Lightbulb Sun

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Steven Wilson wearing an Aphex Twin shirt, 2001

Lightbulb Sun is the sixth studio album by Porcupine Tree, first released in May 2000. Steven Wilson stated in 2001 that, while there is no unifying theme or concept behind the album, “There are at least four or five songs on that record which I call the divorce songs, the relationship songs, which are all about various stages of the splitting up a relationship, of dissolving a relationship. ‘Russia On Ice’, ‘How Is Your Life Today?’, ‘Shesmovedon’, ‘Feel So Low’… The period in a relationship, where the relationship is kind of… still exists, but it’s in that period where, really, there is nothing left but hatred and despise – ‘Hatesong’ is the other one. But then on the other hand, there are groups of songs on the album which are all about various childhood… nostalgic childhood reminisces, ‘Lightbulb Sun’ and the first part of ‘Last Chance To Evacuate Planet Earth’, ‘Where We Would Be’. So there are kind of groups of songs. And then there’s a couple of songs that don’t have any relation to anything else. ‘Four Chords That Made A Million’ doesn’t have any relation to anything else on the album, or anything else I’ve ever written. It’s just that.”

He also remarked that the album was the quickest Porcupine Tree has made (it took 3 months) and yet still the band’s “best work to date”, and was released a mere 14 months after their previous album, Stupid Dream. Lyrically, Wilson had grown tired of writing about abstract concepts like war or religion, and felt he had the confidence to write more personal and emotional lyrics, leading to some especially negative lyrics being displayed in tracks such as “Hatesong” and “Feel So Low”.

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Porcupine Tree in 2000

In 2000 SW explained the quick succession of Stupid Dream and Lightbulb Sun; “There was actually a two and a half year gap between Signify and Stupid Dream, and in that time I was writing and we were recording Stupid Dream. We started recording it in January 1998 and it didn’t come out until March 1999 because of the time it took us to find the record label. By the time Stupid Dream came out, I had loads and loads of new ideas for songs and my batteries had recharged already because there had been such a delay. So I wouldn’t anticipate there being an album quite so soon again. I think we will be looking to take two years to do the next one.”

“How do you feel Lightbulb Sun has progressed and differs from Stupid Dream?”

SW: “Better in every respect. The major improvement for me is in the production which is not as “shiny” as Stupid Dream. The sounds are much more organic and less treated and you will particularly notice this on the vocals which – as befits the lyrics – are much more up front and raw.”

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Porcupine Tree in 2000
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Dave Gregory in 2010

Musically, Wilson stated he wanted to bring back some of the experimental aspects they had moved away from on Stupid Dream, stating “Richard and I worked on creating some unique keyboard sounds for the album – e.g. the ‘fairground’ on ‘How is Your Life Today?’ and the ‘insects’ at the end of ‘Russia On Ice'”. He also spoke of the influence of metal music on the album, stating, “… part of the beauty of the guitar solo on ‘Where We Would Be’ comes from the fact that it was played relatively straight but then fed through so many distortion and lo-fi processes that it began to fizz and disintegrate. The riffing guitars on ‘Russia On Ice’ are pure metal and one of the solos of ‘Hatesong’ I call my ‘Korn solo’ on account of the fact that the bottom strings on the guitar are tuned down so low that the notes can be bent several tones”. Conversely, the band added more unconventional instruments to the compositions as well, such as the banjo, hammered dulcimer, and more string sections. String sections in Lightbulb Sun were arranged and produced by Dave Gregory from alternative rock band XTC at Christchurch Studios, Clifton, Bristol in January 2000, recorded by John Waterhouse.

At one point the working the title of the album was Russia on Ice.

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Chris in 2001

“Do you still feel like a kid in a candy store when you go to record new material? Any one song on Porcupine Tree record always has different instruments used to achieve the sound(s).”

SW: “Yeah. I do. For me, every track is like a challenge to come up with a new sound world for that track to inhabit. That’s one thing I don’t like about the metal scene; perhaps a same-y-ness to a lot of records. With Porcupine Tree and certainly what I tried to do with Opeth is to give every track its own identity – its own personality – so you feel like you’ve been on a journey. You’ve been through many different terrains, many different landscapes. Every time I sit down to write a new record I try to go out and buy some new instruments. On the last record, Lightbulb Sun, I went out and bought a banjo and hammered dulcimer. They crop up on couple of tracks, and they do tend to give you an inspirational spark, which can set you off in a different direction.”

“It’s healthy for musicians to explore different instruments from different parts of the world. To hear exotic instruments played by a Westerner is a bit misleading, but it at least gives you some picture of the tonal range. It’s a bit different, but when people first heard Ravi Shankar on a Beatles record, I’m sure they didn’t quite know what to think of it.”

SW: “Absolutely. I think things like these can give an album so much more depth. I remember when I first heard Sepultura’s Roots. I thought, “My God, this music has really moved on. It’s not just hateful music in order for 15-year-olds to rage against their parents anymore! This is really quite special.” They combined metal with music from their own culture, and that’s what I like in music. I like bands that have a hook into something that means they are not just regurgitating their own record collections. There’s something from their own culture, their own personality that really sets them apart. “

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Porcupine Tree in 2001

SW: “On the other hand there is a whole set of songs where the pastoral sound of long-gone English summers exerts it’s influence on me (not for the first time)…

As we had on Stupid Dream we expanded our musical colours to include things like banjo, hammered dulcimer, the string arrangements of Dave Gregory and several African and Morrocan instruments that Colin brought back from his travels.

To date it’s the only album we’ve made that I still rated highly by the time we’d finished it – even the B-sides and leftovers seemed too good not to be on an album, but we were determined to keep the album below the one hour mark. The only point of contention was the inclusion of the song ‘The Rest Will Flow’. Some of the band didn’t really want it on the record, but it sounded so much like possible single that it seemed perverse not to include it.”

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Colin in 2000

Wilson describes the album as more organic sounding than his previous albums, stating that, “In a song like ‘Winding Shot’ [the first half of the track ‘Last Chance to Evacuate Planet Earth …’] there are shades of Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young and Nick Drake, although the end result is hopefully pure Porcupine Tree. This effect is accentuated by the fact that many of the instruments and vocals on the album are much more up front and given less of a sheen than on Stupid Dream … Organic is the word I like to use.”

“Are you satisfied with the new album or are you one who is never satisfied with their work?”

SW: “Usually, by the time I have finished an album, I never want to hear it again in my entire life! (smiling). And actually, that is still the case. Usually by that time I am already disappointed with it and have moved on. I have to say, with Lightbulb Sun, it is the first time I have ever thought ‘yes, I’m proud of that. That’s a good album and I don’t think I could have done that any better.’ That doesn’t necessarily mean I ever want to hear it again, because I don’t (smile) but I am proud of it.”

“So what made that record different?”

“Lots of things. The quality of the songwriting, the quality of the production. Also I think I have improved as a singer. That is the main thing for me. I never wanted to be a singer or a lyric-writer and it was almost something I fell into by default because it started out as a solo project. I never even thought of myself as a singer, but having been thrust into that situation and encouraged by the group to improve, I felt for the first time on this album that I was cutting out all the crap, saying what I wanted to say in an eloquent way and hopefully singing it in an expressive way. Some may disagree, but I feel very happy with what I achieved from that perspective on that record.”

