Review – Deadwing Deluxe Edition by Porcupine Tree


Deluxe re-issue of Porcupine Tree’s 2005 album casts new light on a classic

Deadwing is the second album in a run of three classic releases from Porcupine Tree, starting with In Absentia in 2002 and ending with Fear of a Blank Planet in 2007. It was released in the middle of that sequence, in 2005. The new Deluxe Edition on CD is housed in a handsome hardback book of around a hundred pages, including photos and artwork by Lasse Hoile and Mike Bennion, and detailed articles by Stephen Humphries. In 2017, the band’s singer, guitarist and main songwriter Steven Wilson remastered the album for release on vinyl, and that mix is included here for the first time on CD. The first CD contains the full album and the second CD includes five B-sides. The third has 13 demos, the first seven of which were recorded by Wilson, the eighth by Wilson and drummer Gavin Harrison and the rest by the full band with Richard Barbieri on keyboards and Colin Edwin on bass. The generous fourth disc is a Blu-Ray which includes: a new documentary Never Stop the Car on a Drive in the Darkthe Making of Deadwing directed by Jeremy George; the album and B-sides remastered in high resolution stereo (96/24 LPCM); a 5.1 surround sound mix including four B-sides; a concert video recorded for the German Rockpalast television series at Live Music Hall, Köln, Germany in November 2005.

The Deadwing Film Script

Many of the songs on the album relate to a film script of the same name, written by Wilson and the director Mike Bennion, with whom Wilson had collaborated, writing music for several TV commercials directed by Bennion. The film of Deadwing script was never made, although it did resurface in 2020 in a new, simpler version called And No Birds Sing. A short teaser (featuring a brief cameo of Wilson as a rough sleeper) was released on YouTube in September of that year, but to date the film hasn’t been completed.

In the meantime, the Deadwing album was released partly to help the film get made – Wilson and Bennion were having difficulty creating any interest in their script. The irony is that the album is based, as Wilson admits in the fascinating documentary in this Deluxe Edition, on a script of a film that no-one has ever seen, and on characters that are known only to Wilson and Bennion. Wilson enjoys the irony, but does admit that the problem – if there is one – is that the album is impenetrable both ‘lyrically and conceptually.’ What has made the album even more difficult to interpret – until now – is that it has never been entirely clear which of the songs on the album relate to the film script. Wilson admits that around half of the nine tracks on the album are taken from the script, including the title track, Lazarus, Open Car, and Arriving Somewhere But Not Here. He gives tantalising glimpses of parts of the plot of the film, admitting to Humphries for instance that the eerie spoken words on the title track ‘Like a cancer scare/In a dentist’s chair’ are taken directly from the script. The images and photography, which are extensively and beautifully presented in the lavish book are also almost entirely based on the film script.

In the documentary, Wilson refers to the two main characters in the script, David and Elizabeth. David works in a sound studio in Soho, London. As I mention in my book On Track … Porcupine Tree (Sonicbond Publishing, 2021) the first 15 pages of the Deadwing script were posted online, but are no longer available. For a detailed summary, please see page 86 of the book, but briefly David is seen working on the sound for a video and is horrified when he glimpses a small boy who appears mysteriously in one of the scenes he is editing. He later meets Elizabeth on a Tube train platform – it’s unclear who she is, although we are told that she is a young woman in her late twenties, with a long red coat and red high heels.

A fascinating revelation made by Wilson in the documentary is that David is the only survivor of a religious cult after the rest of them died in a mass suicide twenty years before the start of the film. He fled the cult as a child, and the opening scene of the film script shows a three-year-old boy running, barefoot, through the woods at night wearing a nightshirt. Just before this, we see the boy’s mother singing a lullaby to him; are we to assume that his mother was a member of the cult and died in the mass suicide? The song Lazarus seems to be a dialogue between the boy and his dead mother – David is mentioned by name in the song.

Wilson has often written about religion in his lyrics for Porcupine Tree, and Halo on this album is about the holier-than-thou attitude of a born-again Christian,

I’m not the same as you
Cause I’ve seen the light

Wilson has also shown his fascination with religious cults. The track Last Chance to Evacuate Planet Earth Before It Is Recycled (Lightbulb Sun 2000) features real spoken word footage from the leader of the Heaven’s Gate religious cult, 39 of whom committed suicide in March 1997 in the tragic belief that they had left their bodies to return to the ‘Level Above Human in Distant Space.’ Wilson revisited the theme in The Blind House (The Incident 2009) which is again based on a real-life case, when a police raid in 2008 on the Yearning for Zion ranch in Texas led to the release of 400 children, some of whom had married the polygamist cult leader who is now serving a long prison sentence for sexual activities with minors. It’s intriguing to note that in the interview with Humphries, Wilson says that in the film script the ghosts of the dead cult members are now coming back to reclaim David. This combines Wilson’s scepticism about religion (inherited from his scientist father as Wilson says in his book Limited Edition of One (Constable 2022)) with his love of ghost stories – as shown on his solo album The Raven That Refused to Sing (And Other Stories) from 2013, which is based on a series of ghost stories that Wilson wrote.

