Follow TV Tropes


Music / Porcupine Tree

Go To
Left to right: Gavin Harrison, Colin Edwin, Richard Barbieri and Geddy Lee Steven Wilson
Influenced by:

Porcupine Tree is an English Progressive Rock group formed by Steven Wilson. They are known to combine elements of rock, Ambient, Psychedelic Rock, Krautrock, electronica and (since In Absentia) Heavy Metal into their music. Many critics have hailed them as the modern-day Pink Floyd when their popularity increased in The '90s, but Steven Wilson has expressed his dissatisfaction with this label, preferring that Porcupine Tree be known as "the old Porcupine Tree" or "the new Porcupine Tree" (as opposed to the "new" somebody else).

Porcupine Tree started in 1987 as a psychedelic/space rock band with only Steven Wilson, who was signed to Delerium Records after a period of distributing his own cassettes and passing off PT as an old forgotten Fake Band, like Spinal Tap. On Delerium, Wilson released two and a half albums largely recorded by himself with overdubbing and drum machines (some songs on The Sky Moves Sideways were performed by all the band members) before turning PT into an actual band. Their fourth album, Signify, was their first album where all the band members played. Their next album, Stupid Dream, slightly withdrew from the spacy, psychedelic, Epic Rocking material on their earlier albums, adding elements of Alternative Rock and accentuating their Progressive Rock influences. Starting with In Absentia, their albums have started getting heavier and veering into progressive metal territory, although not to the extent of such bands as Opeth or Dream Theater.

Porcupine Tree went on hiatus in 2010 following Steven Wilson's interest in continuing his solo career; in 2018 Wilson declared Porcupine Tree "finished", but eventually announced a reformation in 2021 as a trio, with a new album titled Closure/Continuation released in June 2022.

Steven Wilson is known to be close friends with Mikael Åkerfeldt; the two have collaborated with each other's bands: Wilson sang backing vocals on and produced four Opeth albums (Blackwater Park, Deliverance, Damnation, and Heritage) while Åkerfeldt contributed backing vocals to three songs on Deadwing and a guitar solo to "Arriving Somewhere But Not Here". The two have even collaborated on a project entitled 'Storm Corrosion'.

Porcupine Tree's members are:

Former members and noteworthy guest appearances:

  • Colin Edwin - bass guitar (1993-2012)
  • John Wesley (guitar, vocals 2002-2012, touring member only)
  • Chris Maitland - drums (1993-2002)
  • Mikael Åkerfeldt - guitar, backing vocals on Deadwing (Opeth member)
  • Adrian Belew - guitar on Deadwing (King Crimson member)
  • Alex Lifeson - guitar solo on "Anesthetize" (Rush member)
  • Robert Fripp - soundscapes on "Way Out Of Here" and guitar on "Nil Recurring" (King Crimson member)
  • Suzanne Barbieri - vocals on "Up the Downstair" and "The Sky Moves Sideways Phase 2" (Richard's wife, one of the few other vocalists on a PT album besides Wilson)


  • On the Sunday of Life (1991) - consists of tracks from the early cassettes Tarquin's Seaweed Farm, Love, Death & Mussolini and The Nostalgia Factory. Wilson mentioned in the reissue's liner notes that this album is impossible to remaster because it was recorded directly to tape on various 4-, 8- and 16-track machines at his home, and the tracks would be wiped once he finished a song.
    • Yellow Hedgerow Dreamscape (1992) is a compilation of the early leftover tracks that didn't make it on Sunday. Includes the original cassette version of "Radioactive Toy", a song that was re-recorded for Sunday. The CD version has a cover of "The Cross" by Prince, while the vinyl version replaces that with "Out" (originally from Love, Death & Mussolini).
  • Up the Downstair (1993) - features Early Bird Cameos from Barbieri and Edwin; PT only became a functioning band after the album was released.
    • Remastered, partially re-recorded with the band and re-released in 2005, bundled with the Staircase Infinities EP.
  • The Sky Moves Sideways (1995) - almost their first band effort; time constraints during recording meant that "The Moon Touches Your Shoulder" and "Dislocated Day" were entirely recorded by Wilson alone.
    • Similarly remastered, re-recorded with Harrison's drums and re-released in 2003. None of the three editions (UK, USA, remaster) have the same tracklist, or the same version of "Moonloop".
  • Signify (1997) - their first full-band effort.
    • Remastered and re-released in 2003, bundled with the demos / outtakes disc Insignificance.
  • Stupid Dream (1999) - the album where they started moving away from psychedelia towards prog-rock.
    • Remastered in 5.1 surround sound for DVD-A in 2006.
  • Lightbulb Sun (2000)
    • Remastered in 5.1 surround sound for DVD-A in 2008.
  • In Absentia (2002) - the start of their move towards Progressive Metal
  • Deadwing (2005)
    • In Absentia and Deadwing were both remastered and reissued on vinyl in 2018, and a deluxe edition of In Absentia was released in 2020.
  • Fear of a Blank Planet (2007)
  • The Incident (2009)
  • Closure / Continuation (2022)