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Porcupine Tree in 2000

Richard: “Although it appears to be a continuation of sorts from Stupid Dream there are quite obvious differences as well. Certainly on the production side there is a more intense and upfront sound apparent. Also parts of the arrangements are stripped down to the bare essentials. Steven’s lyrics became more personal and less ambiguous and so the arrangements by definition became more stripped down and more direct. Much of my keyboard experimenting took place on tracks like ‘Russia On Ice’, ‘Last Chance to Evacuate Planet Earth…’, ‘Feel So Low’ and ‘4 Chords That Made a Million’, while other tracks didn’t seem to need a great deal of keyboards. I’m not one for playing all over a track if I can’t see a genuine need for it.

For me this album has an honesty and emotion that places it above all the other Porcupine Tree albums, although I would also say that not every track is as strong as some individual tracks on past albums. My favourites are ‘Russia On Ice’ and ‘Feel So Low’.”

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Steven, Chris and Colin in 2001

Reception for the album was largely positive. Classic Rock magazine described the album as “an album of stunning songs and startling musicianship… breathtaking.” Allmusic praised the album’s quality and its more commercial direction, and called the tracks ‘Feel So Low’ and ‘The Rest Will Flow’ flat out two of Wilson’s best tunes anywhere.” ArtistDirect warned that while it is different than later Porcupine Tree releases such as Fear of a Blank Planet, and conventional progressive rock in general, “Porcupine Tree achieves something altogether more enjoyable here. And, while audiophiles may find the dense harmonies and musical arrangements intriguing in surround sound, the strength of Lightbulb Sun is in melancholic melodies that would sound every bit as good in mono.” 

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Porcupine Tree on the Lightbulb Sun tour

SW: “Lightbulb Sun was recorded for a very small budget relative to most major label releases, and yet I think it sounds better than many major label releases. And that’s really down to the fact that the technology is available now to make records that sound as good as anybody’s records for a fraction of the cost.”

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The Lightbulb Sun artwork by John Foxx

Many reviewers felt the album sounded similar to the work of Pink Floyd. The album has also been praised for being more accessible than most progressive rock, with Bill Kopp of Musoscribe stating “Lightbulb Sun is, like all [Porcupine Tree], really, very accessible stuff. In many ways, Porcupine Tree can serve as a listener’s entree into a heretofore unexplored genre: if you’re a rock fan but not so into prog, [it] can ease you in gently. If…you’re no metal fan, the band … can show you the benefits of that genre without going all Metallica on you.”

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Photography for Lightbulb Sun

“…for the last two records you’ve released a frustrating amount of singles. Is that a record company decision to release so many different singles?”

SW: “Well, we make an album without any commercial considerations whatsoever and we deliver it to the label. And the label, quite rightly, say, “How can we promote this the best we can?” Certainly on Stupid Dream, and less so on Lightbulb Sun, there are two or three things that sounded like they could be radio hits: “Piano Lessons,” “Pure Narcotic” and “Stranger By the Minute.” And so we go into this pattern of releasing singles with radio in mind. Now at that point, if we’re going to do that and if we’re going to expect our fanbase to buy these singles, let’s at the very least put as many out takes and extra tracks we can, across many different formats and give them lots of new music. So, in the end we ended up putting out 11 different formats of five different singles and every one had elsewhere unavailable music. We just got into it, because it was a way to get non-album music out to the fanbase. I think all those things are good in a way because it does encourage the collectibility of the band. When it comes to certain bands, I like to collect everything, and I particularly love bands that put out a lot of records with exclusive and unreleased tracks.”

“Much to the disadvantage of those without import capability or, as it happens more frequently, a limited budget.”

SW: “I know. That’s what I feel about people who collect Merzbow! Merzbow puts out so many similar records, I have to admit, but people get into the collectible mentality of wanting them all. I don’t feel any of the music we’ve put out has been poor quality – I think it’s all good stuff. Sure, we get some fans that complain about us exploiting the fanbase, but I think the opposite is true. I think we’re being quite generous. I talked to Mike of Opeth about this: they don’t put singles out and they put an album out every two years. So, every time they put out an album, fans have to wait another two years to hear anything more from Opeth. I’d find that a bit frustrating if they were my favourite band. I’d like to see them put out an EP or two in-between, a live album and exclusive tracks. That’s part of what being a fan is all about. ”

“When I first bought the limited edition of ‘Four Chords that Made a Million’, I was pretty excited to find it. Then, I watched your website list more and more singles. I started to think, ‘Now, come on. How many are there?'”

SW: “I think it probably did get a little out of control. I bet you started to get a bit mad when we started doing three different formats? Originally, we did a vinyl format and CD single format, as in the case of Waiting, but the last marketing ploy by the record company was to do two different CDs – one of which would be limited – and a vinyl release. Maybe that got a bit silly. I don’t know, but I rarely turn down the opportunity to put new music out. If someone says to me, “You’ve got another format to fill”, then come on!”

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The 2010 Recordings Kscope CD Digipak

Many songs from Lightbulb Sun and Stupid Dream recording sessions that were left off their respective albums were later released on the b-side compilations album Recordings in 2001.

“Recordings is essentially a compilation of unreleased live and demo tracks from the two previous Porcupine Tree studio sessions (coalescing in Stupid Dream and Lightbulb Sun) as well as the occasional single. The quality that makes the whole thing rather astounding is hard to articulate in a concise sentence, but I’ll give it a shot. The sound is uniform and wholly coherent, and yet entirely unlike the series of releases they were originally recorded for. So what you end up with is an incredibly wonderful atmospheric rock album that captures the band in their more meandering ambient mode, with the experimentation and depth of their earlier work combined with the warmer tones of their more recent material. None of the songs on the release (with the exception of the instantly skip-ready “Access Denied”) would fit on the albums for which they were recorded, but work very well when brought together in a single collection. Many of the songs are long, with bookends of murky dissonance and pure psych rock. The songs are regularly founded on minimalist acoustic guitar, percussion, and Steve Wilson’s melancholy vocal performance and introspective lyrics. If anyone in rock music knows how to deliver a subdued vocal performance that still manages to grab the listener, it’s Wilson. The album lacks much of the bombast that appears in isolated spots on the albums (except for the metal riffing that appears on one brief occasion), and is completely fixated on the morose and spatially ambient quality in the Porcupine Tree sound. I can’t help but be drawn into an introverted reverie when succumbing to the powerful draw of the release. Most bands would kill for an album of this quality; that it’s not an album at all, but merely a collection, says a lot about Porcupine Tree.”

Review by James Slone, 2002

On 6 April 2001, Porcupine Tree recorded a live broadcast for Polish Radio Program III in Agnieszka Osiecka Studio in Warsaw, Poland. The live album, titled Warszawa, wasn’t released until February 2004, nearly two years after Chris Maitland left the band. It is the last official release to feature his contributions.