Despite the revelation about David and the cult from which he escaped, Wilson admitted to Humphries that using a film script that very few people have ever seen (although Barbieri and Edwin did read it when recording the album) could make the album ‘a little unrelatable.’ He said that ‘nobody knew who David was’. We may have to wait until the film is released to find out more about him. But the film script is not crucial to an understanding of the album and an appreciation of its emotional resonance. In a revealing section of the documentary, Wilson says that songs like Lazarus have universal themes, such as childhood nostalgia and regret, lyrical themes which have continued to haunt his solo albums including The Raven … and Hand. Cannot. Erase. (2015). He modestly fails to mention the fact that the success of Lazarus (with over 18 million plays on Spotify it’s the band’s third most popular song and Wilson has played it live nearly 500 times) is partly due to the gorgeous melody and the vocals which are delivered with sweet sincerity. Critics may agonise over the exact meaning of a lyric, whereas listeners may respond to the emotional truth of a song which is revealed as much by the music as by the words.

The Demo tracks

Another revelation – perhaps more startling – is that Lazarus originally contained extra material as can be heard on the demo version on CD2. From around 2:25 to 3:10 there’s a very strange bridge section which sounds completely incongruous, much more like the early psychedelic pastiches of Porcupine Tree when the band was still Wilson’s solo project. It’s a very unusual lapse of judgment on Wilson’s part – most of his demos are very similar to the final versions, but in this case Andy Karp from the record company said that the demo version of the song ‘suddenly went haywire with a real curveball of a middle part.’ Karp and the band’s manager Andy Leff shared the same reaction to the middle section. Their role was to turn a good piece of art into a great piece of art, just as poet Ezra Pound did when editing T. S. Eliot’s masterpiece The Waste Land (1922).

Another, more subtle but equally important difference between the demo and the final version of a song is Arriving Somewhere But Not Here. The demo begins with two minutes of ethereal choirs and the sound of a church organ. As Barbieri says in the documentary, Wilson asked him to add his distinctive sound design to the opening of the track, replacing the demo version with a ‘slowly building backdrop’ that leads much more effectively to the ‘dramatic moment’ when the main guitar theme first appears. Barbieri adds the ticking of a grandfather clock, electronic bleeps, backwards piano and a synth patch called Arab Soft Synth to create a richly enigmatic soundscape which creates, as he told Humphries, a ‘serene but portentous mood.’

The other demos are mostly versions of tracks which appear on the final album or as B-sides which are already reviewed in detail in On Track … Porcupine Tree. The B-sides on CD 2 are also covered in the book, mostly as tracks on the Stars Die compilation (see pages 130 – 132). There are however four new demo songs in the Deluxe Edition which aren’t reviewed elsewhere:

Godfearing (Wilson) [04:57]

This track has been available for about ten years on Wilson’s SoundCloud account, where he says that he’s not sure which album it belongs to, ‘while it shares lyrical themes with the songs on In Absentia, one of the melodies seems to relate to another piece from [the] Deadwing era.’ It now seems he has decided that it belongs to Deadwing.

This is an archetypal Porcupine Tree track from the band’s later era, with opening metal riffs that could have come from Swedish prog metal band Opeth (with whom Wilson was working around this time); lovely delicate vocals in the verses contrasting with an epic earworm of a chorus; a very heavy riff that could have come from Deadwing; a contemplative section with heavily echoed piano; imaginative use of hammered dulcimer and a taste of Mellotron … all beautifully combined into less than five minutes. It’s good that the track has finally found a home on an official release.

Vapour Trails (Wilson) [03.53]

Not to be confused with the single Vapour Trail Lullaby which was written before the sessions for In Absentia but wasn’t released until 2010, when it was given away as a single with copies of Wilson’s solo DVD Insurgentes.

The song is a reminder (if one is needed) of Wilson’s supreme ability to write a simple, heartfelt ballad – recent examples include 12 Things I Forgot from his solo album The Future Bites (2021) or Of The New Day from the Porcupine Tree album Closure / Continuation (2022). Its status as a demo is shown by the slightly strained vocals, and the very simple arrangement mostly based around strummed acoustic guitar. But there’s some lovely George Harrison-like guitar later in the song, and at 3:30 there’s a heart-stopping moment when the instruments briefly drop out, leaving emotive multi-layered vocals hanging in the air like perfume.

