Issue 2004-049: Blackfield / Porcupine Tree Special
Reviews in this issue:
Blackfield - Blackfield
Tracklist: Open Mind (3:50), Blackfield (4:06), Glow (4:00), Scars (3:57), Lullaby (3:29), Pain (3:47), Summer (4:12), Cloudy Now (3:34), The Hole In Me (2:47), Hello (3:09)
Four years ago, in the year 2000, Steve Wilson of Porcupine Tree got an invitation from one Aviv Geffen from Israel to come and play some shows in that country. Aviv Geffen turned out to be a very successful artist in Israel and something clicked between Geffen and Wilson. During the concerts in Israel, Geffen would join the band on stage during performances of Feel so Low and Russia on Ice and before long the two were working on a collaborative project which was later named 'Blackfield'. Over the next two years the two would frequently meet in London or Tel-Aviv and plans for an EP eventually turned into a 10 song album which was released in Israel last February. So far, the songs Hello, Pain, Cloudy Now and Blackfield have already been released as singles in Israel.
As a big Porcupine Tree fan I couldn't wait to hear this new project by Steve Wilson. When I received the CD I certainly wasn't disappointed. Although the songs were rather short there was a definite 'Wilsonesque' sound to it that wasn't too far removed from the more song oriented material by the Tree. I immediately liked half of the album, while other songs like Glow, Scars and The Hole in Me took a couple of spins to get used to and soon I ended up really liking these tunes as well.
Wilson mainly plays guitars and bass on the album, with Geffen focussing on keyboards. Vocals are shared between the two, although Geffen only does main vocals on Pain and The Hole in Me. It's rather remarkable that whenever Geffen sings, his vocals are processed or distorted. Some have said this was done to disguise his accent. Having checked out some of his own music I have to say though that while Geffen is an excellent composer, he's not the world's greatest singer. The current and ex-drummers of Porcupine Tree (Harrison and Maitland) also appear on the album, as well as a rather heavily used string quartet.
Two songs on the album (Blackfield and Lullaby) were songs written by Wilson which didn't seem quite right for Porcupine Tree but matched the Blackfield style. As you can imagine these are the most Tree-like songs on the album. Three other songs (Cloudy Now, Glow and Scars) are remakes of previous recorded material by Geffen himself, some of which had already been hits in Israel in their original form. The remaining five songs were written in collaboration between Wilson and Geffen.
All of the songs clock in around 4 minutes, a clear influence by Geffen, who prefers to write short tracks. At times this is really a shame because some songs really have the potential to be twice as long including some fine solos. Unfortunately guitar solos are quite rare on this album and when they occur they can be found at the end of the tracks and fade out rather quickly. As a result the album, while containing 10 songs, is just 37 minutes long !
The lyrics of the songs are quite direct and most of them are about loss, loneliness, frustration and other cheerful subjects. Combined with the melancholic but very melodic music and an often present high orchestration, this makes the album another typically Wilsonesque piece of 'beautiful sadness'. Wilson himself described the Blackfield music as 'Classic melancholic songs with a lush and warm production' and indeed, that covers it pretty well. At times the music is very minimalistic with for instance only vocals and organ, while at others it suddenly features lots of bombastic drumming, guitar riffs and the aforementioned orchestrations. And all of this can happen within a 3 minute song.
A couple of words about the individual songs. Open Mind is a remarkable track which seems to mix Syd Barret's melodic and playful lyrics with Crosby Stills Nash and Young-like harmonies and Porcupine Tree like killer riffs. Blackfield is my personal favourite on the album, an extremely catchy and atmospheric song sometimes reminding me of the Stupid Dream album. In the melancholic Glow the first three minutes of the song consists of vocals, organ and strings while a full band suddenly kicks in for a climatic last minute. Scars features a remarkable stomping drum sound, more heavy string orchestration and a middle section featuring a Jungle-like rhythm and some ethnic flute instrument.
The stomping Glow suddenly gives way to the immensely sad and beautiful Lullaby, which is mainly a piano-vocal track with string arrangements. For those who think that Heartattack in a Layby is Wilson's saddest song ever, wait till you hear this wonderful masterpiece. Pain is another highlight, featuring an amazingly catchy melody and even a short organ solo. Summer is another fine melancholic tune, although not one of the most remarkable ones on the album.
