After 2 years of touring, the band started recording their tenth studio album, “The
Incident”, in February 2009. In June, details were revealed on the Porcupine Tree website:
“The centre-piece is the title track, which takes up the whole of the first disc. The 55-minute
work is described as a slightly surreal song cycle about beginnings and endings and the
sense that ‘after this, things will never be the same again.’ The self-produced album is
completed by four standalone compositions that developed out of band writing sessions last
December – Flicker, Bonnie The Cat, Black Dahlia, and Remember Me Lover feature on a
separate EP-length disc to stress their independence from the song cycle.” The album was
the band’s biggest commercial success to date, reaching #23 in the UK album charts and also
reaching the US Billboard Top 25.
Rush drummer Neil Peart has said that the writing process for their album “Clockwork
Angels” was inspired by “The Incident” in a 2010 interview, shortly before sessions for
“Clockwork Angels” began.
Q: “So you might start making music in smaller increments?”
A: “Or larger. I went to see a band called Porcupine Tree not long ago. And I was
talking with [singer-guitarist] Steven Wilson. They just put out a 55-minute piece. That’s a
finger to the whole iTunes shuffle thing, and he intended it as such. And I thought, ‘Yeah,
that’s another way of rebelling against it — by just saying no.’ There’s too much lost in giving
up the integrity of an album — what it represents to you as a musician, and as a human
being, for that matter. So I like that approach. That’s very possible for a band like us. So there
are no limitations; we might go big or we might go small.”
Also, in a recent interview you mentioned using the Korg wave drum. On which track does that appear? Is that used for drum loops for for specific sounds?
The Wavedrum is on the early verses of “Remember Me Lover”
mellotron songs – blind house, hearse
You just ended a very long tour in support for “The Incident” with a couple very special shows, one at Radio City Music Hall in New York, and one at Royal Albert Hall. Any chance that we will see a live album or DVD coming out of that? And what are the plans for the future right now?
Unfortunately, no DVD of either show will be happening. We decided against doing any filming mainly due to the fact that we didn’t want the extra pressure of cameras at Radio City or the Royal Albert Hall, as playing a near 3 hour show featuring lots of material that we don’t normally play was enough for each of us to deal with! We did record the audio at the Royal Albert Hall show, so some of that may come out in the future. After a very full-on years worth of touring, we plan to take 2011 off to do our own solo projects and collaborations.
random points to include:
The Incident is the tenth studio album by Porcupine Tree released in the September of 2009. Like all the albums since In Absentia, The Incident is a concept album, the jist of which occurred to Steven Wilson while driving home from the studio and being stuck in a traffic jam before a big road accident. He states:
Excerpt from a ROADRUNNER UK interview:
“…Time Flies is based on the idea that when you’re young, days and years and months seem to go on forever, like your childhood feels like it’s never gonna end. Particularly summer time. Now that I think of it, that period of my life, years 1-10, it seemed like a lifetime in itself and my life since 20 just passed like that
(snaps fingers). The song is written from the perspective of being very young, about these long summers when I was 4 or 5 years old with all the memories I had. The nostalgic and sentimental ones.”
Time Flies is the centerpiece of the first disc. It clocks in at 11:40 and can structurally (not explicitly) be divided into three parts, akin to that of Deadwing’s “Arriving Somewhere But Not Here”. It kicks off with a bright acoustic guitar riff as Steven starts singing about his very early childhood. He references music records that were released on the year of his birth 1967 like The Beatles’ “Sgt. Pepper’s Lone Hearts Club Band” and Jimi Hendrix’s “Are You Experienced”. The chorus simply iterates that it’s best to react to the sequences of life as they come and that time will eventually begin moving very quickly.
The other instruments (bass, electric guitar and drums) enter for the second verse where Steven sings about a different period of his life featuring, presumably a lover who talks about luck and opportunity.
After the second chorus, Steven states that the way he remembers a particular person is still frozen in his childhood, despite how much they could’ve changed with the passage of time.