Instrumental Demo 1 (Porcupine Tree) [05.19]

This is one of five demos featuring the complete band. Wilson had previously presented the band with songs in the form of completed demos on which he played and sang all the parts, but on Deadwing he was beginning to relax control a little and allow other band members into the writing process. On the main album, Halo and Glass Arm Shattering are written by the whole band, and The Start Of Something Beautiful is co-written with Gavin Harrison.

This song is notable for a typically melodic, wide ranging bass line from Colin Edwin in the verse, robust and intelligent drumming from Harrison, some spacious soundscaping from Barbieri, and rocky guitar from Wilson.

Instrumental Demo 2 (Porcupine Tree) [05.23]

Harrison says that the danger of a whole band writing together in a room is that they end up playing for half an hour in E major, but this song features an uplifting and imaginative sequence of key changes from around 1:15 which lift the song beyond the most basic of demos. With more work, this could have been turned into a classic Porcupine Tree song. From around 3:30 Wilson shows off his skills as a guitarist and at 4:00 Barbieri adds evocative keyboards.

The Surround Sound Mix

The Deluxe Edition provides an opportunity to hear Deadwing in a surround sound mix in 5.1 only – it was much later that Wilson began to mix in the more immersive and sophisticated Dolby Atmos format. The first Porcupine Tree album to benefit from 5.1 surround sound was In Absentia, mixed by Elliot Scheiner. Wilson worked with Scheiner on the 5.1 mix of Deadwing and by the next album Fear of a Blank Planet (2007) he had learned the art so well that his surround sound mix was nominated for a Grammy award, as was his mix of the next album The Incident (2009). Wilson has since become the go-to surround sound mixer for classic albums by bands such as King Crimson, Roxy Music, Jethro Tull, Yes, Gentle Giant, XTC and Tears For Fears. More recently he mixed his latest solo album The Future Bites (2021) and the new Porcupine Tree album Closure/Continuation (2022) in Dolby Atmos as well, adding more precise placement of instruments in the surround sound picture and height information as well.

The 5.1 mix provides a coherent, immersive experience that creates a unique sound world, strengthening some of the weaker tracks by drawing them into a creative whole. Backing vocals become much better defined in the surround sound image. Heavy metal guitar riffs are visceral. Fizzing synths that are hidden in the stereo mix lurk menacingly. Excellent use is made of the rear speakers, with the spoken word passages in the title track leaping out to startle the listener. Two tracks in particular benefit from the mix. Mellotron Scratch brings out the beauty and the pain of the song. The bass drum at the start is much more prominent, the syncopated rhythm creating a deliciously uneasy effect. The harmony voices are gorgeous. Later in the song guitars and drums join in a moment of sudden robustness as the bass drum returns. The final track, Glass Arm Shattering, provides a lovely relaxation of tension after the visceral onslaught of much of the rest of the album. In stereo, the simplicity of the track is what is most noticeable after the proggy polyrhythms of the previous track, Start Of Something Beautiful. The surround sound mix turns the track into more of an epic, a climax like Eclipse, the closing track of Pink Floyd’s The Dark Side Of The Moon. The track begins with nostalgic vinyl crackles, which lead to lush drums and electronics. Slide guitars in the rear speakers add to the richness of the picture, and the multi-layered vocals take the listener to a new heights of emotion. The track ends with a touch of subtle humour, the sound of a stylus in a crackly groove on a record circling around the surround sound image turning the whole room into a vast record player.


Deadwing is in some ways a transitional album. It consolidated the distinctive Porcupine Tree blueprint, a hybrid of progressive metal riffs, melodic strength and rich vocal harmonies that had been a feature of the previous album, In Absentia. Perhaps what Deadwing lacks compared to that album is conceptual coherence. The next album, Fear Of A Blank Planet used the same musical formula and added a very strong concept, making it the band’s masterpiece. But Deadwing does contain two classic Porcupine Tree tracks, Arriving Somewhere But Not Here and Lazarus, and most of the other material is strong. The Deluxe Edition adds a great deal to the enjoyment of the album, an insight into the creative process and an excellent surround sound mix. So, **** for the music itself and an extra * for the rest of the new package. Following the release of the In Absentia Deluxe Edition in 2020, a Deluxe Edition of Fear Of A Blank Planet would complete the trilogy nicely.

