Over a long decade for close followers of Porcupine Tree, something was ticking away behind frontman Steven Wilson’s evasive interview manoeuvres. While Wilson equivocated on Porcupine Tree’s future, he was busily amassing an archive of slow-burning collaborations with drummer Gavin Harrison. As lockdown bit hard, Wilson, Harrison and keyboardist Richard Barbieri worked these fragments and more into collaborative songs, with the band’s defining impetus guiding the way: always recognisably themselves, always determinedly different.
That combination is slickly channelled into the teasingly titled – old habits – Closure/ Continuation (or C/C). With bassist Colin Edwin out, the band have reconvened in a new collaborative formation as a limber power trio, refreshed by sundry solo and extra-curricular adventures. Veering between encapsulations of a well-travelled career and open doors (potentially) to future options, the result perhaps misses the conceptual cogency of earlier Tree peaks. But it doesn’t want for controlled reach. Over a tight 48 minutes, C/C weds a reinvigorated affirmation of band identity to expansive energies, all to confident effect: “The sum of all, of new and old,” as Wilson’s lyrics put it.
Initial evidence of change arrives with Harridan, where Wilson’s slapped funk bass heralds bold gear-shifts even as the Porcupine Tree imprint clarifies. Barbieri’s limpid washes of Blade Runner-ish synth atmospherics and Wilson’s crashing guitars occupy shared space, held in tense, heavy and flexible formation. Meanwhile, Harrison’s cardiac-routine rhythm work summons hammering grandeur and nimble grooves in equal measure; close your eyes and you can picture Thom Yorke wobbling his head
A more melodic bent buoys up Of The New Day, a careworn single giving Wilson’s Floyd love full rein. If echoes of Lightbulb Sun or Stupid Dream also resonate, the result stands as a rarefied take on such, with an airy sense of graceful resilience that – though it predates lockdown – will surely connect with lockdown-bruised listeners.
In Absentia is a closer cousin to Rats Return, whose stop-start riff contortions mount revitalised nods to earlier prog-metal PTree highs. While Wilson’s lyrics bristle with bile, the song’s knotty convolutions hold their own between modern math-rock experimenters such as Black Midi and veteran prog practitioners such as Rush. Talking of whom, an Alex Lifeson-esque guitar break opens Dignity, another song that brings to mind Wilson’s solo work (notably, Hand. Cannot. Erase.) in its empathy for lost souls in the city.
Darker twists on modern anxieties shape Herd Culling, which evokes Wilson’s fascination with film in its ominous horror-movie lyrics. Between lights in the sky, scratching at the doors and curses on the land, the sense of apocalyptic interior dread oozes a kind of miasmic gloom not many miles removed from Radiohead’s Climbing Up The Walls.
The reference points for Walk The Plank come from closer to home. Continuing the turn away from guitars that distinguished Wilson’s The Future Bites (2020), the song’s mix of queasy atmospherics and experimental electronics also marks fresh territory by foregrounding Barbieri’s unmistakably ambient imprint. Finally, Chimera’s Wreck extends a gift to the old-guard fans in its embrace of the prog-epic jugular, building incrementally through acoustic passages and offbeat time signatures to further echoes of Rush’s influence – if the riffs are Lifeson-esque, the bubbling basslines honour Geddy Lee’s fleet-fingered example.
Perhaps most pertinently, Wreck’s lyrics meditate on change, age and legacy, all issues that circle this most confident of comeback/farewell albums. “We can still find there’s a future in tomorrow,” sings Wilson, ever the tease. Do Porcupine Tree have a future after their upcoming tour? No one involved knows, but the lingering question seems clear. When the suggestion of closure is this strong, how could continuation not be in consideration?