Porcupine Tree: Fear of a Blank Planet

April 30, 2007

Fear of a Blank PlanetIn the late ’60s and early ’70s, bands like King Crimson, Genesis and Yes were fusing disparate genres of music to create their own unique sound. The label “progressive rock” was eventually applied to the music of these bands, and despite it being a catch-all term for multi-genre rock, it eventually came to describe music with certain qualities (e.g. epic-length tracks, symphonic and/or jazz influences, virtuosity and soloing, whimsical and/or philosophic lyrics, etc.).

When the second- and third-generation progressive rock groups formed in the ’80s and ’90s (such as Marillion and Spock’s Beard, for example), they used the sound that had previously been associated with “prog” as their starting point, but largely abandoned the progressive spirit. Porcupine Tree, however, were different: Steven Wilson (the creative force behind the band) is interested in making good, intelligent music, not “progressive” music, and because of that, ironically, Porcupine Tree are at the forefront of the genre.

Their new album, Fear of a Blank Planet, is not a quantum leap for the band or progressive rock in general. What it is, however, is an excellent encapsulation of the styles explored by Wilson & co. over their career, all delivered in the form of a 50-minute concept album.

Wilson has always been in love with the album format, and even more so than most Porcupine Tree albums, Fear… feels like a unified whole. This is both its blessing and its curse, because (initially, at least) it simultaneously feels both too long and too short. There are no three-and-a-half minute songs here — the shortest track is 5:07 and the longest, the epic “Anesthetize”, clocks-in at almost 18 minutes, so nothing’s immediately digestible. On the other hand, with only six tracks all-told, you’re left with a feeling of “Is that it?”

Upon a first listen, the album feels overwhelming, like there’s too much to take in, but further spins reveal the details of production that keep drawing you back — the string arrangements in “My Ashes” and “Sleep Together” or the psychedelic keyboard textures scattered throughout the second half of the title track, for example. There’s so much going on here that, even after the 20th play, you’ll still be discovering new dimensions.

The music itself is difficult to describe adequately, but that’s the whole point. Blending elements of pop, metal, psychedelia, industrial, ambient and symphonic rock may start to give you an idea, but it’s really much more. This is some of the most beautiful music Porcupine Tree have produced, as well as some of the harshest. Guest appearances by Robert Fripp (King Crimson) and Alex Lifeson (Rush) add some interest to the mix, but the cameos never detract or distract from the album, instead giving some variety to the sound.

The lyrics, while occasionally strained and awkward, see Wilson being much more pointed and acerbic than usual, seemingly channelling Roger Waters through Tony Banks. The theme can be summed up as the apathy of the iGeneration, and while not directly critical, Wilson’s observations on a generation numb to life are nonetheless generally bleak andcynical. Whether this will win over young listeners or alienate them is difficult to say, but it’s hard not to suspect that the irony will be lost on your average 15 year old. (Apparently, he was inspired by a novel by Bret Easton Ellis, which explains a lot, really.)

It’s far too early to call Fear of a Blank Planet a classic — ask me again in ten years time — but it’s sure to be one of the best albums of the year. Anyone who cares about good music deserves to hear it at least once.

Cocktails Join The Food Pyramid

April 20, 2007

Forget grains and forget protien: a new food group has joined these unhip kids on the health-food block.

US and Thai reserachers say that fruity cocktails should be classed as a health food because adding ethanol (as found in vodka, rum, tequila and other spirits) boosts the antioxidants in strawberries and blackberries. Apparently, any coloured fruit is made more healthful with the addition of a splash of alcohol.

So drink big people! You’re only making yourself healthier.

Full story, read here.

Project Backstreet: Operation Brownstone

April 18, 2007

Inspired by the deranged, nonsensical plays of Virginia Tech shooter Cho Seung-Hui (see here and here), this next chapter of my Backstreet Boys fanfic is a pointed critique of the culture of complacency that allows these tragedies to occur.