Track Listing

CD1 Deadwing (2018 remaster)

1 Deadwing [09:46]

2 Shallow [04:17]

3 Lazarus [04:19]

4 Halo [04:39]

5 Arriving Somewhere But Not Here [12:02]

6 Mellotron Scratch [06:57]

7 Open Car [03:44]

8 Start Of Something Beautiful [07:43]

9 Glass Arm Shattering [06:08]

CD2 B-Sides

1 Revenant [03:05]

2 So Called Friend [04:49]

3 Shesmovedon [04:55]

4 Mother And Child Divided [05:00]

5 Half Light  [06:38]

CD3 Demos

1 Arriving Somewhere But Not Here (demo) [13:03]

2 Godfearing (demo) [04:57]

3 Lazarus (demo) [04:10]

4 Open Car (demo) [05:08]

5 Vapour Trails (demo) [03:53]

6 Shallow (demo) [04:15]

7 Deadwing (demo) [10:35]

8 Mother And Child Divided (demo) [05:02]

9 Instrumental Demo 1 [05:19]

10 Halo (demo) [04:50]

11 Instrumental Demo 2 [05:23]

12 So Called Friend (demo) [05:01]

13 Glass Arm Jam [04:19]


Documentary Film, Rockpalast Broadcast & Extras

1 Never Stop the Car on a Drive in the Dark (Deadwing documentary [54:20]

2 Lazarus (promo video) [04:19]

3 Deadwing (remastered album 96/24 LPCM stereo) [59:37]

4 Deadwing B-sides (96/24 LPCM stereo) [25:25]

5 Deadwing 5.1 surround sound mix (including 4 bonus tracks) 48/24 (2005 by Elliot Scheiner and Steven Wilson) [59:37]

6 Additional 5.1 mixes of B-sides Revenant, Mother and Child Divided, Half-Light and Shesmovedon [19.47]

Rockpalast WDR TV broadcast:

7 Intro [00:35]

8 Blackest Eyes [04:33] In Absentia

9 Lazarus [03:58] Deadwing

10 Futile [02:31] In Absentia bonus track

11 Interview [06:02]

12 Mother And Child Divided [04:50] Deadwing B-side

13 So Called Friend [05:00] Deadwing B-side

14 Arriving Somewhere But Not Here [12:24] Deadwing

15 Sound Of Muzak [05:06] In Absentia

16 Interview 2 [01:20]

17 Start Of Something Beautiful [07:24] Deadwing

18 Halo [05:03] Deadwing

19 Interview 3 [03:35]

20 Radioactive Toy [06:05] On The Sunday Of Life

21 Trains [07.18] In Absentia


Never Stop the Car on a Drive in the Darkthe Making of Deadwing directed by Jeremy George

Deadwing: The History and track-by-track by Stephen Humphries (Deadwing book)

Twitter @PorcupineTree first draft of Deadwing Script

On Track … Porcupine Tree: Every Album, Every Song by Nick Holmes (SonicBond Publishing September 2021)

Limited Edition Of One – How To Succeed In The Music Industry Without Being Part of The Mainstream by Steven Wilson with Mick Wall (Constable, an imprint of Little, Brown April 2022)  

Godfearing on Wilson’s SoundCloud account

Review – Porcupine Tree Closure/Continuation


Porcupine Tree return after 12 years’ hiatus with their new album which reached number 2 in the UK charts

Pink Floyd once satirised the music industry executive who said, ‘You gotta get an album out/You owe it to the people’ (Have a Cigar from their 1975 album Wish You Were Here). When Porcupine Tree went on an extended hiatus after their last concert in 2010, there was no pressure on them from a record company to ‘get an album out’. Band leader Steven Wilson had already launched what became an increasingly successful solo career. The other members of what is now known in copyright terms as ‘Porcupine Three’ were also pursuing their own careers. Keyboard player Richard Barbieri released a series of solo albums, most recently the troubled lockdown masterpiece Under a Spell. Drummer Gavin Harrison toured with King Crimson and became a member of The Pineapple Thief, and recorded a superb jazz fusion album Chemical Reactions with bass player Antoine Fafard.

In the meantime, another bass player was writing new material with Gavin Harrison – Steven Wilson himself. As long ago as 2012, Steven went round to Gavin’s house for a cup of tea and a chat. Gavin suggested that they should jam together, and the only instrument in Gavin’s home studio that resembled a lead guitar was a bass guitar. Pragmatism is the mother of creativity, so Steven picked up the bass and played it like a guitar player. Many years later, when promoting his most recent solo album, last year’s The Future Bites he said that he had fallen out of love with the guitar as the main source of his creativity, preferring to write on keyboards, particularly analogue synthesisers. When asked about the possible return of Porcupine Tree, he naturally always deflected the interviewer towards the solo work that he was promoting at the time, although a careful re-reading of some of those interviews now reveals that he was sometimes dropping hints that Porcupine Tree might come back at some stage, perhaps as a side-project to his solo career.