Then the song flows into a guitar breakdown, still positive but propulsive in nature, which cuts into the theoretical second part of the song, which can be considered the transitional phase. The layers slowly start piling as we start off with a brooding acoustic arpeggio, joined by a cadence of reverberated and distorted electric guitar, then a completely new drum part, synth effects and finally a haphazard guitar solo.
The third part is similar to the first part, but Steven sings of a much later time, presumably the present and he clearly isn’t comfortable where he is. The lines “A conference of the strange, and your family is deranged” could be a pointer to the other tracks on the record.
Right before the same guitar breakdown, Steven once again affirms that his memory of a particular person from his past is the way he will always remember them, admitting that he is unable to leave certain things behind.
The use of specific details in the lyrics such as “Alton Towers” and the mention of a birth date help provide a more personal taste to the song. This is something that has been done before, for example “Christmas, 1998” from Lightbulb Sun’s “Feel So Low”.
The song has been compared to Pink Floyd’s “Dogs”.
Octane Twisted is one of the only two songs on Disc 1 credited to the entire band. It opens with a chord progression similar to the one seen in No-Man’s “The Break-up For Real”, which is a recurring chord progression in The Incident, creating a sense of cohesion and narrative. The lyrics seem to be about a family that has gone fishing, only to find the floating body of a girl in the lake. The vocals are sung in an almost circular fashion repeated twice, along with a falsetto to represent the voice of the girl, creating a picture of a stream of red in the water in the listener’s mind. The imagery of a girl floating in a water body has been used before by Steven in the In Absentia B-side “Drown With Me” (“Resting there in the stream, buried in green”) and later “The Pin Drop” in the solo release, The Raven That Refused to Sing. Most of the 5 minute track is instrumental with different segments featuring production and synth effects, electric guitar, Gavin’s slinky drums and a distorted undecipherable whispering portion similar to that of the title track.
The Séance, in many ways is like a companion song to Octane Twisted. It is made up of the same chord progression, with new electric guitar accents and mainly featuring only acoustic guitar. The lyrics begin to unfold along with a new strumming pattern. The context seems to deal with a bunch of people gathered to summon the spirit of a dead person, presumably that of the girl in Octane Twisted, given the obvious connections between the tracks including the same bit of lyric used towards the ending.
The track closes with an acoustic guitar riff that helps transition smoothly into the next one.
The penultimate track of Disc 1, Circle of Manias is a short but dark all out attack, that is based around a heavy electric guitar riff. It is the second of only two tracks credited to the entire band on the disc. Contextually, the name may be referring to the previous track, as the people in a séance are most likely to sit in a “circle” when trying to summon a spirit. It can be interpolated that the spirit of the girl from Octane Twisted finally responded to the chants and is, in a chaotic way trying to explain the circumstances that led to her death. Hence, Circle of Manias can be thought of as the third track in the Octane Twisted cycle.
The final track on the first disc follows a familiar Steven Wilson format of ending an album with a soft and melancholic track right after a dark and much heavier penultimate one. I Drive The Hearse is without a doubt, one of the songwriter’s most beautiful compositions. It pretty much sums up the late Porcupine Tree sound, striking a great balance within. Be it the quieter parts with a mellow acoustic guitar with Gavin’s ghost notes and cross-stick or the propulsive bridge section with the guitar solo, the song smoothly seems to carry the listener through the last part of the disc. Also of note are Richard’s subtle infusion of mesmerizing synth and Colin’s fretless bass (assumption from the Octane Twisted DVD) that further flesh out the somber atmosphere.
Contextually, the song doesn’t seem to be about a specific event, but acts more like a retrospection of one’s falling morality. The lines seem to suggest that despite the awareness and remorse of said actions, the character chooses to deny all of it or stay silent, as all these decisions collectively lead to the “demise” of his conscience. The name of the song, though belonging to it’s own context, ties in nicely with the album’s “car crash” aesthetic as a hearse is essentially a large car that carries a coffin to a funeral.