Cloudy Now shows what can happen if an already classic song by Geffen is given the 'Wilson treatment'. Another highlight filled with stunning sadness and later, during the climax, pure anger and frustration. The Hole in Me is a rather Beatle-esque track with splendid harmony vocals in the chorus and a rather Baltic feel to it.
The album closes with another highlight, the band's debut single Hello which sums up what Blackfield is about in just three minutes and features the album's only real lasting guitar solo.
All in all a splendid album which should appeal to Porcupine Tree fans that liked the Stupid Dream/Lightbulb Sun era and can appreciate shorter, compact songs. As such it will definitely appeal to anybody who likes melancholic pop-rock songs with lush orchestration and harmony vocals. Personally I consider it one of the best releases of the year and if one could call this band a 'newcomer' I have already made up my mind for the DPRPoll at the end of the year. Best tracks: Blackfield, Lullaby, Pain, Cloudy Now, Open Mind and Hello.
The international release includes a bonus CD with three extra songs plus the video for the song Blackfield. Although it's good to have some additional music lengthening the album, it seems rather silly and a waste of CD space to me to make it a double CD. There's more than enough space left on disc one anyway.
For those who feel that Porcupine Tree has become a little too heavy lately, here comes a great new album that should balance your Steve Wilson experience. Unlike other Steve Wilson projects, like Bass Communion or No-Man, this one isn't miles apart from his work with Porcupine Tree. In fact, it can best be compared with the more poppy tunes Stranger By The Minute, Piano Lessons or Shesmovedon.
For some fans' taste it may be a little bit too poppy, but for me it is a welcome break after the powerful In Absentia album and the even more powerful tour that followed.
Calling this album a Steve Wilson project would not do justice to Geffen's part of the collaboration though. After all, he did write three of the songs on the album, and co-wrote four with Wilson. It is just that all songs sound so much like Porcupine Tree, that either Geffen has been heavily influenced by the work of Wilson, or they just complement each other perfectly.
All the songs on the album are little gems, though it has to be said that sometime's a little too little. The CD is awfully short and the same can be said about the songs. Especially towards the end the songs seem a little rushed. My favourite on the album, Cloudy Now, is a good example. It starts with a beautiful melody and heart wrenching lyrics sung by Wilson, and after two choruses Aviv Geffen comes with a terrific finale. But just when you expect a guitar solo or something, the song just stops and the next one starts.
The last two songs have a similar problem. The Hole In Me is a great, fun track (a waltz anyone?) which stops rather abruptly just at the moment when it's starting to become interesting. And the same goes for Hello, actually. Even though this track actually has a guitar solo, the song (and CD) is finished right after that.
But if you can live with the short songs, and put the album on repeat a couple of times, then this is definitely worth buying. The two Wilson penned songs, Lullaby and Blackfield will obviously appeal to the Porcupine Tree public, but also Geffen compositions like Pain and Cloudy Now are definite highlights. From basic guitar-vocal tracks to full on rock songs and huge string arrangements, all can be found on the album.
Porcupine Tree - The Sky Moves Sideways
[Expanded 2CD Edition]
Tracklist CD 1: The Sky Moves Sideways Phase 1 (18.39), Dislocated Day (5.24), The Moon Touches Your Shoulder (5.40), Prepare Yourself (1.58), The Sky Moves Sideways Phase 2 (16.48)
Tracklist CD 2: The Sky Moves Sideways [alternate version] (34.37), Stars Die (5.01), Moonloop [improvisation] (16.18), Moonloop [coda] (4.52)
The title track of Porcupine Tree's third album, originally released in 1995, remains one of my favourite Porcupine Tree compositions to this day. It's often been criticized for being too Floydian but I've always felt that such criticism was unfair. Sure, the song is a long, mostly instrumental track that resembles Shine On You Crazy Diamond in structure. Sure, there's the female Great Gig in the Sky-vocals and sound effects. Sure, it ends with a blistering guitar solo in true Gilmour style. But if you look beyond these points of resemblance and listen to the actual music you'll find something that is very, very different from anything Pink Floyd could have every written. It's both much more ambient and mesmerizing and heavy rocking at the same time.
The Sky Moves Sideways is a 35 minute epic, broken up in two 'phases'. Together these two faces consist of 6 parts. These parts were never identified on the European releases, but the US release named the individual parts as: The Color of Air (the ambient introduction), I Find That I'm Not There (the vocal section), Wire The Drum (the thunderous heavy section of the first phase), Spiral Circus (the quiet guitar outro of the first phase), IS ... NOT (most of the second phase) and Off The Map (the reprise and Floydian guitar solo at the end of phase two). It's really a shame that they didn't add these titles to the re-release.