So, without any pressure or expectation, the three band members quietly wrote an album, now released under the intriguing title Closure/Continuation, suggesting that this could be the final chapter of the Porcupine Tree saga, or it could be the start of a new chapter. The lack of commercial or artistic pressure meant that the band were able to work in a completely new way. Previously, Steven Wilson had delivered songs to the band as fully completed demos which the band rerecorded. For the latest album, for the first time Steven wrote songs with the other band members, and all the instruments and vocals were performed by the three of them without any external collaborators. When their work was complete, they then offered it to several record companies, eventually going with the independent label Music for Nations who describe themselves as the ‘naughty corner of Sony Music UK, proving people wrong since 1983.’

The album has seven tracks, which are reviewed in more detail below, although streaming versions add another three tracks, Population Three, Never Have and Love in the Past Tense that are taken from the Deluxe Edition Box Set. The album is unusual in the band’s catalogue in the there is no over-arching concept as there is with many of their previous albums such as Fear of a Blank Planet. Steven Wilson’s own solo albums to date are based on a strong concept, except for the first album Insurgentes released in 2008. Perhaps the fact that songs were written piecemeal over a long period of time, and by all three band members rather than Steven Wilson on his own, meant that a concept was not appropriate this time, although the lyrics are all written by Steven Wilson and express some of the concerns he has visited on previous albums. To use a literary analogy, each song can be viewed as a self-contained short story rather than a chapter from a novel.

01 Harridan (Harrison, Wilson)

The title of this song has caused some online commentators to reach for their dictionary to discover that it means a haggard old woman. It’s an insult, or as the Oxford English Dictionary politely puts it, ‘usually a term of vituperation.’ Perhaps it leads listeners to expect a misogynistic rant, but instead the song is addressed to a man, making the term neutral. The man in question is a ‘gold man’, perhaps like the mythical King Midas whose every touch turned objects into gold, with a ‘silver tongue’ suggesting a powerful man who uses his eloquence to hide the truth which he keeps to himself. The truth in this case is that ‘you can only save yourself’. The chorus refers to hiding our cuts and our hurt from the world, appearing strong even at the point of death, ‘when we bite the dust’. The central character of the song could be a politician of the like that is dismantled in the third song on the album ‘Rats Return’, but it’s not made clear.

But the song is not completely bleak. The bridge section is much more tender, a gorgeous depiction of the ‘time of the almost rain’ which the next song Of the New Day reveals to be dawn. The beauty of the scene is poignantly combined with an expression of deep loss and regret; having ‘gone to earth’ to find love, the protagonist laments lost love, ‘and what is left without you?’ Wilson sings with a remarkable tenderness here, expressing a new vulnerability in his voice which seems to have begun on his previous solo album The Future Bites, showing a new confidence in his ability to use his voice as an expressive instrument.

The song was chosen as the first single from the album, and it was a good choice to relaunch the band on an unsuspecting world. It contains all the elements that became associated with the later Porcupine Tree, metal riffs, rich sound design, a wide range of dynamics, strong melodies, evocative lyrics and a sense of development as the track progresses. But there’s a new simplicity on this album, with pared-down production that bears a close relationship to the production style on The Future Bites. There’s less in the way of overt musical virtuosity than on previous Porcupine Tree albums, except unsurprisingly from Gavin Harrison on drums. At a recent Q&A session with the band in Leeds, Wilson and Barbieri amusingly recounted the arguments they had about who was the worst musician in the band, each trying to claim the crown and both (rightly) agreeing that Harrison is definitely the best musician in the band.

The track starts with Wilson playing perhaps the funkiest bass line ever heard on a Porcupine Tree record, with lovely ambient keyboards from Barbieri and fierce vocals from Wilson. In common with some of the other tracks on the album, the chorus is very short, giving a real sense of urgency. There’s also a yearning quality in the chords that lead up to the chorus. The song seems to have reached its end only about three minutes in after the contemplative bridge section, but it gathers itself again with fizzing guitar and a thunderous metal riff with driving guitar chords. The sound drops out with bubbling synths flying across the stereo picture, followed by a whimsical jazz section with Wilson almost scat singing in falsetto above. Another driving chromatic section follows with a triumphant return of the chorus and its matching riff. The coda to the song is a repeat of the bridge section, ending on an unresolved chord which disappears into noise. An inspiring ending to a superb opening song, announcing the group’s exultant return as if In Absentia was released only a year or two ago rather than 20 years ago.

02 Of The New Day (Wilson)

After the onslaught of the previous song, there follows a gentle ballad which expresses hope and optimism at the breaking of dawn, described by the Greek poet Homer as ‘rosy-fingered dawn’, a memorable image of a time here described by Wilson as ‘the hour of almost rain/When night becomes the day.’ It’s an image of rebirth, but as this is a Porcupine Tree song there are ‘tinges of darkness around the edges’ as Wilson admitted in a Twitter Listening Party with Tim Burgess of The Charlatans on 29 June. The darkness here seems to be the protagonist’s old life, which is still there despite the breaking dawn, ‘the old days that line up behind/The monolith of the new day.’

