Album Review: PORCUPINE TREE Closure/Continuation

Last year’s announcement of Closure/Continuation It was certainly surprising and exciting, but it was also kind of inevitable. After all, prog/art rock quartet Porcupine Tree (arguably the most beloved cult band in modern music) went on hiatus shortly after they released 2009’s The Incident. Founding vocalist/guitarist Steven Wilson embarked on an lucrative solo career while his bandmates—drummer Gavin Harrisonbassist Colin Edwinand keyboardist Richard Barbieri—focused on successful new ventures and interests. All the while, fans were hoping and speculating that Porcupine Tree would return when the time was right.

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Clearly, there’s no time like the present. Back in March, Wilson told The Guardian that 2022 symbolizes the opportune moment to come back not because they were offered millions to do new concerts or because their other endeavors “failed.” Rather, they simply “thought it’d be fun” because they “had some good material” to put out and play live. Therefore—and as reflected in the album’s title—Closure/Continuation is meant to suitably revive the project for at least another round and satisfactorily retire it should it signify “the last record [they’ll] make and . . . the last tour [they’ll] do.”

Porcupine Tree (Photo by Alex Lake)

That said, Porcupine Tree‘s resurrection is a bit bittersweet and perplexing because Edwin isn’t involved. (Wilson plays bass throughout the collection.) earlier this month, Wilson spoke to Super Deluxe Edition about the controversial and confusing decision, claiming that “lots of little things” led to that outcome. For instance, he and Harrison started jamming what would become “Harridan” with Wilson playing bass because Harrison didn’t have any guitars at his home. Eventually, they had a few songs worked out that way, so Wilson just became the default bassist.

Plus, the trio stayed in contact over the last decade, whereas none of them had “heard from Colin for years on end. . . . So he wasn’t proactively pushing to be involved in anything new,” Wilson reveals. Lastly, he adds, “the creative core of the band has always been the three of us,” and because Porcupine Tree began as Wilson‘s DIY solo effort, he was used to playing bass anyway. (It wasn’t until the mid-90s, with The Sky Moves Sideways and Signifythat he brought in outside members.)

While Edwin‘s absence is surely felt, the remaining threesome go above and beyond to make Closure/Continuation an extremely deserving and gratifying new inclusion to Porcupine Tree‘s illustrious catalog. Admittedly, it’s forgivably familiar and nonessential (it’d be unfair to expect a landmark masterpiece at this point), but it’s still an excellent creation that’s well worth the wait.

If direct comparisons must be made, the LP evokes Deadwing, The Incidentand Wilson’s third solo outing—2013’s The Raven That Refused to Sing (And Other Stories)—most. The same sonic lacquers and techniques are present, as “Harridan” proves. Right away, the trio’s treasured chemistry is perfectly intact, with Wilson‘s aggressive bass lines complementing Harrison‘s characteristic syncopation and Barbiere‘s trippy varnishes over the course of several changes. Even Wilson‘s various vocal parts recall those past triumphs melodically and texturally, with his trademark subjugated harmonies, forceful declarations, and distorted/reverberated effects in full force. Thus, “Harridan” is both a killer opening track and a complete declaration of purpose and potential.

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By and large, the rest of the record either packs the same sort of quirky hostilities (“Rats Return,” “Herd Culling,” “Walk the Plank”) or ventures into softer territories. Specifically, “Of the New Day” is—according to the band—“a song of rebirth, emerging from darkness” that very much taps into Wilson‘s traditional approach to acoustic ballads (with touches of psychedelic heaviness as it goes). That’s purely an observation, not a criticism, and the same goes for the fact that “Dignity” can’t help but feel like a sibling to “Remember Me Lover” or a lost Blackfield ode.

Then there’s “Chimera’s Wreck,” which not only closes the album but serves as its most multifaceted and epic tune. Built upon chilling guitar arpeggios (much like “The Watchmaker” from The Raven), it ebbs and flows brilliantly around heartrending songwriting (“I’m afraid to be happy and I / Couldn’t care less if I was to die”) and mesmerizingly unpredictable arrangements. It’s basically everything you could want in a new Porcupine Tree making it not only the greatest piece here but one of the best compositions they’ve ever done.

Naturally, all three bonus tracks are exceptional, too. “Population Three” sees the trio tapping into their cherished knack for simultaneously emotional and erratic instrumentals; then, “Never Have” captures the economical pop/rock catchiness and intensity of Wilson‘s most immediately fetching numbers. As for “Love in the Past Tense,” it’s gorgeously ethereal, tragic, and intricate. Like many of the group’s prior supplemental collections—in particular, Recordings and the second disc of The Incident—the material here is as remarkable and vital as the main entries.

Closure/Continuation is an outstanding and endearing comeback from a band that many of us—me included—literally grew up with. Its existence is as fulfilling as it is surreal, and while it doesn’t really bring anything new to the table (so, again, expectations should be reasonably tempered), what it does accomplish and induce is quite exemplary.

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In a way, it’s like the Beatles‘ “Free as a Bird” single from 1995. It’s lovely for what it is and for what it represents, but it doesn’t break new ground or rival Sgt. Pepper or Revolver. Likewise, Closure/Continuation is best thought of as a wonderful factory of nostalgia that will delight all who’ve been eagerly awaiting it.

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