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Closer To God Than Thee…

April 16, 2007

Pope Benedict XVI – The Sixteenth, if I remember my Roman Numerals – recently celebrated his 80th birthday. Yes, that’s right. His 80th birthday. He was elected when he was 78. Obviously there are some ambitious (presumably younger) cardinals who feel they needed another year or two of manouevring before they were in the right political situation to get elected, and felt that electing a 78-year-old man to the position would give them the, um, breathing space they needed.

Of course, the representative of God on Earth might be expected to live slightly longer than normal men – although I suspect this has more to do with the medical plan he has access to (namely, all the wealth of the Catholic Church, plus the resources of all the Catholic hospitals in the world) than with any particularly tint of divinity.

This weekend my friend’s parent’s car started stalling every time it was brought to a stop. His father prayed for it and mirable dictu the car started working again. (Dirt in the carb, I would guess, which eventually worked its way out, particularly given the way his father drives – to him the accelerator (throttle) is an digital on/off switch, not an analog device).

His parents were not impressed (not even slightly, surprisingly) when I pointed out that Divine Intervention, unlike a trip to the local mechanic, doesn’t come with a thirty-day warranty, and even less impressed when I asked to whom exactly were they planning on directing their complaints when the car broke down again?

Along these lines, a friend of mine is a practitioner of Reflexology (and herbal medicine, and aromatherapy, and probably phrenology, for all I know).  Her one victim – I mean patient – phoned her on Sunday morning to say she’d been diagnosed with a kidney stone, and was going to be in hospital, and would thus not be able to make her next appointment. In conversation with myself afterward, said “I wonder why I didn’t pick up her kidney stone when I was doing her last reflexology session?”

My helpful comment, “Because the kidneys have absolutely nothing at all to do with the feet – in fact, apart from the feet, no part of the body has anything to do with feet…” also seemed to be received negatively.

It must be all the negative energy I’ve been projecting. Also this weekend I narrowly headed off an attempt by a friend-of-a-friend to get me to watch The Secret. For all the publicity it’s received after headlining on Oprah, I have to say it’s not much of a Secret anymore.

I watched The Covenant this weekend. Kudos to everyone involved – a fairly intelligent supernatural thriller/action/horror with a good backstory and some really, really cool visual effects. According to the Making Of included on the DVD the actors did all their own stunts – which, if you’ve seen the muscles on these guys, you can well believe. The Making Of also includes some hilarious scenes of Renny Harlin (director) trying out the wire rigs they used for the flying/action sequences. Plus the lead actors were really cute, and, unlike many Hollywood films, were actually the same age as the high-school/college kids they were playing. Recommended.

Anna Nicole’s diary

April 13, 2007

You know, I can’t get enough Anna Nicole news. Sure, her life was a bit of a circus, but if in life she was an act in the Ringling Bros. show, then in death she’s one of the freaks hanging around Jim Rose… and they’re always entertaining.

In any case, her diaries from the early 1990s are now going on auction. An excerpt:

My husbands very weak, theres nothing I can do I wait each hour to comfort him with medicines and prayers…

The shock here is not the appalling grammar—she was never regarded as a wordsmith on the level of Shakespeare or Eminem—but the scrawl that passes for penmanship amongst drug-addled gold-diggers these days. (See the photo in the article here.)

Clearly, something needs to be done about this situation. Firstly, let’s get back to basics: I was taught the “foundation” script in the late ’80s (with those cards with the angled lines to place under your page), and if it was good enough for me, then it’s good enough for everyone. Secondly, kids need to know that you don’t mix cases in the middle of a word. (Were the Bible written today, it would have started with “In The beginning GoD cReated the Heaven and the earth.”) Thirdly, too much emphasis is being placed on reading and ‘rithmetic—more focus should be placed on ‘riting. In fact, scrap ‘rithmetic altogether.

These eggheads teaching our sex-kittens of tomorrow need to realise that one day their diaries will be up for auction, too, and we’ll only have the education system to blame for their handwriting.