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Lasse Hoile’s artwork for Warszawa

Tracklist

  1. “Lightbulb Sun” – 5:33
  2. “How is Your Life Today?” – 2:48
  3. “Four Chords That Made a Million” – 3:38
  4. “Shesmovedon” – 5:15
  5. “Last Chance to Evacuate Planet Earth Before it is Recycled” – 4:50
  6. “The Rest Will Flow” – 3:26
  7. “Hatesong” – 8:28
  8. “Where We Would Be” – 4:14
  9. “Russia on Ice” – 13:05
  10. “Feel So Low” – 5:16

Total length: 56:17

Singles

“Four Chords That Made a Million” – April 2000

CD:

  1. “Four Chords That Made a Million” – 3:37
  2. “Disappear” – 3:39
  3. “In Formaldehyde” – 5:09

CD (limited to 2000 copies):

  1. “Four Chords That Made a Million” – 3:37
  2. “Even Less (Demo Version)” – 15:44

7″ Vinyl (limited to 1000 copies):

  1. “Four Chords That Made a Million” – 3:37
  2. “Orchidia” – 3:35

“Shesmovedon” – July 2000

CD:

  1. “Shesmovedon (Edit)” – 3:50
  2. “Cure For Optimism” – 6:13
  3. “Untitled” – 8:52

CD (limited to 2000 copies):

  1. “Shesmovedon (Album Version)” – 5:19
  2. “Russia on Ice (Demo Version)” – 13:10

7″ Vinyl (limited to 1000 copies):

  1. “Shesmovedon (Edit)” – 3:50
  2. “Novak” – 3:50

Production

  • Steven Wilson – production, recording engineer, remix and remaster [2008 version]
  • Dave Gregory – arranger [strings], producer [strings]
  • John Waterhouse – recording engineer [strings]
  • Chris Blair – mastering [2000 version]
  • John Foxx – cover photograph, additional photography
  • Luigi Colasanti Antonelli – group portraits, additional photography
  • Suzanne Barbieri – photography

Label: Kscope/Snapper (UK and US)

Release: 22 May 2000 (UK) and 11 July 2000 (US)

Publishing: Published by Hands Off It’s Mine Publishing, administered by BMI.

Released on CD in May 2000. Later re-released in April 2008 due to the band’s rising popularity on major record label Lava Records with a new remix and remaster by SW. Later that year, it was released as a 2LP on the Tonefloat label.

“Our gratitude for support, encouragement and assistance in making this album goes out to: Richard Allen, Dave Gregory, Dave Anderson, Stu Gordon, Nick Parry, The Minerva String Quartet, John Waterhouse, Mike Bennion, Luigi Colasanti Antonelli, John Foxx, Ian Bond, Jon Dickens, and Jasper Johns.”

“For this new [2008] edition of Lightbulb Sun special thanks to Andy Leff, Tony Harris and all at Snapper/Peaceville.”

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The 2008 CD/DVD-A digibook edition of Lightbulb Sun

*notes on the stereo mix from the dvd*

The Tonefloat 2LP edition of the album is dedicated to the memory of Michael Piper, who passed away in April 2008:

This special edition double vinyl LP is dedicated to the memory of our friend Michael Piper, who passed away in April 2008. In fact it was meant to be the latest in a line of beautifully packaged Porcupine Tree related vinyl releases he lovingly curated for his own Gates of Dawn label. The test pressings had been approved, and the artwork completed, but Michael entered the hospital before he could place the final manufacturing order, and never came out again.

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Michael Piper

If you ever bought vinyl at a PT show, or from his store, chances are you found it less a business transaction, and more like a reminiscence with a dear friend about music, because music was what Michael’s life was all about. A lifetime of passion for music culminated in his dedication to Porcupine Tree. He was instrumental in assisting the band on its first US tours, selling merch, and getting the word out to anyone who would listen. He would undertake tasks and errands that no one else would do, from trying to find a local music store to get a set of guitar strings at the last minute, to picking up a spare amp, or even getting the band lunch when everyone else was too busy. Notwithstanding his legendary ability to get lost – an errand 2 blocks from a venue would often turn into an hours-long adventure of directional mishaps, to say nothing of his complete inability to get off any highway at the correct exit – Michael would volunteer to do anything that would help the band, no matter how mundane or non- “rock and roll” the task was. He always put the needs of others above his own. In recent years, as Michael’s ailments began to get the best of him, he worked less directly with the band, but no less passionately on those occasions when he did. Nothing made him happier than standing at the merch stand, talking to fans interested in vinyl, whether they bought something from him or not. And he made every PT show that he could, driving ridiculously long hours in his horrible old Subaru, or taking the most excruciatingly inconvenient and multiple-connection flights, anything to see and hang out with the band. For us, there was always something reassuring about knowing Michael was at a particular show, no matter what else may have gone wrong, his constancy and unwavering dedication always mattered to us.

Michael spent the last hours of his life in the hospital, surrounded by friends and family. We made certain that there was music in his room, and even though he couldn’t speak and was otherwise unresponsive, his family reported that when they put PT music on for him, he seemed at peace, and was more responsive than he had been in weeks. That is both heartbreaking and humbling to us, but we know that Michael would have wanted to be listening to music to the very end, because that’s what his whole life was about.

All tracks recorded in Foel Studio, Wales and No Man’s Land in November 1999 – January 2000 unless noted otherwise. Some elements retained from demos recorded at No Man’s Land in 1999. All strings recorded in Christchurch Studios, Bristol in January 2000. Originally mixed at No Man’s Land in February 2000 by SW. New stereo and 5.1 versions mixed and mastered at No Man’s Land in July 2007 by SW. All tracks written by SW unless noted otherwise.

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Like Stupid Dream, Lightbulb Sun was recorded in the beautiful Foel Studio, located on the side of a secluded valley in the Welsh countryside

Song Details: Album Tracks

01. “Lightbulb Sun” – 5:33

  • Steven Wilson – vocals, guitars, mellotron, piano
  • Richard Barbieri – analogue synthesizers, hammond organ, fairground
  • Colin Edwin – fretless bass
  • Chris Maitland – drums

The opening track from the album, Lightbulb Sun, features lush acoustic guitars, genuine vocals, tight drumming and creative bass lines that evoke images of summer. Maitland’s technical flams and cascading rolls push the song along, eventually climaxing in a stand-out guitar solo from Wilson before returning to the lines of lyrics that opened the track. It ends with sounds of children on a fairground as it transitions into the next track.

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Porcupine Tree in Warsaw, 2001

In 2001, Wilson said “Lightbulb Sun” is about “when you’re ill as a kid”.

SW: “There are groups of songs on the album which are all about various childhood… nostalgic childhood reminisces, ‘Lightbulb Sun’ and the first part of ‘Last Chance To Evacuate Planet Earth’, ‘Where We Would Be’…”

Lyrics:

The sun is a light bulb
A candle’s a treat
The curtains stay closed now
On my little retreat
And I’ll only take medicine
If it’s followed by sweets
A sickly pink liquid
That puts me to sleep

My head beats a better way
Tomorrow a better day

And I can watch TV
While I’m wrapped up in bed
And mother makes sure that
I’m watered and fed
My best from school will
Come over and stare
At me in my bubble
Of germified air

When I’m asleep the smoke fills me
I feel the heat
My illness leaves me

The sun is a light bulb
A candle’s a treat
The curtains stay closed now
On my little retreat
But after a while
The noise from the street
Is making me wish I
Was back on my feet

02. “How is Your Life Today?” – 2:48

  • Steven Wilson – vocals, guitars, piano, hammered dulcimer
  • Richard Barbieri – synthesized percussion, fairground
  • Chris Maitland – backing vocals
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Chris Maitland and Steven Wilson at an in-store acoustic set, 2001

SW: “There are at least four or five songs on that record which I call the divorce songs, the relationship songs, which are all about various stages of the splitting up a relationship, of dissolving a relationship. ‘Russia On Ice’, ‘How Is Your Life Today?’, ‘Shesmovedon’, ‘Feel So Low’… The period in a relationship, where the relationship is kind of… still exists, but it’s in that period where, really, there is nothing left but hatred and despise – ‘Hatesong’ is the other one.”

Wilson further described “How is Your Life Today?” as the “resignation” phase of a failed relationship.

Lyrics:

The letters pile up in the hallway
Junk mail and bills from the catalogues
And the neighbours have guessed ‘cos I’ve cancelled the milk
And they don’t hear your voice through the walls anymore

How is your life today?