This re-release comes with an alternative version of the title track on the second disc and might well be the biggest reason for people who already have a copy of the original CD to buy this 2CD version again. On one hand it's a remarkably well developed work-in-progress version of the track, which was originally intended to be a 50 minute piece. Still, there's enough interesting bits and pieces to make this a must-have for Tree collectors. First of all, this version is still a bit rough at the edges, as you can imagine. Second, the words of the I Find That I'm Not There section are still partially different. Thirdly, the drums to Wire The Drums sound different; it's got a synth rhythm instead of the bass groove. Fourth, and most importantly, the whole first part of IS ... NOT comes with an additional drum and bass track, turning it into something completely different, more in the style of Voyage 34. And finally, the big guitar climax of Off The Map is missing. Instead the epic ends with more female chanting and a reprise of the opening section of IS ... NOT. All in all a very interesting version indeed.
Another track which wasn't released on the European version of the original CD is the beautiful atmospheric Stars Die, which was also previously released on an EP, together with Moonloop. Although the track was recently made available again on the Stars Die boxset, it was also added to this new edition. A fine decision because it blends in perfectly with the other tracks from this period and flows straight into Moonloop.
The two tracks Dislocated Day and The Moon Touches Your Shoulder originally featured drum computer, which has now been replaced by newly recorded drum tracks by the Tree's new drummer Gavin Harrison. Quite an improvement, although do I have to admit that I still find the live versions of these songs on Coma Divine a whole lot more interesting than these versions. The short electric guitar interlude Prepare Yourself remains unchanged.
The only track I haven't mentioned yet is Moonloop, a song which seems to have been released in countless versions and lengths. The main section of the song originated from a 40 minute jam (which was released in a full length version for the fanclub in December 2001). As you can imagine it's a rather free formed improvisation that slowly builds up. As such, released versions have varied from 8 to 20 minutes. Depending on my mood I find the longer version either very relaxing or enormously dragging and once again I would probably prefer the Coma Divine version above all other ones. The new version on the 2CD Sky Moves Sideways is 4 minutes longer than the old album version. A good thing though is the fact that the improvisation (a hybrid of various different released versions) and the riffy coda have been split up into separate tracks, so if you don't feel like listening to the full piece, you can skip the improvisation and go straight to the coda.
All in all this new version of The Sky Moves Sideways includes an impressive 45 minutes of new music, plus two improved versions of original songs. For anybody who hasn't got a copy of this album yet this is without a doubt the ultimate version and a obligatory part in any self-respecting proghead's collection. For those who already have the original album, if an alternative early version of the title track sounds like a temptation you cannot resist, rest assured and buy this new edition. It's highly recommended. My only complaint, which basically goes for all the expanded editions, is the lack of extensive liner notes. Having done such a great job on the Stars Die boxset, I would have expected some more background information in the booklet.
Conclusion: 9 out of 10
Porcupine Tree - Signify
[Expanded 2CD Edition]
Tracklist CD1 Signify (1996): Bornlivedie (1:46), Signify (3:26), The Sleep of No Dreaming (5:24), Pagan (1:38), Waiting - Phase One (4:24), Waiting - Phase Two (6:16), Sever (5:30), Idiot Prayer (7:37), Every Home is Wired (5:08), Intermediate Jesus (7:29), "Light Mass Prayers" (4:28), Dark Matter (8:52)
Tracklist CD2 Insignificance (demos 1995-96): Wake as Gun 1 (3:29), Hallogallo / Signify (3:37), Signify (3:27), Waiting (6:56), Smiling Not Smiling (3:49), Wake as Gun 2 (2:06), Neural Rust (5:53), Dark Origins (6:54), Sever Tomorrow (6:04), Nine Cats - acoustic version (4:08)
Signify, originally released in 1996, was a rather special album for me. It was the second Porcupine Tree album I bought and it was during a period which I consider one of the worst in my life. The dark, moody and sometimes aggressive music on Signify seemed like the perfect soundtrack to my life at the time.