Plus the predictable bunch of EPs, compilations, rarities and live albums.

Only apathy, from the tropes in me, it's all in me, all in you:

  • After the End: "A Smart Kid" and "Radioactive Toy" are about a nuclear war.
  • Album Intro Track: "What You Are Listening To", "Bornlivedie" and "Occam's Razor".
  • Album Title Drop: The title of Up the Downstair comes from a spoken line from the separately released Voyage 34. Averted with the TitleTracks of On the Sunday of Life, Up the Downstair, Signify and Stupid Dream, which are instrumentals, whilst those of Deadwing, Fear of a Blank Planet and The Incident don't mention the title at all. Played straight on The Sky Moves Sideways and Lightbulb Sun, however.
  • Animated Music Video: "Bonnie the Cat"
  • Arc Symbol: Trains seem to show up a lot.
  • Blasphemous Boast/Bigger Than Jesus: "Slave Called Shiver":
    I may be nothing now, but I will rise
    I'll have more followers than Jesus Christ
  • Breather Episode: "Sentimental", which is stuck between "Anesthetize" and "Way Out of Here", two of their bleaker songs.
  • Cerebus Syndrome: Seen most from In Absentia onwards - while there were always darker themes present here and there in their music ("Radioactive Toy", much of Signify), the earlier music was usually lighter, more whimsical and psychedelic, even when the lyrics were dark (compare the lyrics of "Radioactive Toy" to the almost Pink Floydian arrangement). As time's gone on, both the music and the lyrics have become dark and pessimistic. For a good example, compare "Nine Cats" to "Fear of a Blank Planet". Same could be said about No-Man, Steven Wilson's band together with Tim Bowness. Compare "You Grow More Beautiful" to "Mixtaped"
  • Concept Album: Almost all their albums have uniting themes, although they aren't always concept albums in the strictest sense.
    • Signify is about the ways that people try to feel that their lives matter.
    • Lightbulb Sun is concerned largely with relationships that are broken, ending or haunting people after they end.
    • In Absentia: Loosely tells the story of a serial killer
    • Deadwing: While not necessarily one, it does link together elements of a movie script Steven was writing. Most will theorize the album's plot to be a Mind Screw of seeing spirits.
    • Fear of a Blank Planet: Told from the viewpoint of a teenager in modern-day society, isolated and alienated by prescription drugs and mass media. According to that other wiki it was heavily influenced by Bret Easton Ellis' novel Lunar Park.
    • The Incident: Has a theme of moments that change someone's life forever. The title track was inspired by a car accident Wilson witnessed, and his thoughts that the word "incident" was a very cold way to describe an event that could destroy people's lives. Another song (The Blind House) was inspired by the US government raid on a cult's ranch in Texas where polygamous marriages to teenage girls were going on.
  • Cover Version: The US version of Yellow Hedgerow Dreamscape includes a cover of Prince's "The Cross", and Signify includes a cover of Neu!'s "Hallogallo".
  • Creepy Child: Whole gangs of these appear in the "Fear of a Blank Planet" video.
  • Cult Colony: "The Blind House" is about a particularly abusive example, inspired by actual polygamist cults in the US.
  • Darker and Edgier: More and more with each subsequent album, both musically and lyrically. While the band has always been morose, try comparing Lightbulb Sun, which is essentially a proggy alt-rock record with some sad and macabre themes, to In Absentia, a borderline progressive metal record which prominently deals with serial killers, to see just how much darker the band got later on.
  • Deadly Euphemism: "Sleep Together" isn't about sleeping, or even about sex. It's about a suicide pact.
  • Distinct Double Album: The Incident's first disc is devoted to the fourteen-track, nearly-hour-long title suite, while four unrelated songs are included on the second disc. The album, at around seventy-six minutes long, is short enough to fit on a single CD, but Steven Wilson really wanted people to think of the bonus songs as unrelated. Averted with the DVD-Audio version, which is all on one disc, and arguably with the vinyl version as well, which is still on two LPs, but the title suite takes three of the four sides.