I was kissed on the cheek by a cold mouth
While the taxi was waiting like a getaway car
Each second seems like a lifetime
And the cat it’s been staring at me all this time

03. “Four Chords That Made a Million” – 3:38

  • Steven Wilson – vocals, guitars, samples
  • Richard Barbieri – analogue synthesizers, fender rhodes
  • Colin Edwin – fretless bass
  • Chris Maitland – drums

“Four Chords That Made a Million” was premiered alongside “Where We Would Be” and “Russia on Ice” during the Stupid Dream tour in 1999, several months before Lightbulb Sun‘s release.

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The label for the 7″ single release

In a 2001 interview, Steven Wilson said “Four Chords That Made a Million” is about his “frustration… with the media and particularly the British media and the fact that they take [a] band like Oasis… and they would make them sound like nothing anybody’s ever heard before, the most unique and inventive, magnificent rock’n’roll band has ever existed. And reality is that Oasis are [a] really old-fashioned combination of the Beatles and Stone Roses. That’s pleasant, nothing new but the music press would say “This is genius, it’s new, fresh and original!” and in the same time, the same people would be writing that Porcupine Tree plays old-fashioned music, belongs to the past. So, there’s a frustration when I know that what we’re doing is quite fresh and there’s a lot of people that would like it, if this brick wall between us and the public wasn’t there, this brick wall is the media, the radio, the TV and the journalists, the music press.”

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The Four Chords That Made a Million CD single (credit to my friend @javierjonesr on Instagram)

SW: “‘Piano Lessons’ is about as commercial as we’ve ever got, but it’s still too strange to get played on the radio. So be it. I can’t help that.”

“Is ‘Four Chords that Made A Million’ representative of that? It’s the most obvious example, lyrically, of what you described above.”

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SW in 2000

SW: “Indeed. We had a lot of major label interest about two years ago when we had the Stupid Dream demos. We took them around, but they just don’t get it at all. There’s always the cliché that major record companies are only interested in obviously commercial stuff. You think, “Maybe, that’s just a myth.” Well, it is true. They just don’t get it. At the end of the day, the worst thing we could have possibly have done is sign to a major label, deliver Stupid Dream and have them not release it. We’d still be sitting here three or four years later still arguing with them to put the record out. I’ve seen that happen to friends of mine – they sign to a big label, deliver a record and the record company refuses to release it, cos it doesn’t have a “hit” on it. For me, that’s not why I started making music. I started making music because I wanted to make records. I’ve made 20 records in nine years. That’s pretty prolific. I do lots of different projects. I didn’t sit down to say, “I wanna sell a million records. I wanna make an album every six years.” I’m quite happy to put out a lot of records, and if none of them sell, so be it. It’s what my life is about – making music. Having that kind of attitude, you discover there are people out there that feel the same way. We’ve built up a following that’s not interested in the commercial mainstream of music. It’s hard to get to those people. Obviously, without the promotional clout of a major label and visibility it’s hard. God knows, every day bands get the benefit of that and get in everyone’s face, but I just don’t feel they have the talent to be worth that. It is frustrating because if Porcupine Tree just had a fraction of that… In the days when we used to get compared to Pink Floyd all the time, I used to think that if people had the chance to hear Signify and the Division Bell the majority of them would have preferred to buy Signify. I think it’s a superior record, and there’s the frustration. We’re not the only band to have that frustration, but I think what I’m saying is that our music does have the potential for a mainstream, cross-over appeal unlike, perhaps, Opeth’s music. On the other hand, perhaps I’m glad we haven’t had that major company push because it may have had too much effect on the politics and music of the band.

“It’s boggling to me how a band like Porcupine Tree who write pop songs when bands like Radiohead can put out a record like Kid A to mass acclaim.”

SW: “They’re not the first mainstream band in rock history to release a ‘weird’ album. The first thing to say about Radiohead is that they would never have got a major record deal if OK Computer had been their first album. I think we can agree on that. They basically paid their dues. They started out as a fairly mundane British indie rock band, had one fantastic song on their first album which made them internationally famous, and that gave them the platform to explore musical areas that major labels are not normally prepared to tolerate. They’ve done that well, and it’s admirable they’ve done that. However, it’s important to recognise the way major record labels work is like this: a band like Radiohead come along, have a huge success and Mr. Record Company/A&R; man thinks to himself, “Hey, here’s a band that sounds quite strange and yet they’re selling millions of records.” At that point, he should say, “Lets go out and find other bands that are completely unique and have their own ideas.” But he doesn’t say that. What he says is, “Let’s go sign a band that sounds *exactly* like Radiohead”. What they really want is a watered down Radiohead or Jeff Buckley. When a band like Radiohead are successful, it doesn’t open up the floodgates for lots of other unique bands to come through. All it does is open up the floodgates for lots of copycat bands to come through and that’s the tragedy.”

In recent years, Steven Wilson has spoken of his distaste of “Four Chords That Made a Million”, calling it a “terrible track” and said “It was one of the few times [Porcupine Tree] did something for the wrong reasons. The record company felt it would be a hit. It really didn’t belong on the album.”

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Porcupine Tree in 2000

“Musically, what fulfils you, what makes a good album from your point of view?”

SW: “That’s simple from me, I don’t like generic music…”

“Four Chords that Made a Million…!”

SW: “Yeah… Well that wasn’t one of my best songs, but I like the sentiment of it. If I hear a piece of music and I can immediately recognize the genre, the influences involved, then it’s kind of boring to me. If I hear something that’s like “I don’t know what the hell that is, where’s that come from?”, then probably it would draw me and even though I may not like it first time I hear it. The famous example I give, I don’t know if you know the record, but the first time I heard Trout-Mask Replica by Captain Beefheart. The first time you hear that record it’s like, what the hell is that? And it’s the quintessential record like that because it is the product of an extraordinary imagination and it sounds superficially like they’ve got no clue what they’re doing. But there’s something about it that drew me in, as many people find with that record, and maybe listen to it a second, third or fourth time and then it clicks. I like records like that and to be honest it gets harder and harder to find those records, but I still to find them occasionally. Things that blow me away.”

SW: “We had such a wealth of quality material that doesn’t always make the records… Two or three are usually left over, and they’re of a good quality. Which makes it doubly annoying when something like ‘Four Chords That Made A Million’ gets released.”

Lyrics:

Six of one a half a dozen
Black guitars and plastic blues
Hide behind a wall of nothing
Nothing said and nothing new

Four chords that made a million

You belong there on the cover
You are the emperor in new clothes
A man who thinks he owns the future
Will sell your vacuum with his prose

And then a moron with a cheque book
Will take you out to lunch, who knows?
He will tell you you’re a saviour
And then he’ll drop you like a stone

And I have tried and I have died
Trying to get through
But in the end I can’t defend you

04. “Shesmovedon” – 5:15

  • Steven Wilson – vocals, guitars, mellotron
  • Richard Barbieri – analogue synthesizers, hammond organ, clavinet
  • Colin Edwin – fretless bass
  • Chris Maitland – drums, backing vocals

“Shesmovedon”, possibly the most immediate of the “break-up” songs on Lightbulb Sun, is one of the most emotional and potent songs Wilson has ever written. It was a concert mainstay in Porcupine Tree’s set and Steven has even played it a handful of times during his Hand. Cannot. Erase. shows.