Excerpt from a ROADRUNNER UK interview:
“I got no clue what the hell Flicker is about at all. Sometimes, I do this thing that some people call ‘automatic writing’ and sometimes what you get is extraordinary and fascinating, and some of it comes from the spirit of surrealism, which a few of you might know that I’m a big fan of surrealist cinema, music and writing. And I like to just put words together and it’s funny how so often when you do that, it does have a meaning. It has a meaning to the people listening to the music, it has a meaning to the person writing even if the meaning wasn’t conscious or intended. I’ll probably look at it in three months and figure out what the meaning is. But right now, I’d say that it’s a piece of surrealist action art… “
Excerpt from Guitar Center Sessions (Gavin Harrison):
“… I was very influenced by this drummer in the 80s called Steve Jansen, played in a band called Japan. And he would make very simple drum parts, he would put snare drum in places you’d never thought of. I mean you don’t normally put a snare on 1 and 2, when you’ve grown up listening to funk and jazz, it just seemed a little crazy to me. You would put a snare on 2 or 4 or around that and Steve would do these… I just couldn’t work out what he’d been listening to. And so this rhythm that I came up with for ‘Bonnie The Cat’, I was looking for a simple solution to make an unusual beat. So I expanded Steve’s idea and played it over two bars. It’s got a funny turn-around, sounds like it’s in an odd time but it’s all in 4/4. I told the other guys in the band, that I had an idea for a beat and a bassline to go with the beat. It doesn’t play with the drums, it goes in between, kind of like a jigsaw pattern… So in this case for a song, the beat came first.”
Though Bonnie The Cat is credited to the whole band, it’s structure is indeed primarily based around Gavin’s beat, which only changes twice for the bridge section which features a guitar breakdown and an escalating synth swell which sounds almost like a revving engine or a chain saw. Gavin plays two much simpler beats over this part, one over hi-hats and the following one over the china cymbal, before the main beat returns after a pause for the final section.
This particular beat seems to employ Gavin’s method of shifting the beat, creating a rhythmic illusion of a pattern in an odd time, whereas in reality the whole pattern is simply in 4/4 over two bars.
Bonnie The Cat is a very dark, aggressive and industrial sounding track that features filtered vocals sung in an evil and cold manner. It seems to be about an obsessive relationship between a man and a woman that has turned into a sick game of control and domination. The man also ascertains that by impregnating the woman, her life is now inescapably tied to his own forever. However, the animated music video made for the track implies that the opposite is true ie it is the woman who is controlling and draining the man, akin to the premise of Deadwing’s “Open Car”. Interestingly, the humanoid characters appearing in the animation are of the same kind to those appearing in animated live films for tracks “”Sleep Together” and “The Start of Something Beautiful”.
Steven however suggests that it is simply about a certain phase of a relationship gone bad:
“…is one of tracks written in the anger period of a relationship. It’s very kind of ‘you fucked up my life, how dare you’, ‘how dare you make me fall in love with you’, it’s that kind of song.”
The track is named after the studio cat, Bonnie who is supposedly a very nice pet. Steven thought that it would be ironic and funny to name such an negative song after her so it was kept as a working title. However, it was retained for the final release as well.
Excerpt from the same interview (Steven Wilson):
“…the song has nothing to do with it [the Black Dahlia murder case] whatsoever. It’s another of those situations where I took a title and put it together with something that I guess is inspired more by the mood than the specifics. It’s a song about the pressure to achieve, and make something of your life. Many years ago, Porcupine Tree made an album called Signify, which was all about the idea of wanting your life to signify something. The idea of ambition and achievement, and that does kind of relate back to the Black Dahlia because the victim of that case was an aspiring actress who had obviously gotten mixed up with people whom she thought could help her career and ended up paying a terrible cost. So, it’s about the idea of looking back and feeling that sense of having not achieved something or not living up to a potential.”
The title of the song is a reference to a famous murder case in the 40s involving a young and aspiring Hollywood actress whose cleanly severed body was found lying on some grass in Los Angeles. The case went on to become highly publicized spawning books and films made about the events.
While Steven does suggest that the use of the title for the track is purely for the climatic, mood related reasons, several lines can be drawn between the lyrics and if not the exact same case, a similar story of innocence turned into debauchery and ultimately, decline.