Still, Signify isn't the best Porcupine Tree album out there, and it certainly isn't one of the first recommendations I would make to a 'newbie' wanting to check out the band. As a matter of fact, it's not even in my top 5 of PT albums. This doesn't mean that there's no high quality stuff on the album though. The CD contains songs that have become big PT classics, like the heavy metal title track Signify (which I still like to play along to on bass guitar at home), the band's first attempt at a single, Waiting, and Dark Matter which is to this album what Fadeaway and Stop Swimming are to Up The Downstairs and Stupid Dream.
Signify also shows a clear transition phase from the early nineties Porcupine Tree with long instrumental tracks and lots of musical experiments to the more song orientated band of the later nineties. As a matter of fact, Signify was also the first album that was completely recorded in full band line-up, whereas The Sky Moves Sideways still featured some Wilson-only tracks.
As mentioned, the album contains some classic material and some fine 'songs' like The Sleep of No Dreaming, Sever and Every Home is Wired (the latter being one of the first trips into vocal harmony territory). Special mention is also deserved by one of my favourite instrumental PT tracks, Idiot Prayer, which also features great samples of some religious fanatic.
But besides all of this good stuff there's also some music on the album which doesn't appeal to me all that much, or at least not within the context of this album and in my opinion breaks up the flow and melodic approach of the album. I'm referring to the more free formed and sometimes even jazzy stuff like Intermediate Jesus, Light Mass Prayers and the end section of Sever. Some of this music originated in several jam sessions which were later released on the Metanoia CD. Although I like to give that album a spin every now and then when I'm in the right mood, I really regret that it was incorporated in the Signify album so prominently.
Something I do love about the album are the great narrative introductions. The album opens with '.... join us in enjoying some quiet and romantic and relaxed music ....' just before going into one of the band's heaviest tracks, while after it's sometimes emotionally draining rollercoaster ride it ends with 'You've just had a heavy session of electroshock therapy .... all those childhood traumas magically wiped away ... along with most of your personality'. And who said that Wilson didn't have a sense of humour ?
The expanded 2 CD edition of Signify comes with a bonus disc that is presented as Insignificance (demos 1995-96) which was previously released as a fanclub-only release. Well, that's not 100% correct. The original Insignificance tape contained the tracks Insignificance and Door to the River instead of the track Dark Origins. Those two tracks were however moved to the Metanoia CD version since they were free formed instrumentals that originated in the same sessions as the Mesmer and Metanoia tracks on that album. A wise decision. So, Dark Origins is a first-time release.
I always really liked the Insignificance tape, and not just because of it's limited edition character. It contains some extremely well developed, but still rough-on-the-edges demos of tracks from Signify: Waiting (later to be expanded and broken up in two 'phases'), Signify (emerging from a wonderful cover version of Neu!'s Hallagallo) and Sever (already containing many of the samples). But there's more 'original' material like a couple of wonderful acoustic songs, Wake as Gun I & II and a splendid re-recording of Nine Cats from the Tree's debut album. Both Neural Rust and Dark Origins feature the drum rhythm that later ended up in Dark Matter, but whereas Neural Rust develops into an instrumental that was later reworked into the riffy B-side The Sound of No-One Listening, Dark Origins remains a very moody ambient piece which could be considered Porcupine Tree's tribute to Pink Floyd tracks like Careful With That Axe, Eugene or Set The Controls for the Heart of the Sun. Finally there's Smiling Not Smiling which is highly interesting but suffers a bit from too many ideas cramped into only 4 minutes.
And if you have any doubt about the quality of these outtakes and demo's, rest assured. Not only are we talking Steve Wilson here, but several songs were also released as B-sides for singles by the band, proving that they were good enough for official releases.
All in all this 2 CD edition including Insignificance is a very welcome new version of Signify and makes my old copies of the demos tape and album redundant. However, there are certain point of criticism. First of all, both the Delerium edition and the Snapper edition have no liner notes for the Insignificance material, while the original tape had many interesting bits and pieces written about them by Wilson. Also, the Delerium edition misses the tracklist of the Insignificance songs on the CD inlay or booklet; they are only printed (and hardly readable) on the slipcase, proving that they just reworked the already available old Signify edition.
Nevertheless, regardless of it not being the best PT album, this is still a highly recommended double CD, even if you already own the original Signify CD.