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Porcupine Tree in 2001

“But even when the band sounds ordinary, they still seem to have found a niche of their own: the soft, sparing keyboard textures, the acoustic rumblings and the layered-to-gorgeous-insanity harmonies combined with strings courtesy of XTC’s Dave Gregory seem to make the band still occupy a niche of their own, as even when they delve into longer, more spacey compositions (‘Hatesong’, ‘Russia On Ice’), there is a definitive quaint British feel to the music; as if the mere boy choir timbre vocals of Steven Wilson keep the floaty palette of music fixed firmly on earth. This might be their greatest strength: the ability to keep oddball, experimental music firmly anchored with two feet on the ground, so that not only the artistic musos can appreciate the vacuity, gloom and absurdity of the music, but also that the common man, oblivious to 16-minute meanderings and jagged odd-time riffs, can appreciate the music for its calm, soothing poppy nature; almost never have the realms of progressive, virtuosic music and the commonality of modern pop been so closely entwined. It is one of the great talents of Wilson that he can effectively combine the two without either sounding watered down or losing focus.”
– Joanna van Schaik from Sputnik Music

Lyrics:

You move in waves
You never retrace
Your newest craze
Straight out of the Face by the bed unread

I’m left behind
Like all the others
Some fall for you
It doesn’t make much difference if they do

She changes every time you look
By summer it was all gone, now she’s moved on
She called you every other day
So savor it it’s all gone, now she’s moved on

So for a while
Everything seemed new
Did we connect?
Or was it all just biding time for you?

She’s moving on
(All gone away)

05. “Last Chance to Evacuate Planet Earth Before it is Recycled” – 4:50

  • Steven Wilson – vocals, guitars, banjo, harp, samples
  • Richard Barbieri – analogue synthesizers, mellotron, fender rhodes
  • Colin Edwin – fretless bass
  • Chris Maitland – drums

The first half of “Last Chance to Evacuate Planet Earth Before It Is Recycled” describes the nostalgia for one’s younger life. The second half features a speech by the leader of the Heaven’s Gate religious cult. This U.S. cult believed that they were from another planet and only visiting earth. In order to return to their own “dimension” before the earth was “recycled”, such extraterrestrial entities must find each other and commit mass suicide. The words are taken from the video they made before killing themselves to explain to the rest of the world why they had done so.

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Marshall Applewhite, the leader of the Heaven’s Gate cult

SW: “Religion is always one of those things which have fascinated me in a kind of negative way, if you like. It is something which has fascinated me in a kind of gruesome way. I think it’s really disturbing. I’m not including all religions, I’m not including all people who have religious beliefs. Certainly organised religion, particularly really fundamental American religious cults I find extremely disturbing and this whole idea of TV evangelism and using, exploiting people’s weaknesses, exploiting people’s emotional insecurities, basically in order to obtain power, to obtain money, to obtain ego. And there’s been a whole series of things like this, you know, the Waco thing. The particular track, ‘Last Chance To Evacuate Planet Earth…’ is based on a religious cult called the Heaven’s Gate cult. Very similar to a lot of other cults. They all committed suicide because they were told to by their leader. Their leader was an extremely disturbed man, who basically had problems with his own ego. Very insecure, didn’t really have any purpose in his own life and he made the purposes of his life basically to have power over other individuals – weaker individuals than himself. I find that really disturbing… It’s not religion that concerns me, it’s not people who have spiritual beliefs, but it’s the politics of religion and the commercial side of religion. Which, in some ways, is the sickest and most disturbing form of politics we have on this Earth, because it masquerades as something else. It masquerades as something, a gateway for people to happiness and to an afterlife or whatever, when in fact all it is, is just people exploiting other people weaker than themselves for the purposes of power and money. I’ve always found that to be a great source of inspiration for me in writing, because I tend to write about things that I don’t like, rather than things that I do like. That’s in the most simplistic way, I find it easier to write songs about the negative side of the world than it is about the happy side of the world. And consequently can you say I’m quite miserable myself and our lyrics are quite miserable, and yes, they are. But it’s not because I’m a miserable person, it’s because I’m fascinated by the negative aspects of the world in which we’re living.”

SW: “These two parts were always together, from the first time I wrote them. They were not conceived separated at all. I don’t know why… The subjects have no connections.”

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Chris Maitland and Colin Edwin at Nearfest, 2001

Steven has described Lightbulb Sun as more organic sounding than his previous albums, stating that, “In a song like ‘Winding Shot’ [the name for the first half of ‘Last Chance to Evacuate Planet Earth Before it is Recycled’] there are shades of Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young and Nick Drake, although the end result is hopefully pure Porcupine Tree. This effect is accentuated by the fact that many of the instruments and vocals on the album are much more up front and given less of a sheen than on Stupid Dream… Organic is the word I like to use.”

Lyrics:

i. Winding Shot (Summer 1981):

If you fall asleep with me
You can dream and drowse
The minutes turn to hours

We could climb a tree or two
And watch the sun go down
Upon our sleepy town

After all the time I spent with you
Summer went away
And we just weren’t the same

It’s just you and me alone
Not grown ups but not kids
You kissed me on the lips

ii. Last Chance to Evacuate Planet Earth Before It Is Recycled:

[Instrumental]

06. “The Rest Will Flow” – 3:36

Steven Wilson – vocals, guitars
Richard Barbieri – hammond organ
Colin Edwin – bass
Chris Maitland – drums, backing vocals
Stuart Gordon [guest] – violin, viola
Nick Parry [guest] – cello
The Minerva String Quartet [guest] – violin (2), viola, cello

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Chris, Steven and Colin backstage in January 2001

“The Rest Will Flow” is slower on the 2008 Lightbulb Sun reissue, due to having been sped up from its recorded speed on the original master (to make it more “radio-friendly”). The song was originally in danger of being left off the album altogether, as some band members questioned if it fit in with the rest of the songs, but Wilson ultimately kept it, arguing that it had “single potential”. The song was in fact intended to be the album’s third single, scheduled for a October 2000 release, but was cancelled for undisclosed reasons. It replaced “Disappear” on the final Lightbulb Sun tracklist.

The song was jokingly referred to by Steven in 2016 as the “only happy song” he’s ever written. He seems to have one-upped “The Rest Will Flow” with “Permanating” from his fifth solo album, To The Bone, though!

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SW, Colin and Chris in 2001

In a 2001 interview, Steven said “The Rest Will Flow” is about “the beginning of a new relationship. It’s close to a traditional love song… The beginning of something new.” In the same interview, Steven said that at one point he didn’t really want the track on the album but then the band voted it on. Although this seemingly contradicts his previous comments, it is possible that the band flipped back and forth regarding the track’s place on the album.

Lyrics:

I was pretending to be floating strong
But I was sinking
In to still water

Eyes closed
All of the rest will flow

Then out of darkness I found I could still feel
Something good
Out of the woods

Eyes closed
All of the rest will flow

One simple thing that I never could see
But now I know
All of the rest will flow

Stay with me my angel I found you
Now I don’t feel low
All of the rest will flow

Eyes closed
All of the rest will flow

07. “Hatesong” – 8:28

  • Steven Wilson – vocals, guitars, mellotron
  • Richard Barbieri – analogue synthesizers, synthesized percussion
  • Colin Edwin – fretless bass, saz, drum machine
  • Chris Maitland – drums

Writing Credits: Written by Steven Wilson and Colin Edwin

The aptly titled “Hatesong” showed a glimpse of the heavier side of Porcupine Tree that Steven Wilson would embrace on the following albums In Absentia and Deadwing. The track itself is one of Wilson’s most aggressive “failed relationship” songs, with some of the others being “Bonnie the Cat” and “Remember Me Lover”. In a 2009 interview, Steven hinted that these were all inspired by the same girl!

