord progression on either part of the album, and "Remember Me Lover" is a particularly potent break-up song.

Album-oriented rock has certainly become something of a lost art, but Porcupine Tree are firm believers in it. The Incident demonstrates that an album as a whole can be better than the sum of its individual parts. The underlying concept is dark but intriguing, and Wilson is skilled enough as a songwriter to make it work all the way through. Ultimately, though, the album depends on some strong musical performances to succeed, and Porcupine Tree delivers.

Overall grade: B+

reviewed by Scott

Some outtakes from the recording sessions.

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