Porcupine Tree – Lightbulb Sun

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Album Review by Mark Bayross

Porcupine Tree seem to have been around for ages. I remember when Melody Maker and NME used to rave about their “daring sonic journeys into expansive universes” (or something) back in 1991. I may be wrong. Maybe I’m thinking of the wrong arty leftfield indie never-rans…

No, in actual fact, Porcupine Tree have been around for a decade. The band started as a solo project of singer-songwriter-guitarist Steve Wilson who, back in the early nineties, released a series of increasingly spaced-out ambient excursions which would have made Mark Hollis of Talk Talk sit up and listen.

Having become a fully formed band and started writing rock songs, and despite releasing an album as recently as last year, they seem to have slowly disappeared, or at least found an audience in Italy and Poland, rather than in the UK or the US. Nonetheless, LIGHTBULB SUN is seeing them command our attention once again.

If my description of their music made them sound like an indie Pink Floyd, well, that’s not far off the mark. LIGHTBULB SUN is an hour’s worth of prog-rock, floating on beds of strings (arranged by XTC’s Dave Gregory) and punctuated by lengthy guitar solos. Sounds like a description of Hell to most sane people, but somehow, this album isn’t that bad.

Part of the reason for the album’s success may be its understated delivery. While Talk Talk created some stunning atmospherics in their latter years, they did push the limits of what they could realistically expect their audience to sit through. Lengthy silences with the odd wash of cymbals or solitary strum of guitar does not make for particularly engaging listening.

The closest Porcupine Tree come here to approximating that epic expansiveness is the 13 minute RUSSIA ON ICE, and its blend of fragility and meatiness comes across a bit like Catherine Wheel’s first couple of albums (which were produced by Talk Talk’s producer Tim Friese-Greene). The rest of the songs here are a mixture of Beatles-y harmonies (HOW IS YOUR LIFE TODAY?) and fairly energetic rockers (HATESONG, FOUR CHORDS THAT MADE A MILLION).

Forthcoming single SHESMOVEDON will show upstarts like Travis and Embrace how to sound BIG, while closing track FEEL SO LOW is possibly one of the most heart-breaking songs ever written: “…I left my voice on your machine / But you did not respond / OK OK OK you’ve won / You make me feel so low / So low…” S Club 7 this is not.

Porcupine Tree seem to have become skilled at fusing their disparate styles and sounds into a coherent whole. LIGHTBULB SUN may suffer from the odd twee moment, but at least it’s ambitious and at times genuinely moving.

4 stars