  • Downer Ending: In a musical sense, every one of their albums from Stupid Dream onward. Also, if you view In Absentia as a story, it has this in a narrative sense no matter how you interpret the story.
    • Even more so with Fear of a Blank Planet, in which the protagonist is Driven to Suicide.
  • Drone of Dread: Used quite often, most notably in "Light Mass Prayers".
  • Epic Rocking: Oh god, where do we start. In the lengthy but not all too crazy category, "Dark Matter", "Deadwing, Burning Sky", "Up the Downstair", "Don't Hate Me", "Arriving Somewhere but Not Here", "Hatesong", and "Radioactive Toy", to name a few in the 8-12 minute range. "Anesthetize", "Russia on Ice", each half of "The Sky Moves Sideways", the full version of "Even Less", and the album version of "Moonloop" are all around 14-17 minutes (with the unedited version being 40 minutes - around the maximum amount of material you can fit on two sides of vinyl before you start risking audio quality sacrifices). The full version of "The Sky Moves Sideways" is around half an hour long, the album The Incident is a 55-minute "song cycle" (alongside a second 20-minute disc), and Voyage 34 is made up of four lengthy parts that equal 70 minutes.
  • Fading into the Next Song: Every single song on the first disc of The Incident (if you consider them to be individual songs), plus some others.
  • The Four Chords of Pop: Discussed in "Four Chords That Made a Million".
  • Fun with Acronyms: "Linton Samuel Dawson"
  • George Lucas Altered Version: The re-released editions of Up the Downstair and The Sky Moves Sideways replace the programmed drums with real recorded drumming from Gavin Harrison. This is a case of a major change to an album being generally well-received among a band's fan base, as most are quite fond of Harrison's drumming ability.
  • I Am the Band: Steven Wilson was the only member for the first few years of the band's existence. Afterwards, he still wrote the majority of the songs by himself. After more than a decade of maintaining a solo career, he defied this with Closure/Continuation by having more prominent contributions from the other members to keep the album from sounding too much like his solo output.
  • Instrumentals: They have several. "Mother & Child Divided" (from the Deadwing era) is one example, as is "Nil Recurring" from the EP of the same name; several movements from The Incident are also examples.
  • I See Dead People: The plot of Deadwing is essentially this.
  • Last of His Kind: "A Smart Kid", about the only survivor of a nuclear war:
    A spaceship from another star
    They ask me where all the people are
    What can I tell them?
    I tell them I'm the only one
    There was a war but I must have won
  • Lead Drummer: Gavin Harrison is legendary for his technical ability, creativity, extremely distinctive and recognizable style, and prolific output between his other bands (most notably King Crimson) and session work, and Steven Wilson has credited him with being the missing element that pushed the band in the heavier and more overtly progressive direction that made them famous.
  • Lighter and Softer: Closure/Continuation is significantly less heavy and guitar-oriented than the rest of their post-Lightbulb Sun output, with almost no metal elements and one song ("Walk the Plank") that does not feature any guitar. As per Steven Wilson, this was primarily because he had grown tired of heavy music and partially blamed the increase in metal elements for the creative impasse that helped cause the band's hiatus.
  • Literary Allusion Title:
    • "Occam's Razor" refers to the observation commonly attested to the English Franciscan friar William of Ockham, "Entities should not be multiplied without necessity." (Ockham did not actually use these exact words, but they are a close paraphrase of statements he did actually make.) In other words, when choosing from among competing hypotheses that offer the same explanation, one should choose the simplest hypothesis. This is sometimes oversimplified into "One should always choose the simplest explanation," which is not what the razor actually says. The razor is also not an ironclad rule of logic; it is meant to be a guide rather than a final arbiter.