Project Backstreet: Operation Man-Mustard

April 10, 2007

Last night I posted the second chapter of my Backstreet Boys fanfiction to the Yahoo! group. It’s reproduced below for the curious, though I must warn you that it is somewhat more explicit than the first chapter. Enjoy!

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Quirky killers

April 9, 2007

Don’t you just love quirky killers? They brighten our day with their offbeat homicidal antics, whether it be the wackiness of killer clown John Wayne Gacy or now today’s case of Daphne Wright and her Leatherface-inspired Black & Decker promotion:

The trial in South Dakota of a deaf, black lesbian accused of murdering a rival and dismembering her with a chainsaw has shocked the rural midwestern US state.

Daphne Wright, 43, could become the first woman sent to death row in South Dakota, which has not executed a prisoner in more than 60 years.

Wright is accused of kidnapping and murdering a heterosexual deaf woman, Darlene VanderGiesen, 42, whom she thought was spending too much time with her girlfriend.

I applaud Daphne’s valiant attempts to raise the profile of minorities in our community through the use of power tools.

Project Backstreet continues

April 5, 2007

In a response to the first chapter of my Backstreet Boys fanfic, I received a reply asking why Nick wanted to “know the details” and expressing surprise (or incredulity) at him hitting Jasmine.

My explanation is as follows:

He doesn’t really want to know the details—the questions are deliberately confronting as an act of aggression. Abuse can be physical or verbal, but it can also be psychological.

Nick hit Jasmine because he symbolises male aggression against the feminine principle in Western culture. His “Beverly Hills mansion”—a hyper-real creation as much as Disneyland or the White House—is, in a sense, the apotheosis of capitalistic desire for the subjugation of nature, so the female protagonist must meet Nick on his terms when in his domain. When she refuses, he strikes out in the triumvirate of verbal, physical and psychological aggression.

As you will see in the coming chapters, Nick will undergo an alchemical, transformational journey where his current psychological lead will transmogrify into self-actualised gold.

Glad you enjoyed my simple little story.


Blowing dad

April 4, 2007

Keith Richards on snorting his late father’s ashes: “He was cremated and I couldn’t resist grinding him up with a little bit of blow. My dad wouldn’t have cared … It went down pretty well, and I’m still alive.”

This, folks, is truly a sign that ol’ Keef has lost it: he’s now cutting his own cocaine. Then again, if anyone snorted Keith Richards’ ashes, he’s probably got enough shit in him to fuck you up for a month.


Richards’s long-time manager, Jane Rose, sent MTV an email stating: “Said in jest. Can’t believe anyone took [it] seriously.”

Because Richards would never do anything that crazy…

The Project begins

April 4, 2007

As part of my covert operations, last night I posted the following to the Backstreet Boys Fantasy Fanfics Yahoo! Group…

Got Me On My Knees, Chapter 1 (NC-17)

Jasmine knew this was wrong–so very, very wrong–but she could feel AJ’s breath on her neck sending chills down her spine. “Don’t stop,” she moaned, breathlessly.

“We’ve got it goin’ on,” said AJ in a controlled and tender voice.

That afternoon, AJ took Jasmine to places she’d never been before. He was a lover par excellence, just as she’d always suspected. He was gentle but masculine; sensitive but assertive. And as she reached the Promised Land, he was her King.

They lay next to each other as the afternoon sun streamed into the room, basking together in the afterglow.

“We can’t let Nick know about this,” AJ mused as he caressed Jasmine’s cheek.

“There’s no reason for him to find out, is there?”

“Of course not.”

Jasmine got up and made her way to the bathroom to freshen-up and get dressed. She felt a mix of fear, terror and excitement well up inside her from the pit of her stomach. No, now was not the time to be falling for AJ, she thought to herself. Nick would be at home, waiting for her.

And so, that afternoon, as she kissed AJ once more before leaving, she knew that, sooner or later, she’d have to make a decision about which Boy was truly the right one for her.

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