Saturday, May 12, 2012

Porcupine Tree: "Russia on Ice"


I've blogged about Porcupine Tree twice before: in December 2007 (on "Fear of a Blank Planet," from the album of the same (2007)) and in March 2011 (on "Time Flies," from its most recent album, The Incident (2009)).

While these last two albums are both very good, my favourite Porcupine Tree period is the transitionary one between the early psychedelia / progressive rock (as on Up the Downstair (1993) and The Sky Moves Sideways (1995) and the later metal / alternative rock (as on In Absentia (2002) and Deadwing (2005) -- the period that includes Signify (1996), Stupid Dream (1999), and Lightbulb Sun (2000), the period, in my view, in which it all came together for this great band, with music that was accessible in pop-rock terms without losing its progressive edge, music that was more commercial than what had come before but without the band retaining its integrity and distinctiveness.

Interestingly, I came to this middle period only after the other two. I'd heard of Porcupine Tree before, a prog rock band reportedly in the tradition of my beloved Pink Floyd, but it was Blank Planet that first really got me into the band, an album that captured my attention with its conceptual focus on individual alienation in our hyper-technological age, and from there I went back to the early stuff, and specifically to Sky Moves Sideways, perhaps the album closest to Floyd (though band leader Steven Wilson is right to dispute superficial comparisons, even if he himself was deeply influenced by Dark Side). More recently, I got into the band's remarkable live album Warszawa (2004), and from there I finally discovered those three middle albums. (I realize I'm oversimplifying things by dividing the band's history into three parts, but it's a useful way of looking at its complex development over almost two decades.) And in so doing I went from being something of a fan to being a huge fan, from thinking Porcupine Tree was a really good band to thinking it was -- and is -- a truly great one.

And at the very peak, I think, is the song "Russia on Ice" on Lightbulb Sun -- my favourite Porcupine Tree song on my favourite Porcupine Tree album. (It's one of "at least four or five songs on that record which I call the divorce songs, the relationship songs, which are all about various stages of the splitting up a relationship, of dissolving a relationship," as Wilson explained.)

It's an exceptionally brilliant and epic song, clocking in at just over 13 minutes. I haven't been able to find a clip of a full live performance, and there's obviously no video, but here it is -- just the audio. I highly recommend giving it a listen. And preferably many listens. It gets better and better as you pick up more and more, it holds up extremely well, and it stays with you. Enjoy.

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