    • "Great Expectations" shares its name with a famous novel by Charles Dickens.
  • Live Album: Several, the latest being 2012's Octane Twisted.
  • Longest Song Goes Last: Closure/Continuation ends with "Chimera's Wreck" (9:39).
  • Loudness War: Steven is opposed to this, including a disclaimer in the inner sleeve of Deadwing that the album is mastered less loud to maintain dynamics.
    • The CD versions are still fairly compressed, though, most likely due to Executive Meddling. There is audible clipping on the CD versions of In Absentia and especially Deadwing, but the mastering on later CDs is less crude. This is largely averted on the DVD-audio 5.1-channel mixes, however, except In Absentia, which, for some reason, is still clipped. (There is still some compression on some channels of the other 5.1 mixes, but not all, and it is not as bad as on the CD versions. The only 5.1 mix that is badly clipped is In Absentia). It is quite possible that the Executive Meddling with his own albums is what sparked Wilson's interest in remixing seemingly every Progressive Rock album released in The '70s (and then some).
    • Averted with Gavin Harrison's solo album Cheating the Polygraph, which is DR12 and sounds great.
  • Lyrical Dissonance: Oh yes. For a band that mostly makes dark music, some of their more uplifting-sounding songs have this. Perhaps the best examples come from the In Absentia sessions (given the theme of serial killers), especially "Drown With Me".
  • Mushroom Samba: "Voyage 34" is an hour long simulation of an LSD trip.
  • New Technology Is Evil: Steven Wilson dislikes MP3s and MP3 players, for decreasing the quality of music and the significance of it, respectively. He takes a few shots at iPods and video games on Fear of a Blank Planet.
  • Nightmare Face: On the cover of In Absentia.
  • Older Than They Look: Steven, definitely. Take a nice long look at this picture. He's 47.
  • Precision F-Strike: There's a particularly effective one in the extended cut of Even Less. There's another one on "The Incident".
  • Progressive Metal: In Absentia onward. It helps that ever since that album, the metal community has considered them a member, with websites such as Metal Storm and Metal Underground reviewing their latest albums and adding their artist profile to their database.
  • Pun-Based Title:
    • Fear of a Blank Planet is a shout-out to Public Enemy's 1990 classic Fear of a Black Planet.
    • Similarly, "The Creator Has a Mastertape" is named for Pharaoh Sanders' "The Creator Has a Master Plan", which first appeared as a thirty-three-minute epic on his 1969 album Karma and has been re-recorded several times since.
    • A particularly morbid example is "Sleep Together", which you'd expect to be an Intercourse with You song from its title. It is actually about something much, much darker: it's the lead character suggesting a Suicide Pact, and the end of the song heavily implies that he takes his own life.
    • "The Sound of Muzak", based off of Muzak (a brand of piped-in instrumental music that plays in many department stores) and The Sound of Music.
  • Questioning Title?: "How Is Your Life Today?", "What Happens Now?"
  • Rearrange the Song/In the Style of: Gavin Harrison's solo album Cheating the Polygraph consists of big band jazz arrangements of Porcupine Tree material.
    • "Sentimental" (from Fear of a Blank Planet) and "Normal" (from Nil Recurring) share some melodic and lyrical elements, but take them in completely opposite directions. In particular, the singer of "Sentimental" twice says, "I never want to be old," while the singer of "Normal" repeats, "Wish I was old and a little sentimental" (to a Broken Record extent, in fact). Despite this, the songs share several musical elements and the lyrics of their chorus.
    • "Shesmovedon" from Lightbulb Sun was re-recorded in the Deadwing era and included as a Hidden Track on several releases of the album.
  • Record Producer: Steven Wilson does it himself, and has produced other bands (most notably Opeth). He's also been remixing King Crimson's old albums for re-release. Other bands he's remixed include Caravan, Jethro Tull, Gentle Giant, Emerson, Lake & Palmer, and Hawkwind.