Conclusion: 8 out of 10
Porcupine Tree - Coma Divine
[Expanded 2CD Edition]
Tracklist CD1: Bornlivedieintro (1.25), Signify (5.29), Waiting Phase One (4.26), Waiting Phase Two (5.23), The Sky Moves Sideways (12.40), Dislocated Day (6.35), The Sleep of No Dreaming (5.19), Moonloop (11.50)
Tracklist CD2: Up the Downstair (7.40), The Moon Touches Your Shoulder (5.05), Always Never (5.41), Is...Not (6.09), Radioactive Toy (15.26), Not Beautiful Anymore (9.43)
Back in 1996, Coma Divine was one of the first albums I reviewed for DPRP. Below you will find an extract from my original review, expanded with additional notes regarding the expanded 2CD edition.
After some audience and back-stage noises the Bornlivedieintro is rolled, the band gets on stage and open the set with Signify. This heavy instrumental track is longer than the original on the album with the same title; it features a two minute improvisation at the end [which later turned out to be an extract from Signify 2, a reprise that didn't make it on the album with the same name, but was released on the Stars Die box set]. The album features a lot of improvisations and new arrangements of old songs. That's one of the great things about this CD. Nowadays, too many prog bands just step on stage and play the songs exactly as they are on the albums. It sometimes makes me wonder what's so special about concerts anyway. Where have the days gone when bands like Pink Floyd would expand a 5 minute song to a 15 minute jam ? The days when tracks like Market Square Heroes used to last for 10 minutes ? The Porcupine Tree disc brings back the feeling of listening to those old Floyd bootlegs from the early seventies [or at least they did in those days].
After Waiting Phase One and Waiting Phase Two, which is much more energetic than the original, we are treated to a shortened 13 minute version of The Sky Moves Sideways Phase One. It may be shorter but it does contain some heavy guitar jamming after the vocal part.
Overall Steve Wilson's vocals are better and don't sounds as depressed as on the originals and his guitar solo's are more raw and powerful, resulting in major improvements on tracks like Dislocated Day, which follows the Sky epic and also features some amazing drumming by Chris Maitland.
The Sleep of No Dreaming is a nice, solid song but wouldn't have been among my choices for the live album; it's just not one of my personal favourites, especially not when there's so much other great material to choose from.
Next up is an 11 minute version of Moonloop. I always found that the first half of the studio version dragged on too long. Fortunately the live version features some changed bass lines by Colin Edwin, new keyboard bits by Richard Barbieri, percussion by Chris and guitar improvisations by Steve, resulting in a much better version than the original.
The last but one track on the album is a long improvised version of an oldie and audience favourite; Radioactive Toy. The CD closes with a fantastic new version of Not Beautiful Anymore, which once again proves that this music should indeed be played by a full band.
The design of the CD artwork is very similar to the Signify album; misty visions of pillared halls. The booklet features atmospheric pictures of the band on stage.
The CD is filled with over 76 minutes of music, and that's where the only disappointment lies; it should have been a double album. The CD was recorded during three gigs in Rome where lots of different songs were played. We're missing out on great stuff like Dark Matter, Idiot Prayer, Up the Downstairs, Voyage 34, Every Home is Wired and Burning Sky now that they've decided to make it a single CD.
This one is a must for those of you who already liked the previous Tree albums. For those who are into early seventies Pink Floyd, psychedelic prog rock or want to try our more music by the man who produced and co-wrote Fish' Sunsets on Empire: give this one a spin !
Since I wrote that review, Coma Divine has become one of my favourite live albums, mainly because the material is so much different, expanded and sometimes better than their original studio versions. It is also one of the first albums I would recommend people to try out if they wanted to learn more about Porcupine Tree.
The new 2CD edition of the album comes with 4 extra tracks. Three of these were released in 1999 on a fanclub release called Coma Divine II, while IS ... NOT was previously available as an Internet download. The good thing is that all of these 4 'new' tracks are splendid additions to the original set, and all of them either improvements or alternative takes on their originals. Most of these tracks originally weren't full band tracks and featured drum computers. These band renditions really make them a lot stronger. Also, Always Never (including a Yellow Hedgerow Dreamscape-like speed up at the end) and The Moon Touches Your Shoulder (featuring lovely percussion) come as a medley with completely new arrangements that make them far superior compared to their studio versions, which I always found rather dull. Finally, IS ... NOT is a fine 5 minute excerpt from the second 'phase' of The Sky Moves Sideways with synths replacing the female vocals and a sustaining guitar melody which flows seamlessly into the next track, Radioactive Toy.