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Porcupine Tree in 2001

In the Amsterdam Heineken Hall 2001 show where the band opened for Marillion, Steven said, “‘Hatesong’ was “Porcupine Tree’s antidote for all the boy-bands, girl-bands, Britney Spears, Mariah Carey, Whitney Houston, Celine Dion – all of the people who sing so-called ‘love songs’.”

SW: “[I call] one of the solos [on] ‘Hatesong’… my ‘Korn solo’ on account of the fact that the bottom strings on the guitar are tuned down so low that the notes can be bent several tones.”

Regarding the drum machine used at some parts by Colin, he said “I remember it was a Yamaha QY20 sequencer”.

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The artwork for Gavin’s Cheating the Polygraph

Gavin: “When I played the older [Porcupine Tree] songs… I developed my own version. As the tours went on parts changed and mutated and became ‘something else’, which I was more comfortable with. For instance, the end section of ‘Hatesong’ slowly turned into ‘something else’ which just kind of happened organically over many shows…”

For his 2015 solo album Cheating the Polygraph, Gavin Harrison created a big-band arrangement that combined both “Hatesong” and “Halo” (from Deadwing).

Lyrics:

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

Oh it’s a lonely life in my empty bed
And it’s a quiet life that leaks from my head
These are the last rites
The line is dead

Yes, I’m hearing voices too
And I’m more cut up than you

08. “Where We Would Be” – 4:14

  • Steven Wilson – vocals, guitars, percussion
  • Colin Edwin – fretless bass
  • Chris Maitland – floor tom, harmony vocals

SW: “‘Where We Would Be’ is about when you’re in love with someone when you’re a kid, a kind of innocence in relationship with the opposite sex. It’s not about sex at all, it’s just about friendship.”

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Porcupine Tree in 2000

Steven has said “Where We Would Be” is about the same girl from the first half of “Last Chance to Evacuate Planet Earth Before it is Recycled”.

SW: “… part of the beauty of the guitar solo on ‘Where We Would Be’ comes from the fact that it was played relatively straight but then fed through so many distortion and lo-fi processes that it began to fizz and disintegrate.”

Lyrics:

Tied to a time
When we knew that the sun would shine
And you were all smiles
And we could just talk for a while…

Of where we would be when the future comes
And how you would paint while I wrote my songs

If I could find you
And tell you about my life
Or maybe just write
And remind you of when we would dream…

Of where we would be when the future comes
And how you would paint while I wrote my songs

Strange how you never become
The person you see when you’re young

09. “Russia On Ice” – 13:05

  • Steven Wilson – vocals, guitars, samples
  • Richard Barbieri – analogue synthesizers, hammond organ, fender rhodes, insects
  • Colin Edwin – fretless bass, guimbri
  • Chris Maitland – drums, backing vocals
  • Stuart Gordon [guest] – violin, viola
  • Nick Parry [guest] – cello
  • The Minerva String Quartet [guest] – violin (2), viola, cello

Writing Credits: Part One written by Steven Wilson and Part Two written by Porcupine Tree

Demo: “Russia On Ice (Demo)” from the Shesmovedon Limited CD Single

Musically, Steven Wilson stated he wanted to bring back some of the experimental aspects they had moved away from on Stupid Dream for Lightbulb Sun, stating “Richard and I worked on creating some unique keyboard sounds for the album”, such as the ‘fairground’ on ‘How is Your Life Today?’ and the ‘insects’ at the end of ‘Russia On Ice’.

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A guimbri

Clocking in at over 13 minutes, the brooding penultimate track “Russia on Ice” is the highlight of Lightbulb Sun for many Porcupine Tree fans. Perhaps the most aggressive and violent of the “divorce songs” on the album, “Russia on Ice” explores a failed relationship and alcoholism. The second half of the song, led by Colin Edwin’s fretless bass and written by the whole band, showcases the talents of all four members as the song is thrust into “pure metal” guitar thrashing (as Steven once described it) and flurries of drum fills. Interestingly, Colin Edwin also plays a guimbri (picked up by Colin on Holidau in Morocco), an African 3-stringed bass lute. Colin’s playing creates a twisted sound that complements Maitland’s roaring snare tone and cymbal breaks and Richard Barbieri’s dark synthesizers. The track comes to an end with an exhilarating Phil Collins-esque linear drum groove.

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Porcupine Tree in 2001

SW: “I remember going home and writing ‘Russia On Ice’ after going to see a Red House Painters concert.”

Lyrics:

You think I deserve this
You said I was stupid
All my thoughts are like coal
But Russia on ice is burning a hole

Can’t stop myself drinking
Can’t stop being me
If I call will you come and will you save me?

I see the whole thing come down
I burn it to the ground
Well what the hell did you say?
You said you hate me this way
It’s just a matter of time

A drop in the ocean
A significant motion
Nothing melts in this cold
But Russia on ice is burning a hole

Demo Lyrics:

You think I deserve this
You said I was stupid
All my thoughts are like coal
But Russia on ice is burning a hole

Can’t stop myself drinking
Can’t stop being me
If I call will you come and will you save me?

I see the whole thing come down
I burn it to the ground
Well what the hell did you say?
You said you hate me this way
It’s just a matter of time

A drop in the ocean
A significant motion
Growing old in the cold
But Russia on ice is burning a hole

10. “Feel So Low” – 5:16

  • Steven Wilson – vocals, guitars
  • Richard Barbieri – analogue synthesizers, hammond organ
  • Stuart Gordon [guest] – violin, viola
  • Nick Parry [guest] – cello
  • The Minerva String Quartet [guest] – violin (2), viola, cello

Wilson has described “Feel So Low” as the “depression and melancholy” phase of a failed relationship.

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The vinyl edition of the self-titled Blackfield album with “Feel So Low” as a bonus track

“Feel So Low” was re-recorded in 2004 by one of SW’s other projects, Blackfield. The first verse of this version (only available on the vinyl release of the first album) was sung in Hebrew by Aviv Geffen. Later live Blackfield renditions were sung entirely in English but differed significantly from the Porcupine Tree original, as they added a heavy instrumental section at the end.

SW: “‘Feel So Low’ was a stream of consciousness lyric that came fairly automatically and had a raw emotional power that would have been watered down the more I tried to refine them.”

Lyrics:

So see how long I can last
You can pretend that I don’t exist for you
And I can laugh about it now
But I hated every minute
I was waiting for your email
And each day that you forgot to call

Just made me feel so low

Christmas 1998
I tried to call, I just couldn’t wait
And your message was out of date
So I left my voice on your machine
But you did not respond

OK OK OK you’ve won
You make me feel so low

Song Details: Outtakes and Non-Album Tracks

“Buying New Soul” – 10:24

  • Steven Wilson – vocals, guitars
  • Richard Barbieri – analogue synthesizers, hammond organ, drum machine, MIDI instruments
  • Colin Edwin – double bass
  • Chris Maitland – drums, percussion
  • [unknown] [guest] – orchestra

Writing Credits: Written by Porcupine Tree

Recording: Recorded at Foel Studio in Wales on 15th March 2000. Vocal overdub and mix done in No Man’s Land shortly after

Release: Originally released as an edit on the 2000 Lightbulb Sun Israeli Special Edition (and subsequent European tour special editions). It was later released on Recordings and the 2008 Tonefloat 2LP and Kscope CD/DVD-A versions of Lightbulb Sun.