Although it’s superficially a simple song, behind the balladry lies the rhythmic genius of Gavin Harrison. Apparently Wilson told the band’s drummer that he wanted to write a song that had multiple time changes. This means that the song has a slightly stop-start feel but it’s so well executed that after the initial slight shock of the time changes it soon resides in the brain as a classic Steven Wilson ballad.

03 Rats Return (Harrison, Wilson)

This song is about politicians who ‘leave their principles at the door’ who ‘purge [their] guilt for nameless hoards’ (pedants will note that the correct spelling of the word is ‘hordes’). The idea of rats returning ties in with the more common image of rats leaving a sinking ship; in the song the rats are presumably returning to celebrate their complete control over the places they have laid waste by their policies. The hint of a nautical image becomes more of a theme as the album progresses.

The idea of psychopaths running society is something that preoccupies Wilson; in the video for the track Eminent Sleaze on The Future Bites he plays a character who represents the ultimate extremes of Capitalism as he watches the world end, leaving him as the sole survivor.

In Rats Return, the line ‘a conscience won’t help you win the war’ perfectly encapsulates the level of psychopathy that politicians often appear to need in order to be leaders. It’s a concept explored by journalist and broadcaster Jon Ronson in his fascinating book, The Psychopath Test, which looks at the lack of empathy in public figures,

“Serial killers ruin families,’ shrugged Bob. ‘Corporate and political and religious psychopaths ruin economies. They ruin societies.”

The Psychopath Test: A Journey Through the Madness Industry by Jon Ronson (Picador 2012)

Wilson makes it clear that he is referring to real political and military leaders when he lists ‘Genghis K’ (Genghis Kahn, the military leader who was responsible for the deaths of millions), ‘Pinochet’ (the Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet) and ‘Mao Tse Tung’ (Chairman Mao, responsible for countless Chinese deaths during the Cultural Revolution).

The song is another exercise in rhythmic mastery from Harrison. On Twitter he pointed out that the rhythmic pattern is so complex it takes, ‘at least half the song before people realise that there is a repeat of a four-bar syncopation, in which every bar is different.’ As a result, the rhythm is ‘spiky’, which suits the song’s sentiments perfectly. The main guitar riff could have come from the progressive metal style of some of the songs on the previous three Porcupine Tree albums, but the song also has a contemporary feel due to the sparse production. It feels like another classic Porcupine Tree song in the making.

04 Dignity (Barbieri, Wilson)

This song addresses one of Wilson’s favourite themes, the role of ambition in our lives and the failure to achieve our dreams – the ‘stupid dream’ described in the album of the same name in 1999. On the Twitter Listening Party he said that Dignity describes a guy who ‘really used to be someone’, a film star or a CEO who is now living on the street, and ‘all the pathos that goes with that downfall.’ But there is also hope – the central character retains his dignity despite his downfall, ‘your dignity will never go and your mind is pretty sound’

The song includes a reference to the final section of T. S. Eliot’s epic poem The Waste Land, What the thunder said, in the line ‘Tell yourself it’s just what the thunder said.’ The first part of that section of the poem refers to the aridity and sterility of life in the 20th century (the poem was written in 1922, so is celebrating its 100th anniversary this year). The poem ends with the Sanskrit word ‘Shantih’ repeated three times. The word Shantih, used at the end of Hindu religious texts the Upanishads, means peace. Eliot himself in his Notes to the poem described it as the equivalent of the Christian concept of ‘The Peace which passeth understanding’ or the Peace that God brings. In the context of the song, which has no overt religious message, the fact that the poem ends on an ineffably positive note could suggest that if the protagonist in the song ignores what the thunder said, and instead follows the final message of the poem, this could provide hope despite his downfall. Whether Wilson had the poem in mind when he wrote the song is unclear, although the final section also has a reference to hooded hordes swarming over endless plains, which could relate to the anonymous ‘nameless hordes’ referred to in Rats Return.

The song starts with the sound of children playing, rather like opening of First Regret from Wilson’s fourth solo album Hand.Cannot.Erase, a brief evocation of the nostalgic theme that has often appeared in his work. A haunting wordless vocal, pure in tone, is provided by the Swedish singer and multi-instrumentalist Lisen Rylander Löve who has worked with Richard Barbieri. A cascading rock guitar line leads to a syncopated vocal line with folky backing vocals provided by Wilson himself. The chorus has a soaring lead synth line which rises in gentle euphoria. The chord structure uses a classic songwriting technique beloved of The Beatles and others, the change from major to minor on the words ‘you stare at the sun’, here describing a moment of hope as the sun breaks through, followed by a return to melancholy on the final word ‘done’. These chord progressions give the song an instant feeling of warm nostalgia, as if the song had already been heard many times before in a dream.

