Porcupine Tree - In Absentia
Lava
Progressive Hard Rock
12 songs (68:14)
Release year: 2002
Porcupine Tree
Reviewed by James
Archive review

In Absentia is a strange beast of an album, being equal parts, prog, alt-rock and metal, but never really properly blending all three. The songs are just about long and complex enough to be somewhat proggy, but the music is fairly standard alt-rock, albeit with Meshuggah-esque riffage that comes out of nowhere. Even though Steven Wilson wants to be David Gilmour, Thom Yorke and Mikael Akerfeldt all at once, the songs by themselves feel focused and coherent. Unfortunately, the album as a whole does not. I'm all for diversity, but the songs here are so utterly disaparate as to remove anything resembling flow from the album. Within the first three tracks, we've barrelled through hard rock (Blackest Eyes) semi-acoustic balladry (Trains) to weird space-rock (Lips Of Ashes). For what's intended to be a concept album (Wilson has claimed the album was inspired by Fred West) it's utterly schizophrenic, throwing odd funk-metal instrumentals at you along with the kind of piano ballads that wouldn't look out of place on a Coldplay record. Not to mention the album is at least 20 minutes too long, with a good few songs that should be cut.

After reading that, you'd think that I hated In Absentia. Yet I don't. Despite being an overlong mess, Steven Wilson has enough songwriting chops to make an album's worth of good songs. It's a shame he had to add four extra fillers into the mix as well, but I digress. Trains has become a fan favorite, and with good reason. It's carried by Wilson's melodic voice and a gentle, melancholic guitar riff, that he saw fit to use again two albums down the line on Fear Of A Blank Planet. It also manages to pull off using a banjo without looking faintly ridiculous, so bonus points for that, I suppose. Prodigal sounds like Radiohead jamming with Pink Floyd, and it's one of the more underrated tracks on In Absentia. It often seems to get swallowed in the ennui radiating from the two filler tracks that surround it, and it's only recently it's managed to crawl out and make any kind of dent in my memory. Luckily, the band save the best for last with closer Collapse The Light Into Earth. It's a piano ballad that by any rights should be topping charts worldwide. It's incredibly simple, once again carried by Steven Wilson's plaintive vocals, but in the right frame of mind it's utterly devastatingly, achingly beautiful, while at the same time being crushingly sad.

But of course, there are the aforementioned fillers, and oh, how they drag the album down. Wedding Nails is a weird, aimless instrumental that seems to serve no other purpose than for Wilson to stitch together all the metal riffs he couldn't use anywhere else. One for the skip button, then. 3 is an odd track that blurs the line between interlude and proper song, with it's odd atmospherics and vocal mantra. Perhaps placed somewhere else it'd be enjoyable, but it's proximity to Wedding Nails makes two not-really-songs entirely too close together. Same sort of thing with The Creator Has A Mastertape and Strip The Soul. These tracks are both prime examples of dark, brooding Steven Wilson, with it's sinister lyrics and Tool-lite riffage. As much as I'm not a fan of this side of Porcupine Tree I understand that one of these songs must stay simply to break up the pacing a bit. In the end, Strip The Soul has to go, simply because it's longer.

Despite the duff tracks, you're still getting 40+ minutes of good music, and when it's good it's good. Of course, the beauty of technology is that you can rip this to your computer, make a playlist that cuts the filler and keeps the killer, and you never have to worry about Wedding Nails ruining your day again. It's by no means the best place to start with Porcupine Tree (that award goes to Fear Of A Blank Planet) but it contains some of their best known songs, and it captures mid-period Porcupine Tree right before they went all proggy again. A recommended buy, just about.


Killing Songs :
Blackest Eyes, Trains, Collapse The Light Into Earth
James quoted 73 / 100
Goat quoted 83 / 100
Other albums by Porcupine Tree that we have reviewed:
Porcupine Tree - Up The Downstair reviewed by Goat and quoted 85 / 100
Porcupine Tree - On The Sunday Of Life reviewed by Goat and quoted 79 / 100
Porcupine Tree - The Incident reviewed by Goat and quoted 79 / 100
Porcupine Tree - Deadwing reviewed by Boris and quoted 89 / 100
Porcupine Tree - Stupid Dream reviewed by Khelek and quoted 94 / 100
To see all 9 reviews click here
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