Demo: “Buying New Soul (Instrumental Backing Track)” from the Lightbulb Sun 2008 CD/DVD-A bonus disc

“Buying New Soul” seems best suited for listening during the small hours of the night. The track begins with a piece of Barbieri keyboard sorcery that works like an enchantment. The supernatural effect is enhanced by the vertiginous seesaw of Colin’s bowed double bass. Steven’s tenderly plucked acoustic guitar and Chris’ tick-tock drums complete the spell. The downward pull of the sorrowful vocal counterbalances the harmonic lift of the chorus so that it doesn’t become inappropriately anthemic.

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The tracklist of the Lightbulb Sun European special edition, where “Buying New Soul” first appeared
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SW in 2001

Although Colin Edwin plays bowed double bass at times in the track (ie. the cello-ish sound in the intro), there is also a string section in the last chorus, although uncredited. It was most likely arranged by Dave Gregory (as he arranged the strings for Lightbulb Sun and In Absentia, considering “Buying New Soul” was recorded in between them), but it is not clear what orchestra is playing. It is possible that the Minerva String Quartet was hired again. For context, the strings for Lightbulb Sun were recorded in January 2000.

SW: “It became one of the highlights of our catalog… If Recordings hadn’t happened, maybe it would’ve ended up being on In Absentia, the next record, although I think stylistically that album went in a pretty different direction.  But it gets Recordings off to a very strong start. It immediately vanquishes any suspicion that what you’re listening to is a collection of half-assed rejects.”

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Richard on the Lightbulb Sun tour

Richard: “At the time, I was experimenting. I like to use machines for things they weren’t meant for. So, I was using a drum machine as a sequencer… and I had this pattern that was starting to develop a nice little melody from… I MIDI’d it up to an electric piano sound and I started layering over that. We started building a jam around that. That was the intro and outro. I started writing some chords and Steve brought in an acoustic guitar and was strumming and it really worked nicely. Chris was really sensitive with it. Colin was playing some double bass. That track developed into a beautiful piece of music.” (this is a rough translation from the Polish blog “Steven Wilson Live”)

Lyrically, “Buying New Soul” delves into the concept of musicians considering selling their soul to the devil in exchange for success and fame. The line in the chorus, “I’m a shade and easy to ignore” is an allusion to “the lukewarm” and “shades” from Dante’s Inferno; souls who drift away into nothingness for all eternity, forever being ignored by the rest of the underworld. This implies that at this point in a musician’s career, they are unhappy with the success and attention they have received thus far. As SW sings in the song, “Buying New Soul” is a “hymn to those who disappear”.

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Chris in 2001
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Porcupine Tree in 2000

The song is a statement regarding talented artists who are never welcomed into the “mainstream” and remain obscure and undiscovered. In the chorus, “I still wave at the dots on the shore”, the dots could be interpreted as the people who folded to the mainstream and left the talented musicians behind. One can almost imagine a talented musician on a boat drifting out to sea, the distance between himself and the others growing, resulting in their appearance as insignificant dots. Alternatively, one could suggest that this musician is waving at the people on the shore, signalling for help, as if it to say those on the shore are safely out of harm’s way, while the musician risks drowning. In the last line of the chorus, “And I still bang my head against the wall / I still rage and wage my little war”, the musician is regretting his decision.

“Buying New Soul”, “Untitled” and “Novak” were recorded as improvisations before the release of Lightbulb Sun but after its completion, and could not be finished in time for the album’s release.

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Porcupine Tree in 2001

SW: “Recordings is one of my favorite of my albums, actually. It was originally put together out of necessity, because we had to finance a tour. And we put that together from some tracks that were left over. Now, the funny thing is, certainly at that time in the band’s career, the tracks that went on the Stupid Dream album were not necessarily my favorite tracks. Because I think the band were trying at that time to at least put two or three songs on each album that could maybe get some radio play. You know the old story; every band does that. And some fantastic tracks got left off, and some mediocre tracks got put on the albums. So Recordings was an opportunity to put some of the tracks that I felt were among the best I had written – or the band had written — at that time. And consequently it has become one of our most popular records. It’s certainly one of my favorites.”

Lyrics:

Dried up, a guitar upon my knee
I should have sold out when the devil came for me
Dig a hole and throw it out to sea
Break the code, how happy I could be

I still wave at the dots on the shore
And I still beat my head against the wall
I still rage and wage my little war
I’m a shade and easy to ignore

White wall, I had to paint a door
I always find that I’ve been through it before
Close it up and throw away the key
Break the code, how happy I could be

I woke up and I had a big idea
To buy a new soul at the start of every year
I paid up and it cost me pretty dear
Here’s a hymn to those that disappear

“Access Denied” – 3:35

  • Steven Wilson – vocals, guitars, bass, keyboards, piano, hammered dulcimer
  • Chris Maitland – drums

Recording: Recorded at No Man’s Land in late 1999 and Foel Studio in Wales in November 2000

Release: Released on Recordings in 2001

When Steven originally presented “Access Denied” to the rest of Porcupine Tree for inclusion on Lightbulb Sun, it didn’t pass the quorum. The XTC-ish song is hard to pin down. It veers from the whimsy of jaunty piano verses, to a gleefully demented psychedelic bridge, to a subdued chorus in which Steven’s pleading voice is accompanied by just an acoustic guitar.

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Porcupine Tree in 2001

SW: “‘Access Denied’ was a track I wrote for Lightbulb Sun that I absolutely loved, but everyone else hated…. But when it came time to putting this collection together, the others were less sensitive about which pieces were included. So I could slip things in under the radar without being outvoted. Chris added drums to my demo and on it went.”

Lyrics:

Access denied
All of the smarter kids they stay inside
But out in the pouring rain
You’re kicking me with that look of sheer disdain

The fat controller man
He doesn’t understand he’s my biggest fan
So I’ll stay here on the floor
It’s better to be ignored than to be adored

Church spires ticking
Hose pipes hissing

Don’t want to smother you
Just want you to be the mother of my children now
And you do

Good morning lucky man
I hope you enjoyed your sojourn in Japan
It’s such a perfect scene
Back here in Golders Green – cut…end of dream

“Cure For Optimism” – 6:11

  • Steven Wilson – vocals, guitars, piano, keyboards, mellotron

Recording: Recorded at No Man’s Land in July 1999

Release: Originally released as an edit on the Use of Ashes / Steven Wilson promo release Tonefloating for the Tonefloat label in February 2000. It was later released on the Shesmovedon CD Single and Recordings

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The Use of Ashes / Steven Wilson split 7″, where “Cure For Optimism” first appeared

Aspects of the ambient intro and outro to the track were originally released under Steven Wilson’s Bass Communion moniker as the tracks “Heartbeat” and “Desert Plains” on the 1999 promo release Atmospherics.

The track starts out with a spectral sound design until a quietly strummed acoustic guitar emerges from the ether. Then, in a moment of transcendent beauty, an echoing piano figure makes a startling entrance. Steven joins in with a vocal that is suitably full of awe and wonder.

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SW on the Lightbulb Sun tour

SW: “Sometimes you take two pieces that are not perhaps the strongest, but the way that you sequence them and juxtapose them, can give each of them more weight and more significance… In many ways I feel ‘Cure for Optimism’ prefigures the two essentially solo tracks that were on the next album, ‘Lips of Ashes’ and ‘Collapse the Light Into Earth’.  When something rolled out of my writing sessions sounding so complete, there wasn’t really much the others could add to them.”

“Cure For Optimism” was replaced by “Four Chords That Made a Million” on the final Lightbulb Sun tracklist.