05 Herd Culling (Harrison, Barbieri, Wilson)

The track opens with the visceral lines, ‘Son, go fetch the rifle now/There’s something in the yard’, throwing us immediately into a compelling psychodrama. As a lyricist, Steven has a poet or script writer’s ability to enter a story in medias res, half way through a story, the nature of which is gradually revealed as the song progresses, teasing the listener to extract the meaning of the song. In a fascinating and very detailed interview by the ever-perceptive Anil Prasad of, Steven Wilson revealed the meaning of this song. He later retracted, saying he would prefer listeners to make up their own minds, so those who prefer their views not to be influenced by the lyric writer’s thoughts should skip to the next paragraph now. Wilson told Prasad that the song was inspired by the story of Skinwalker Ranch, near Ballard, Utah. Several accounts suggest that the ranch has been plagued by paranormal activities and UFOs, and a slew of books, films and documentaries have been published about it. The song describes the family’s attempts to defend themselves against aliens, ‘strange gods above the earth’ who may have landed to ‘cull a herd’ of cattle on the ranch. He told Prasad, ‘I remain skeptical [sic] when it comes to the UFO stuff and government coverups. But I love the stories.’ His fascination with ghost stories led him to write a collection of them that made up his third solo album, The Raven That Refused to Sing (And Other Stories) released in 2013. On that album he used the stories to illustrate his thoughts about the human condition, and emotions such as regret and feelings of loss, rather than a scientific exploration of the existence or otherwise of ghosts. His scepticism is echoed in the chorus of the song, which consists of the single word ‘liar’, resentfully muttered at first then viciously spat out as his venom increases.

06 Walk the Plank (Barbieri, Wilson)

Another song about the corruption of power in the 21st century. On the Twitter Listening Party, Richard Barbieri described the song as being about ‘the sort of characters that are causing global trouble, a sign-of-the times commentary’. The nautical imagery is much more overt than on Rats Return; this time the rats have abandoned the sunken ship and ‘will never find their way back again.’

The song is very unusual in the Porcupine Tree canon in that it features almost entirely keyboards and drums, with very little if any guitar. To an extent, it shares the fiercely electronic sound of some of the songs on The Future Bites, particularly Eminent Sleaze although ironically much of that song was recorded using real instruments. If some of the songs on this new album feel like closure, finishing a chapter in the band’s previous history, this one feels forward-looking to new territories the band might explore in future if they carry on writing and recording together. Interestingly, on Twitter Richard Barbieri described the track as ‘the joker in the pack… if it went further it wouldn’t be Porcupine Tree.’ Steven Wilson said that if the band did work together again they would probably push towards a more keyboard-based sound with less prominence given to the guitar.

07 Chimera’s Wreck (Harrison, Wilson)

On Twitter, Wilson described this as ‘perhaps the most personal song on the album.’ It addresses a subject that has often troubled him, the nature of success and what we imagine that would look like when we are young. The ‘chimera’ described here is the illusion of the future, ‘what we imagine we want from life when we’re young probably wouldn’t have made us happy anyway.’ As mentioned above this was the theme of the Stupid Dream album, and it was also the theme of one of the hidden treasures of the Porcupine Tree back catalogue, ‘Buying New Soul’ which was recorded during the sessions for Lightbulb Sun which was released in 2000. In that song, Wilson describes his battle with the recording industry and his attempt to retain artistic integrity, ‘I still rage and wage my little war’ – but it ends with the depressing concept of selling out, of buying a ‘new soul at the start of every year’.

The personal nature of the song is emphasised by the reference to Wilson’s father, who passed away in 2011, and to whom he dedicated his second solo album Grace for Drowning, which was released later that year. Wilson began working on Chimera’s Wreck shortly after that, and the image of his father smiling at a child encapsulates their relationship in one short line. The reference to ‘A new town in the 60s’ is presumably Wilson’s home town of Hemel Hempstead, England. The new part of the existing town was completed in 1962, ‘out of concrete a design made for tomorrow’, and Wilson himself was born five years later in 1967.

The song uses sea imagery as on other parts of the album. It’s interesting that some of the imagery and language is quite archaic, almost arcane at times. This contrasts with the use of language on Wilson’s last two solo albums, which is much more direct. The final verse of this song refers to slipping the ‘wreck’ into a bottle, which presumably refers to the old practice of putting a model ship into a bottle. In this case the wrecked ship that has washed up on a shore is perhaps sealed in a bottle to because it’s no longer needed – a hopeful note on which to end the album. The robust backing vocals that appear at just over two minutes into the track have the feel of a sea shanty, and giving the song a nautical feel, a curious throwback to the 19th century. Musically, a strange but perhaps valid comparison is the music of Van der Graaf Generator, and in particular another epic track with a nautical theme, A Plague of Lighthouse Keepers from the 1971 album Pawn Hearts. Chimera’s Wreck shares the driving, repeated riffs of many of the Van der Graaf Generator songs, and their episodic nature, making it the most prog-rock song on the album.

