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PORCUPINE TREE — FEAR OF A BLANK PLANET

Stretching the boundaries of progressive rock

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Porcupine Tree‘s ninth studio album, Fear of a Blank Planet (Atlantic/Lava), is a tour through the malaise of the 21st century, featuring songs that illustrate a culture overtaken by distractions and boredom.

Attacked are the usual suspects: MTV, X-Box games, drugs, the Internet, suicide and sex. “Anesthetize” is one of the most ambitious tracks on the CD, clocking in at just under 18 minutes (and feeling as if it could have been sliced into three songs). It is a grim assessment of what lead singer Steven Wilson (who wrote all of the lyrics) perceives to be the torpor of contemporary youth. “The dust in my soul/makes me feel the weight in my legs,” the narrator recites, along with “only apathy/from the pills in me.” Alex Lifeson of Rush plays guitar on the tune, which ranges musically from lush understatement to Metallica-like power chords.

King Crimson‘s Robert Fripp contributes one of his trademark soundscapes to “Way Out of Here.” The dynamic fills from drummer Gavin Harrison are reminiscent of the work by Danny Carey of Tool, which along with Radiohead and Pink Floyd are among Porcupine Tree’s progressive/psychedelic influences.

Such songs as “My Ashes” and “Sentimental” chart the disaffection and alienation of youth, but the album’s pessimistic content is best defined by the lines from “Sleep Together” — “Let’s sleep together right now/switch off the future right now.”

With Fear of a Blank Planet, Wilson and his band (which launched 20 years ago) continue to stretch the boundaries of progressive rock, observing with a clinical eye the decay of modern life without offering any solution to the dilemma. While this may not be everyone’s cup of tea, the band is an acquired taste and a worthwhile listen.

— By Donald Gavron