Lyrics:

Up there a mountain rises
Down here an ocean dives
A stranger with a head full of lead
Photographs me

Steel bars and a doctor’s note
Don’t give up
They can plead and beg but don’t let them fix your head

Outside a path to knowledge
Inside a waste of cells
A serpent with a mobile phone
Sweet talks me

“Untitled” – 8:53

  • Steven Wilson – guitars
  • Richard Barbieri – analogue synthesizes, hammond organ, electric piano
  • Colin Edwin – double bass
  • Chris Maitland – drums, percussion

Writing Credits: Written by Porcupine Tree

Recording: Recorded at Foel Studio in Wales on 15th March 2000

Release: Originally released on the Shesmovedon CD Single and later released on Recordings

“Untitled” was improvised on the same day as “Buying New Soul” in March of 2000. However, unlike “Buying New Soul”, a 2016 newsletter article on Steven Wilson’s website seemed to suggest that “Untitled” features no overdubs as it was “wholly improvised during the 15th March recording session”.

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Chris in 2000

In a 2002 Internet Q&A session, SW said “Untitled” was “edited from about 20 minutes of continuous music. Apart from the editing it is completely improvised.”

Lyrics:

[Instrumental]

“Disappear” – 3:37

  • Steven Wilson – vocals, guitars, mellotron
  • Richard Barbieri – hammond organ
  • Colin Edwin – fretless bass
  • Chris Maitland – drums

Release: Originally released on the Four Chords That Made a Million CD Single and later on The Delerium EP promo CD and Recordings

Demo: “Disappear (Demo Version 1)” and “Disappear (Demo Version 2)” from the bonus 7″ included with the 2002 Headspin 3LP release of Coma Divine. These have also been included on older promo cassettes and bootlegs that circulated before the release of Stupid Dream. The second demo was originally released on the band’s website in August 2001

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Porcupine Tree at Nearfest, 2001
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The 2002 Headspin release of Coma Divine with the bonus 7″ with the two Disappear demos

SW: “‘Disappear’ is a song I recorded many times in different arrangements. The version on Recordings was made during the Lightbulb Sun sessions, but there are also two demo versions made a couple of years earlier, that were eventually released on a 7” single that was given away with the first vinyl edition of the live album Coma Divine. I demoed one the week before we recorded Coma Divine, and the second one when we got back. If you hear those versions, you can hear the struggle I had with that piece. But on Recordings, I made it way simpler and it works great!”

The second demo was released on Porcupine Tree’s website in August 2001 with the accompanying note: “The song ‘Disappear’ was demoed many times between 1997-99. The band rehearsed it, but it never seemed to be quite right and I kept adding more and more sections until the arrangement and structure became more important than the song. Finally we stripped it right down during the Lightbulb Sun sessions, although it still got voted off the album! Fans of the more progressive aspect of the band may prefer this demo version.”

Lyrics:

We made the world believe we didn’t care
We gate crashed parties and just stood and stared
We moved to London and stayed in all year
You wrote poetry while I disappeared

You made a choice for us to live it up
I’ve got a voice inside me saying give it up
Let’s get out of here, let’s find a new career
You be famous, I’ll disappear

Disappear
(I erase myself again)

I need security, you favour chance
I ponder everything, you advance
You bring the world to me and I just sneer
Standing next to you I disappear

Demo Lyrics:

February 1997:

I made the world believe I didn’t care
I gate crashed parties and just stood and stared
I moved to London and stayed in all year
You write poetry and I disappear

Disappear
(I erase myself again)
Disappear
(I will fade myself again)

Bandage up the bottom, give it up
There’s a voice inside me saying ‘live it up’
Let’s get out of here, let’s find a new career
You be famous and I’ll disappear

Disappear
(I will fade myself again)
Disappear
(I erase myself again)

Cut it, I disappear!

April 1997:

We made the world believe we didn’t care
We gate crashed parties and just stood and stared
We moved to London and stayed in all year
You wrote poetry and I disappeared

You made a choice for us to live it up
I’ve got a voice inside me saying ‘give it up’
Let’s get out of here, let’s find a new career
You be famous and I’ll disappear

Disappear
(I erase myself again)

I need security, you favour chance
I ponder everything while you advance
You bring the world to me and I just sneer
Standing next to you I disappear

The page is empty, now the well is dry
The song I meant to write you became a lie
You’re never standing still, I’m forever here
In your shadow I disappear

I erase myself again

“In Formaldehyde” – 5:19

  • Steven Wilson – vocals, guitars, mellotron, hammered dulcimer
  • Richard Barbieri – analogue synthesizers
  • Colin Edwin – fretless bass
  • Chris Maitland – drums

Release: Originally released on the Four Chords That Made a Million CD Single (with a fadeout) and later on Recordings

Another of the “failing relationship” tracks from the Lightbulb Sun sessions, “In Formaldehyde” was cut from the final tracklist but released shortly afterwards on the Four Chords That Made a Million CD Single and Recordings. When it was first released the ending featured a fadeout during the guitar solo.

colin1
Colin on the Lightbulb Sun tour

SW: “When we were putting Lightbulb Sun together, ‘In Formaldehyde’ felt a little bit too plodding and we already had slow pieces on the record.”

The bassline was entirely created by Colin.

Lyrics:

Dust in the kitchen
Coffeepot
Microdots

Now we are coasting
Talking less
Breathing stress

Somewhere inside
I have died
So I will lie
In formaldehyde
People walk
Through my insides

When I get out of here
I get a plastic vase
And you get to keep the car

Or do you want me to stay?
The things that I have to say
You’ve heard it all anyway

Send me to sleep
You always could
Fatherhood

Tie up loose ends
Make it stop
Forget me not

And would you really mind
If I told you a millionth time
The story of my decline?

You never seem to take
The time to contemplate
Before you annihilate

“Oceans Have No Memory” – 3:06

  • Steven Wilson – guitars, hammond organ
  • Richard Barbieri – analogue synthesizers, keyboards
  • Colin Edwin – double bass
  • Chris Maitland – drums

Recording: Recorded in Foel Studio in November 2000

Release: Released on Recordings

Demo: “Oceans Have No Memory” from the Piano Lessons 7″ Single

Originally released as a demo on the Piano Lessons 7″ Single, “Oceans Have No Memory” was later re-recorded by the whole band while compiling Recordings in late 2000. “Oceans Have No Memory” and “Access Denied” are the last released tracks to be recorded by drummer Chris Maitland before his departure shortly before the In Absentia sessions in 2002.

Lyrics: 

[Instrumental]

“Novak” – 3:51

  • Steven Wilson – guitars
  • Richard Barbieri – analogue synthesizers, keyboards
  • Colin Edwin – double bass
  • Chris Maitland – drums

Writing Credits: Written by Porcupine Tree

Recording: Recorded at Foel Studio in Wales on 15th March 2000

Release: Originally released on the Shesmovedon 7″ single and later on the Lightbulb Sun 2008 CD/DVD-A bonus disc

porcupine-tree-shesmovedon-2000-2
The label for the b-side of the Shesmovedon 7″ release

Written and recorded during the March 15th sessions (that also spawned “Buying New Soul” and “Untitled”), this instrumental was released on side b of the Shesmovedon 7″ Single, but oddly not included on Recordings, which compiled other outtakes from Lightbulb Sun. In fact, it is the only known outtake written during the Stupid Dream – Lightbulb Sun era to not be featured on Recordings besides “I Fail” from the 1997 Demo cassette (and “Orchidia”, but more on that in the In Absentia page). It was later included with the “Buying New Soul” improvisation take (before editing and overdubs) on the bonus disc of a limited number of the 2008 CD/DVD-A reissues of Lightbulb Sun.

Lyrics: 

[Instrumental]

Written and compiled by Quinn Downton

 

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