  • Sampling: All of their earlier albums feature sampled speech at some point, especially Signify. "Last Chance to Evacuate Planet Earth Before It Is Recycled" from Lightbulb Sun samples a couple of videos of Marshall Applewhite (or "Do", pronounced "doe") (the leader of the religious UFO cult Heaven's Gate) that were recorded in mid-1996 and in early-1997, respectively, while "Voyage 34" samples Timothy Leary and various other people talking about the various positive effects of LSD.
  • Self-Backing Vocalist: Wilson, most of the time. On several tracks, he does polyphonic arrangements with several vocal lines reminiscent of Gentle Giant, which is likely a deliberate homage given his love of classic prog.
  • Serial Killer: Several songs on In Absentia, most prominently "Strip the Soul", are about this.
  • Sole Survivor: "A Smart Kid" is about the last person left alive on earth after a nuclear holocaust. Eventually, they seem to encounter passing aliens and beg to be taken with them, though it could also be interpreted as a Dying Dream.
  • The Stinger: After a few seconds of silence on "Dark Matter" (the last track on Signify), a radio voice chimes in with this gem:
    "You've just had a heavy session of electroshock therapy, and you're more relaxed than you've been in weeks. All those childhood traumas magically wiped away, along with most of your personality."
  • Stoic Spectacles: Steven Wilson is a pretty man. More so with glasses than without.
  • Shout-Out:
    • "Pure Narcotic" has one in the first verse, to the Radiohead album The Bends.
    • A slightly less subtle one would be The Sky Moves Sideways, a psychedelic rock album with five tracks, the first and last of which are halves of the titular song. Does this remind any Pink Floyd fans of anything?
    • And The Incident contains the song "Time Flies", which is about nostalgia and contains MANY musical and lyrical hat-tips to Pink FloydAnimals was the first album Steven Wilson bought as a child. It also has passing references to The Beatles and Jimi Hendrix.
    • Fear of a Blank Planet is named after Public Enemy's Fear of a Black Planet.
    • Similarly, "The Creator Has a Mastertape" is named for Pharaoh Sanders' "The Creator Has a Master Plan", and part of its chorus lyrics ("The creator had a mastertape, but he left it in a cab") likely refers to an incident during the recording of Axis: Bold As Lovenote  when Jimi Hendrix lost a tape containing what was meant to be the finished mix for side one of the album by accidentally leaving it in the back of a taxi, thus requiring a new mix to be made quickly in order to meet the deadline for the album's release.
  • The Something Song: "Hatesong".
  • Take That!: A bunch to the music industry, such as "Piano Lessons" and "The Sound of Muzak". The entire Fear of a Blank Planet album can be seen as one to today's youth popular culture as a whole, with "Anesthetize" directly mentioning MTV.
    • Being as how Fear of a Blank Planet is told from the perspective of the son of Lunar Park's middle-aged protagonist, it's debatable whether Steven Wilson is more disgusted with the adult producers or the young consumers.
    • The title of "The Nostalgia Factory" is a swipe at the music press' short attention span (and hilariously, Melody Maker compared the song to Ride when it came out, proving the point).
    Wilson: One thing I've tended to experience with the British music press is that if you try to talk to them about the history of music, their knowledge often doesn't go back beyond The Stone Roses or Happy Mondays.
  • This Is a Song: The opening lines of "Hatesong":
    This is a hate song just meant for you
    I thought that I'd write it down while I still could
    I hope when you hear this you'll want to sue
  • Title-Only Chorus: "Every Home Is Wired" and "Four Chords That Made A Million".
  • Uncommon Time: As PT are a Progressive Rock band, this is pretty much obligatory. Large portions of "Strip the Soul" are in 5/4, for example, while "The Start of Something Beautiful" mostly switches between 9/8 and 5/4.
  • Word Salad Lyrics: Mostly seen on the earlier work, like "Nine Cats".
    • Attributable, to an extent, to the fact that much earlier work featured lyrics which were gifted to Wilson by his friend Alan Duffy, along with the much more psychedelic direction of earlier albums.