The news that Porcupine Tree are returning with a new album this summer was greeted with a lot of hysterical shrieking by the band’s huge fan base. On ice since 2010, Steven Wilson’s pioneering modern prog crew have a new album on the way, Closure/Continuation, and live shows on the horizon, too. The sneaky devils. Of course, the new album has a lot to live up to, as this countdown of Porcupine Tree’s studio albums aims to prove. What a band they were (and are).
10. On The Sunday Of Life (1992)
Partly inspired by Steven Wilson’s love of XTC alter-ego The Dukes Of Stratosphear, the first Porcupine Tree album bears little resemblance to the progressive colossus that would eventually emerge. But within the quirky psychedelia of songs like Radioactive Toy and the title track lurks plenty of the gentle subversion and zealous curiosity that has defined everything under the PT banner. A curio, perhaps, but a very shiny one.
9. Up The Downstair (1993)
Originally planned as a double album, to be released in tandem with psychedelic trance excursion Voyage 34, Up The Downstair was an undeniable leap forward. In particular, the title track and Burning Sky showcased a more blatantly progressive ethos. Porcupine Tree would make many better records, but this felt like an authentic starting point for something special. The re-recorded version, live drums from Gavin Harrison, is the superior one.
8. Signify (1996)
The moment when the Porcupine Tree sound – as malleable and unpredictable as it always was – coalesced around a bona fide ensemble, rather than Wilson plus hired hands. Eschewing the long-form experiments of Voyage 34 and The Sky Moves Sideways in favour of shorter but no less adventurous songs, Signify was full of revelatory moments, not least the gorgeously unnerving Every Home Is Wired and the epic, brooding Dark Matter.
7. The Sky Moves Sideways (1995)
An outright celebration of progressive rock tropes, The Sky Moves Sideways wore its debt to Pink Floyd with pride. What came across most strongly on PT album three was that Steven Wilson was dragging the past howling and shrieking into the future. The sprawling title track is a certified classic, but the semi-improvised splurge of Moonloop is the album’s wild apex.
6. Lightbulb Sun (2000)
Porcupine Tree were fully in their imperious stride by the time their sixth album emerged in the year 2000. The chemistry between Wilson, keyboard maestro Richard Barbieri, bassist Colin Edwin and drummer Chris Maitland was on display throughout, with bleak epic Russia On Ice and the shimmering alt-rock of the title track representing two distinct sides to the band’s personality.
5. Stupid Dream (1999)
The album that turned Opeth’s Mikael Åkerfeldt into the world’s biggest Porcupine Tree fan, Stupid Dream was a masterclass in blending sublime melodies with deeply proggy song structures. Opener Even Less is simply one of the all-time great PT tunes; Stranger By The Minute is one of the great alt-rock hits that never was; and Don’t Hate Me is a genuinely chilling tale of unhinged obsession. We can see Åkerfeldt’s point.
4. Deadwing (2005)
Topping the breakthrough brilliance of In Absentia was never going to be easy, but Deadwing came close to at least equalling its predecessor. Some of Porcupine Tree’s finest songs are contained within: the magnificent, future-prog sprawl of Arriving Somewhere But Not Here, the wistful Lazarus, the art-metal rush of Halo. More importantly, perhaps, the band were now an unstoppable live act, and that’s where these songs truly soared.
3. The Incident (2009)
The final album of Porcupine Tree’s original run before they stepped away from it all, this 55-minute conceptual feast, with a bonus EP generously thrown in is PT’s most overtly prog-friendly record. It’s also one of their very best: a scintillating, all-encompassing odyssey through every aspect of the band’s sound; from the heaviest of skronk-metal freakouts (Occam’s Razor) to the nostalgic, Floydian monolith of Time Flies. Performed live in its entirety upon release, The Incident was a pretty good place to stop. Temporarily.
2. In Absentia (2002)
Revered as a 21st century prog classic, In Absentia was the moment when everything came together for Porcupine Tree. Purposefully heavier than previous records, but still fuelled by Steven Wilson’s artful songwriting, it’s the sound of a great band becoming even greater. In Absentia has hits (at least in prog terms) like Blackest Eyes, Trains and Strip The Soul, but it’s also a quietly perverse affair, as Wilson assimilated left-field heaviness into his band’s armoury, twisting his songs into unprecedented shapes. Pure genius, basically.
1. Fear Of A Blank Planet (2007)
Porcupine Tree’s catalogue is full of rounded and cohesive albums, but none hit the spot with quite the enduring impact of their ninth. Fear Of A Blank Planet distilled all the riff-driven intensity and post-rock audacity of earlier records down to a gleaming, diamond core of meticulously refined perfection. The title track is a skull-rattling sprint through modernity’s vapid cacophony; Anesthetize is an astonishing, 18-minute tour-de-force; the closing Sleep Together is moving and menacing in equal measure. Most impressively, and definitely not by design, Fear Of A Blank Planet made prog seem cool as fuck. Which, of course, it actually is.