A few words of criticism though. Compared to the original album there's only about 22 minutes of additional music. This might seem quite a treat, but considering that the Coma Divine album was recorded during three nights in Rome where the band played much more material, including the tracks mentioned earlier, I really wonder if Steve Wilson couldn't have gone back to the original recording to select some more material, instead of just adding the fanclub release tracks.
Also, it's a bit beyond me why he asked Lasse Hoile to redo the original album artwork (though the original concept remains).
As an individual release I can only highly recommend this album and raise my original rating to a 9 now that the extra tracks have been added. Every Porcupine Tree fan should have a copy of this album in his collection, and for those who want to sample the earlier work of the band, this is an excellent starting point. For those who already own the original edition of Coma Divine, you will have to make up your minds if the 22 minutes of additional music justify coughing up some more cash. If you do buy this re-release, you might consider giving your old copy as a present to a friend, thereby spreading the Porcupine Tree gospel.
Conclusion: 9 out of 10
Porcupine Tree - Warszawa
Tracklist: Even Less (7:36), Slave Called Shiver (5:08), Shesmovedon (5:21), Last Chance to Evacuate Planet Earth.... (5:01), Lightbulb Sun (5:59), Russia On Ice (12:26), Where We Would Be (3:40), Hatesong (8:36), Stop Swimming (7:08), Voyage 34 (12:37), Signify (5:40)
During their Lightbulb Sun tour Porcupine Tree performed live for a Polish radio show on April 6th 2001. The show featured an hour of music and the band continued to play three songs for the invited audience when the show was over. All songs appear on this 79 minute release on the band's own Transmission label, with the unfortunate exception of one of my PT favourites, Tinto Brass (cut for reasons of disc space). The radio broadcast has been heavily traded and downloaded via peer-to-peer programs during the last two years but as you can imagine the sound quality of this album is far superior. The music was recorded on 32 track digital tape and remixed by Steve Wilson in June 2001, although no overdubs were made.
The set list for this performance, and most of the Lightbulb Sun tour, focussed on the Stupid Dream and Lightbulb Sun albums. Two exceptions are the after-broadcast encores Voyage 32 and Signify.
What you get to hear on this CD is a very tight band playing impressively well renditions of the selected material, with the possible exception of Lightbulb Sun, which I've always found to sound rather strange live. There's a couple of things I have to mention though. During this tour quite a lot of the instruments you heard were sampled or pre-recorded, so it's not a 100% live performance you are listening to. Also, I find the more recent Porcupine Tree recordings less interesting than for instance those on Coma Divine. On that particular album the band was still improving on the original studio versions, especially those from the first two albums. Also, there was still enough room in the
set list to still expand, re-arrange and play around with the music. Nowadays the band rarely play the songs very differently from their studio counterparts. And that's a real shame, since that's something which - for me at least - make live recordings so special.
Considering all of this, possibly the biggest treats of this album are the live version of Voyage 34 which has a rawness not present on the studio version. Other interesting moments are the guitar solo at the end of Shesmovedon and the more prominent slide guitar in the beautiful Stop Swimming.
One more minor complaint: the CD ends very abruptly in the middle of the applause after Signify. Surely they could have faded out during that applause. Initially I thought something was wrong with my CD or CD Player.
The CD comes packed in a cardboard digipack with plastic tray and features artwork by Lasse Hoile, who also did the disturbing artwork for In Absentia and Blackfield.
This live album will definitely appeal to the fans of Porcupine Tree's song orientated material. For me this album is a nice souvenir of the Lightbulb Sun tour since it features 11 out of the 14 songs they played at the show I saw. It's not an essential release but still a recommended CD for those who like their own tour souvenir or are Porcupine Tree completists. If you've only got a couple of euros to spend on your very first PT live album though, I'd suggest you try the Coma Divine remaster instead.
