Home Music Rediscover: Porcupine Tree: Deadwing

Rediscover: Porcupine Tree: Deadwing

Part of what makes Steven Wilson’s music stand out, both as a solo artist and as the main songwriter of Porcupine Tree, is its cinematic character. For many songs in his discography, you feel as if you’ve been transported to a setting of Wilson’s design, submerging into another plane of existence. Even without words, you can feel the paranoia and numbness of Fear of a Blank Planet or the haunting vibes of The Raven That Refused to Sing (And Other Stories). On Deadwing, though, Wilson envisioned the songs as accompanying an actual screenplay he had written. While that feature film has yet to materialize, the music turned into Porcupine Tree’s best work.

Although Wilson has bristled about being labeled with “prog rock” stereotypes, Deadwing fits the actual definition of the term, as in that it’s filled with tunes that show an experimental, forward-looking style that pulls in disparate influences. It’s the type of record where you have the grungy “Shallow,” with its deep and lumbering guitar riff, followed by the folksy “Lazarus,” all gentle acoustic and prancing piano keys. Each is equally impactful, the former a pure headbanger and the latter a bittersweet ode to loss.

On “Mellotron Scratch,” the band conjures multiple styles and moods over the course of seven minutes. It starts with light guitar chords and processed drums, gliding into a beautifully heartfelt chorus. “And I’m looking at a blank page now/ Should I fill it up with words somehow?” Wilson asks in the wake of tragedy, the melancholy music guiding him along. But the song also erupts into an electrifying segment of cascading guitars that buzz and splinter into the air. From there, one of the band’s best harmonies takes centerstage, voices singing over each other to form a stunning web.

The centerpiece of the album, and arguably the best piece of music Wilson’s ever written, is “Arriving Somewhere but Not Here,” a 12-minute epic that sounds just as thrilling on the first listen as on the hundredth. The track is built on a circular guitar riff that’s an instant earworm, the type of melody that gets pleasantly caught in your brain. From that guitar part, the rest of the song expands into a towering achievement. Additional guitars and synths pile on but never overwhelm that central riff. Towards the middle of the track, the band explodes into a metal jam that swells, growls and shakes with the force of a meteor impact. As the jam peaks, the main riff blooms out of chaos as an anchor, a moment of otherworldly magic. If you only give one tune associated with Wilson a listen, make sure it’s this one.

The title track and closer “Glass Arm Shattering” are both nearly as good, each setting their own tone with sensational buildups. On the former, a bubbling synth line kicks into guitar chords that reverberate into the atmosphere. From there, the tune careens between thunderous riffs, a harmonious breather and two blistering guitar solos. The latter glides around the sun with spacey, blissful guitar chords that feel weightless. Alongside wonderful harmonies and background synths, it’s a composition on which to close your eyes and float away.

This isn’t purely Wilson’s show, though. The rest of Porcupine Tree shine as well, playing at the height of their powers. Listen to “The Start of Something Beautiful” and bask in the nighttime saunter of Colin Edwin’s bass, the spectral, swelling synths of Richard Barbieri and the steady but intricate beats of drummer Gavin Harrison. Each of these artists, alongside Wilson, make these songs connect and excel, a display of stunning talent that never gets overly flashy. It’s all in service to the music.

Throw in a couple of other heavy tunes, like the tense “Open Car” and the slippery and stomping “Halo,” and you have an album where every song is an intense journey that makes you want to go back for more. Deadwing is one of those records where you discover something new with each listen. In 2019, Wilson posted online that he was working on the script again to make a film based on Deadwing. While it would be fantastic to see his vision come to fruition, in any case, this album lives on with tremendous power, where you can feel its cinematic moods in every note.

This album lives on with tremendous power, and you can feel its cinematic moods in every note.
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