Album Review: Porcupine Tree – In Absentia (2002)

Steven Wilson is undoubtedly among the more eclectic modern artists. Although currently, he may be unapologetically submitting to pop (which fans have mixed feelings about) Wilson’s roots go much deeper than the singles for his upcoming album, The Future Bites, may suggest.

Porcupine Tree, despite its origins as a Wilson solo-project, quickly evolved into a behemoth in certain music-fandom circles. Not least of Porcupine Tree’s achievements is 2002’s evolutionary In Absentia, a fantastic album highlighted by a number of amazing songs, but backed up by some great deep-cuts.

“Blackest Eyes” opens In Absentia with a bang. A powerful guitar and melodic chorus make this the perfect opener for the album. “Wedding Nails,” an instrumental, was destined to become a fan-favorite upon release due to its fun, crowd pleasing, kick-ass guitar work.

“Trains” and “The Sound Of Muzak” are the two best songs on the album. The former is a beautifully melancholy piece of musical art, and one of Wilson’s all-time best songs; the transitions between sections are dramatically pleasing, and the harmonies are gorgeous.

“The Sound Of Muzak” is an ingenious song. An unconventional and iconic drum beat in 7/4 time below creative guitar work make it a more accessible prog classic. Lyrically is where it really hits home, however; Wilson sings of corporate pollution in the music industry, and the general lack of sincerity and originality with much song-writing — “The music of rebellion makes you want to rage / But it’s made by millionaires who are nearly twice your age.” “The Sound Of Muzak” has been described by Wilson as a song that “is miserable, but has a sing-along chorus.”

“Prodigal” is a hidden gem among some of the more acclaimed songs. During verses, the basic, three-note synchronization of piano, guitar, and bass leaves space for subtle indulgence by the stringed instruments. The powerful harmonies in the chorus are very reminiscent of Pink Floyd, but the bridge is really where the song shines its brightest, with driving guitar, beautiful harmonies, and a guitar solo that melts right into the next verse, respectively.

Colin Edwin’s bass riffs are certainly felt throughout the second half of the album. The aforementioned “Prodigal” demonstrates this, as well as the creatively unorthodox “.3,” the Edwin-co-written “Strip The Soul,” and the lyrically-chilling “The Creator Has A Mastertape.”

The closer, “Collapse The Light Into Earth,” has repetitively-hypnotic piano, which slowly builds the song until a beautiful string section sneaks its way into the mix. Not a flashy song, but rather one that demands your attention despite its repetitive nature, making it almost reminiscent of the intro to Mike Oldfield’s “Tubular Bells” in that way. An unconventional, but ultimately perfect way to close out the track-list.

In Absentia is a unique album in the way it presents 12 songs that each have a certain uniqueness to them, and yet all atmospherically sound connected and similar. It also brings more accessible rock and prog together and shapes them into an incredible final album, making it a great starting point for getting into Porcupine Tree.

Overall rating: 9/10

Published by Jeremy Bader

Aspiring writer, film and music lover, drummer.

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