Wilson has said that this is the best Porcupine Tree album, along with Fear of a Blank Planet and In Absentia. He also admits that ‘time will tell.’ It’s certainly by far the most collaborative album the band have ever released. The lack of an over-arching concept perhaps makes it more difficult to grasp initially than many of the previous albums, but individual tracks are very strong and as with most of Steven Wilson’s work it takes a while to give up its secrets, so repeated listens are recommended. It also maintains the consistently excellent levels of production that have characterised Wilson’s work for decades now, both as a producer and as an expert remixer of classic albums. Let’s hope that the new album, to quote one of the band’s own song titles, is the ‘Start of Something Beautiful’ rather than a final coda to their work.

For a detailed, track-by-track analysis of the previous 10 studio albums, bonus tracks, live albums and compilations see Porcupine Tree On Track by Nick Holmes, published in September 2021 by Sonicbond.

Album Review – Isolated Dreams by Ghost Echo

A bold and accomplished debut from the Dutch duo


Many lockdown albums will be released in the next few months. Some of the recent highlights include Richard Barbieri’s Under a Spell , and Steven Wilson’s The Future Bites, recorded before lockdown but released in January. Now Dutch musicians Remy de Wal and Karel Witte have recorded Isolated Dreams, their first album together as Ghost Echo, with almost all the music being made by the two musicians remotely. The album was written and recorded between March last year and February this year in their home studios. Remy and Karel exchanged demos and did all the mixing and production themselves, an impressive achievement.

The album opens with Black Era with Eighties-sounding drum machines and synths, an anthemic chorus and vocals that are slightly reminiscent of the pure tones Morten Harket of the Norwegian pop group A-ha (although without reaching his stratospheric heights). But this is not a straightforward pop song; although it starts in that style, it soon embraces an almost prog metal style with metallic guitars and screeching synth lines. It is a promising and mature start to the album, immediately demanding the listener’s attention.

Dust begins with a gorgeous keyboard motif, influenced as the band admit partly by the soundtracks to both of the Blade Runner films. The song features lo-fi trip hop beats and a lovely, introspective vocal line delivered with great emotion.

Late Night is the highlight of the album, an atmospherically dystopian tale of a man haunted by demons in the small hours of the night. The band openly acknowledge the song’s debt to the more recent electronic work of Steven Wilson, but the gorgeous harmonies in the chorus also hark back to Wilson’s earlier work with his band Porcupine Tree. The disturbing animated video, with a touch of psychedelia, was created by Tiago Araújo; it also has an indirect link to Steven Wilson in that it is similar to the work of Jess Cope in her animation for The People Who Eat Darkness from Wilson’s solo album To The Bone.

Tiago Araújo’s video is based on a script by Karel Witte

Null Void begins with a dark trip-hop soundscape and heavily compressed vocals, like the soundtrack to a bleak science fiction film, perhaps set in the dystopian near future when the planet has been devasted by some cataclysmic event and an oppressive regime has come to power. The song ends with a prog rock style epic guitar solo, and the repeated words ‘I see you watching me’, suggesting the protagonist is now living in a totalitarian state, before the track stutters to a halt.

Another stand-out track is Pitfalls which closes the album, beginning with a slow-burning ambient sound, building to another epic guitar solo, accompanied by Giorgio Moroder-style synth chords and prog metal guitar chords, with emotionally wrought vocals; a powerful climax to the album.

It is to the band’s credit that even at this early stage in their career they have sequenced an album of emotional highs and lows, and taken the listener on a journey of discovery. They even left off the song Conspiracy Leader described by the band as ‘a dark synthpop-goes-progmetal track featuring acoustic drums (!) by Kay Ketting’,  as they did not feel that it fitted into the sequencing of the album, a brave but important artistic decision so early on.

It would be hard to tell that the album was recorded in lockdown except for the reference in the title to ‘isolated’ dreams. It is an accomplished and bold debut, immediately establishing an exciting new voice, a very effective combination of pop, prog, metal and trip-hop. Apparently, they are already writing new material which provides hope for the band’s future when they can get together in person.

Ghost Echo are:

Remy de Wal – Guitars, synthesizers, programming and backing vocals

Karel Witte – Lead vocals, guitars, synthesizers and programming

Isolated Dreams is out now.