It’s 12 years since Porcupine Tree bowed out in the most elegant way possible, with a sold-out headline show at London’s Royal Albert Hall. When they left us, plenty of people were writing about an imagined dystopian future; as they return, we’re living in it.
So taking this thing of beauty and letting it unfurl over seven ambitious tracks is a moment of zen, a soothing balm we could all do with right now. They’ve been tinkering on these songs for a decade, while frontman Steven Wilson enjoyed success in his solo career and drummer Gavin Harrison got stuck in with his other band, King Crimson. And it shows.
Without the pressure of deadlines, they’ve been able to give themselves the time to do it justice, and given the songs the space to stretch out, reveal their surprises, to develop at glacial pace. It means that the album works gorgeously as a shape-shifting whole, and each track holds its own as a standalone work of art – an essential quality in an era of streaming.
Some of them stretch out well past the eight-minute mark, and every second of each earns its place, a vital component in the bigger picture. It’s exactly the mark of attention to detail that you’d expect from these musicians.
A funk bass line heralds Porcupine Tree’s return on opener Harridan, which makes way luxuriously for space-rock keyboards to lead us through a galaxy of imagination, heading ultimately to a sweetly mournful, vulnerable acoustic conclusion.
The psychedelic swirl of Of The New Day gives way to the bleakly futuristic Rat’s Return, a brutal take-down of tyrants and evildoers, bolstered by complicated time signatures (catnip to prog-heads), jerky riffs and queasy melodies.
Dignity, meanwhile, is a tale of outsiderdom that acts as something of a hymn to Pink Floyd, the achingly pretty guitar playing at its heart building to a euphoric end. It’s an eight-minutes-plus rock opera of exceptional beauty, and it wouldn’t come as a huge surprise if a particularly talented fan was to adapt it for the stage at some point.
Who knows whether this is a sign of more new albums to come. The band themselves almost certainly haven’t worked that out yet. But as a return, and as a work in its own right, Closure/Continuation is an elegant and accomplished treasure from experts in their field. Which is exactly what the Porcupine Tree fans have been holding out hope for during all these years, and then some.
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