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Porcupine Tree — Fear of a Blank Planet
Artist:
Porcupine Tree
Album:
Fear of a Blank Planet
Genre:
Progressive Rock
Rating:
4 Stars
Bottom
Line:
Possibly their finest CD yet!

Buy this. Now. Okay, perhaps I’m getting a bit ahead of myself. The latest release from Porcupine Tree is an awesome progressive rock music fest, and if you like rock songs with great musicianship, odd time signatures, and lyrical adventures, search no further.

Fear of a Blank Planet is one of the rare records these days that makes you want to lay back on your bed with the headphones on and be taken away on a musical adventure. Of course if you grew up with the same musical influences as singer/songwriter/guitarist Steven Wilson, you’re probably at the age where you no longer have a full-blown stereo sitting next to your bed, but a portable CD player should suffice (reducing the audio to MP3 quality for your iPod would be an injustice to the music).

The story of this CD is both gripping and extremely disturbing. Wilson seems to have really channeled in on a growing animosity among our youth – disillusionment with the world around them as they retreat into the worlds of video games and the Internet rather than embracing human connection.

Starting with the title track, lyrics like “In school I can’t concentrate/And sex is kinda fun/But just another one/Of all the empty ways/Of using a day” and “X-box is a god to me” really drove the point home, not about a world of science fiction and fantastic stories, but about a world of children in need of some real parental attention.

The band is in top form, with Wilson’s melodic, spacey, and rocking guitars joined by the familiar and incredibly talented crew: keyboardist Richard Barbieri, bassist Colin Edwin, and Gavin Harrison on drums. Guest appearances on the CD include a solo from Alex Lifeson, guitar textures from Robert Fripp, and touring band mate (but not permanent band member) John Wesley throws down some backing vocals.

Don’t be misled by the low track count (six) – “Anesthetize” takes you on a fabulous seventeen-minute long adventure, and the record is consistently up on the energy level – there’s not much of the lazy meditative feeling from some earlier releases.

– SK

 
Marillion — Somewhere Else
Artist:
Marillion
Album:
Somewhere Else
Genre:
Progressive Rock
Rating:
3 Stars
Bottom
Line:
Acoustic, bluesy, and in-your-face, it’s a little less prog and a little more “let’s just hang out and relax.”

We’re used to Marillion mixing things up sonically from one album to the next, but at the same time, we never quite know what to expect, and the results sometimes take us a while to digest.

Coming on the heels of the progressive, texture-laden concept double-album, Marbles, Somewhere Else really takes the band somewhere else. Absent is Mark Kelly’s lush synthetic soundscape and the electronic drum loops; mostly gone is Steve Rothery’s delay- and chorus-drenched majestic tone. But present is Rothery’s inner blues demon; present is Kelly’s acoustic piano, and present is Steve Hogarth’s vocals – very live and in your face. Overall, the sound is much closer to the listener, due in part to a very different production style that Mike Hunter brought to the new record (compared with the familiar sonic texture of numerous Dave Meegan releases).

Also present are some great Marillion songs – “A Voice From The Past” is as emotionally evocative and musically infused as any of their finest classics, and the CD openers, “The Other Half” and “See It Like a Baby” are other fine songs that capture the spirit of Marillion in songs that are almost short enough to get some radio airplay!

Unfortunately, while half of this record makes us think of the release as a more progressive spin on the mostly-acoustic This Strange Engine, the second half of this CD seems to meander a bit too much, and a few of the tracks (such as “The Wound”) were just boring, at least by Marillion standards.

– SK

 
RUSH —Snakes & Arrows
Artist:
RUSH
Album:
Snakes & Arrows
Genre:
Progressive Rock
Rating:
3.5 Stars
Bottom
Line:
RUSH return to form with their best album in years.

While the last few albums from RUSH have had a few good songs here and there, many longtime fans (certainly all the fans we know) felt that the band sounded a bit lost, trying to chase the sound and style of other bands that were heavier, darker, and grungier. Many bands with long careers go through peaks and valleys, and perhaps RUSH finally experienced this cycle for themselves.

Of course, you don’t necessarily recognize that you’re in the valley until you come out of it, and on Snakes & Arrows, RUSH seem to have rediscovered making music with the signature sound of… RUSH!

Geddy Lee, Alex Lifeson, and Neil Peart are in superb form in so many ways on the new album. The songs are melodic, with great guitar hooks and bass grooves, and Alex’s acoustic playing abounds on this release. In many ways, our best description of the new record would be to say that if Presto had been more progressive and without keyboards, you’d have something that most closely resembles the new record. In fact, while there is barely a hint of mellotron on one or two songs, we would even be happy to hear Geddy dig back into his synthesizers again.

The album has some beautiful instrumental tracks that weave nicely in between the vocal songs. From the opening track, “Far Cry,” to the closing track, “Hold On,” the album is consistently strong. It’s too soon for us to pick favorite tracks, but we’re enjoying every track on the new CD.

Sonically, Neil’s drums sound better recorded than they have on the past few records; Geddy’s signature bass grooves come through well defined and clear (as do the very melodic vocal lines); and Alex’s acoustic guitar and lead lines are beautiful, but we’re disappointed with the muddiness present in his heavy rhythm guitar tracks.

If you were disappointed by Vapor Trails and Test for Echo, fear not. The boys are most definitely back in town, and we’re happy to welcome them home again. 

– SK

 
   
             
             
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