Conclusion: 7.5 out of 10
Porcupine Tree - In Absentia [DVD]
Tracklist: Blackest Eyes (4:24), Trains (5:55), Lips Of Ashes (4:38), The Sound Of Muzak (4:58), Gravity Eyelids (7:56), Wedding Nails (6:33), Prodigal (5:42), .3 (5:16), The Creator Has A Master-tape (5:21), Heartattack In A Layby (4:14), Strip The Soul (7:22), Collapse The Light Into Earth (5:53)
Bonus Material: Drown With Me (5:21), Chloroform (7:15), Futile (6:07), Blackest Eyes (video) (4:26), Strip The Soul (video) (3:42), Wedding Nails (video) (6:36), Photo galleries, lyrics, band bio
Don't you just hate it when in a seemingly endless effort to milk a band's loyal fanbase record companies release multiple copies of an album in order to sell more of the same product to the same people? Back in September 2002 Lava records released In Absentia as Porcupine Tree's first US-released album. The European release followed a ridiculous four months later, in January 2003. In order to prevent the European fans importing the album from the US, the European release contained a bonus disc with exclusive bonus tracks. The result? Many European fans bought a US import anyway, and bought the extended European version as well, and naturally American fans did exactly the same thing, the other way around. And then, some ten months later, Lava released yet another version of the same album, this time a DVD-audio version, which especially for the completists contains yet even more bonus tracks, including one that was not on the European version.
So if you are one of those people whose blood starts boiling at the thought of such opportunism, had better skip this review and move on to the next, for what I am about to say here will definitely infuriate you. Of the three different versions that currently exist, this DVD-audio version is the Definitive version to own. And that is Definitive with a capital D.
Now people will still frown at the thought of DVD-audio, or super audio for that matter. After all, the album's sounding fine just as it is now, so why would one invest more money in the same music, mixed just slightly differently? What is the point of the extra set of speakers in your living room, apart from the added effects during a movie?
For the answer to that question you need to think back to the early fifties of the last century. It was then that the Recording Industry Association of America started adopting a 20 year-old technology called "stereophonic recording" for music. The main reason why it took so long to adopt this technique was because no-one really bothered. After all, mono records sounded just fine, right? Well, no, not really, but if you don't know any better you do think so.
So looking back at the past fifty years you could say that stereo has become pretty much the standard for audio recordings, and that the RIAA did the right thing in adopting this technique.
However, people who frequently go to live performances will know that this is still a far cry from how music really sounds when it is played. Especially with classical concerts the layout of the orchestra and the acoustics of the venue play an important part in how you experience the sound. Hence the need for a system which can give a more dynamic feel of the music: surround sound. With the popularity of the DVD medium it has become increasingly interesting for artists to release an album on DVD as well as CD, and perhaps in the near future albums won't even be released on CD anymore.
The advantage of DVD-audio over Super-audio is the ability to include video footage on the disc as well. So all the while when the music plays, images appear on your screen (the same as the photos in the booklet) or you can watch the lyrics to the songs (for some reason not available while the music plays, though).
There are also three bonus videos on this DVD. Anyone who has seen Porcupine Tree live during their In Absentia tour will have noticed the rather disturbing images that were projected on the screen behind the band. The videos that can be found here are pretty much in similar vein: blurry, shaky images of faces, clouds and objects, intercut with flashes of light and grainy distortion as if you are watching a very old 8mm film. These videos are clearly inspired by the opening title sequence of the movie Se7en, and suit the music pretty good, though I have to admit that I don't think I will be watching them often.
So what about the music then? Does the 5.1 surround mix really add anything extra to the music? Certainly! Yet it is difficult to explain just what exactly is so different. Just like it is difficult to explain the difference between mono and stereo -- the physical difference is easy, yet what it does to our ears and our perception of the music is a lot more difficult to describe. It is exactly the same with the difference between a 2.0 stereo mix and a 5.1 surround mix, and all I can say is that it sounds fantastic! Especially the DTS mix, which is quite obvious, since the album has been remixed at DTS.
Obviously the added subwoofer channel gives more bass in the songs and for the rest the sound is mixed in a very natural way: low tones to the front-centre, and high tones more to the back, with a little reverb added to it. And especially during the heavier sections it is great to hear the music coming from all four corners of the room.
The mixers at DTS resisted the temptation to add all kinds of gimmicky effects to the music, like fading to the front and back or making the sound circle around you.
The bonus tracks are the same as on the European bonus disc, with the addition of the new song Futile. It was played during the final leg of their last tour, and appears here for the first time on an official release. To be honest, we haven't really missed anything with that, since it is pretty much their heaviest song ever, and sounds in every possible way as an attempt to create the heaviest song ever.
Yet that is just a small minus on an otherwise pretty much perfect release.
Conclusion: Originally, I rated In Absentia with an 8- (the minus being there for the rather unlogical track-order and two songs that I didn't like at the time). I would say that in its new form the album deserves at least half a point more, so: 8.5 out of 10.