Robert Fripp once said that if you change the drummer, you change the band. Gavin Harrison, someone who should know a thing or three about Fripp’s musical ideas from his years in King Crimson, seems determined to prove the truth of that philosophy. It was Fripp who told Harrison that he should approach every song like it’s new, regardless of when it was first composed or recorded, which informs the concept behind Give It Back.
From playing on The Pineapple Thief’s Your Wilderness in 2016 as a session musician, Harrison became a full member in time for 2018’s Dissolution. Now he’s had a dig through the group’s vaults and, with the blessing of frontman Bruce Soord, picked 12 songs to rearrange and re-record, favouring the albums Little Man (2006), Tightly Unwound (2008) and All The Wars (2012), with a quick dip even further back into 2002’s One Three Seven and 2005’s 10 Stories Down.
It will be a surprise to no one that the drums sound great on these new versions, something that’s particularly noticeable on Wretched Soul and One Three Seven itself, both of which originally had rather clanging snares. Harrison’s drum parts sound fuller, rounder, and warmer by comparison, although in the case of the track Give It Back, this sacrifices some of the bite of the 2012 recording.
The overall effect on the older tunes is to move them away from Porcupine Tree’s prog metal and towards Radiohead’s alternative art-rock, and that influence is unavoidably heightened by the vocal similarities between Bruce Soord and Thom Yorke. When Soord uses his falsetto upper register to emote, as he does in Boxing Day, he can sound uncannily like Yorke, with the same sense of yearning in his delivery. Little Man evokes OK Computer with its delicate guitar melody and breathy, almost ASMR-like vocal, even if this iteration of the tune has a beefier feel to it.
Harrison’s updated arrangement reworks Wretched Soul quite dramatically, dialling down the noisy metal aggro – despite a brief but blistering explosion of double kick playing – for a vibe that feels like Muse if they had Toto’s Jeff Porcaro laying down his signature halftime shuffle groove. Shoot First is a platform for Harrison’s singularly articulate style and while the drums are never in any danger of overpowering the mix, they’re certainly not sitting demurely at the back. Adding a marimba to Build A World gives the tune a new texture and while other songs, like Someone Pull Me Out, haven’t travelled terribly far from their forebears, they all sound refreshed without sacrificing any of Soord’s all-permeating melancholic moodiness.