Musically, Black Dahlia is a short, simple and melancholic track which was co-written by Richard Barbieri.
The track primarily include keyboards with a soft acoustic guitar and airy drums. There is an electric guitar solo, along with a few garnishing notes towards the end of the song.
The way Steven sings the line “I’ts all falling into an abyss” is comparable to a particular line in Insurgentes’ Significant Other and more recently, a To The Bone outtake, A Door Marked Summer.
Excerpt from the same interview:
“Remember Me Lover is a twisted break-up song. So, if you have the anger phase in a relationship, then you have the bitterness phase that follows and the ‘well, I never really needed you anyway’, ‘I was only going out with you as a favor’ and all that bullshit we tell ourselves, that great lie, ‘I’m happy now that you’re gone’. It’s just a way of using that resentment to make the other person feel guilty. The girls that I have been ditched by have left a very deep scar. So I keep coming back to this one person in particular, time and time again. And this I feel, ties in with the idea of The Incident itself, that there are certain things in your life that change you almost beyond recognition, and relationships can do that. Yes, you get over it but you also don’t at the same time. If a person meant that much to you, they can cast a shadow on you for the rest of your life.”
“There was a sign saying ‘POLICE – INCIDENT’ and everyone was slowing down to see what had happened… Afterwards, it struck me that ‘incident’ is a very detached word for something so destructive and traumatic for the people involved. And then I had the sensation that the spirit of someone that had died in the accident entered into my car and was sitting next to me.
The irony of such a cold expression for such seismic events appealed to me, and I began to pick out other ‘incidents’ reported in the media and news, I wrote about the evacuation of teenage girls from a religious cult in Texas, a family terrorizing its neighbours, a body found floating in a river by some people on a fishing trip, and more. Each song is written in the first person and tries to humanize the detached media reportage.”
Steven presented a draft for a single lengthy song cycle to his bandmates. It started out with a length of 35 minutes and it kept evolving, eventually settling at 50 minutes and this would go on to occupy the the main disc (of a double CD final release). The second disc would contain a different song cycle with four separate tracks, featuring more notable contributions by the other members.
The Incident has a unique structure, something unseen before in the Porcupine Tree discography. The main song cycle (Part I: The Incident) consists of smaller tracks with inescapable segues, with some tracks extending and seeping into their successors and also repeating a certain chord progression. Being so tightly wound and each track fuelling the overall feel of the album, listening to some of the pieces as standalone or out of context doesn’t prove to be the best experience. However, the listening to the disc as a whole is certainly quite worthwhile and memorable.
The tracks on the second disc don’t contain any segues but do maintain the tone and style of the first disc.
Each track of the first disc is dedicated to a certain event, essentially forming a bunch of vignettes with disconnected narratives, focusing on the seismicity of the events on a personal level with a sense of “after this, things will never be the same”, as stated by Steven.
The ideas for the tracks were a mixture of being pulled from items in the media coverage as well as aspects from Steven’s own personal life. The overall tone of the album is dark. Apart and over the existing themes each event conveys, the album also depicts topics of change, sexual torment, failed relationships, social and moral decline and familial/domestic extremities It also contains some strong religious themes, as previously explored lightly in Deadwing and more extensively in Signify.
Musically, The Incident has a heavy sound and is comparable to 2007’s Fear of a Blank Planet. However, it can be chacaterised as being colder and more industrial than the previous album. Sections with actual string sustains are not used in favour of tighter drumming in conjecture with groovier bass, blended synth and production effects along with guitar riff based structures. Also notable is the fact that there are not many long atmospheric sections inside songs, as seen on previous albums. All transitions are immediate, but are undoubtedly smooth. The band has yet again made strides in experimenring with their already expansive prowess in sound textures and unique sonic patterns and layers.
In terms of feel, the album invokes a sense of an urban like experience along with glimses of the countryside (the fact that the band spent time in the country during the recording may or maynot tie into this fact) with a good balance between heavy and softer/melancholic sounding tracks.
The Incident received generally favorable reviews and many accolades. However it was a common consensus among many critics that the album did not hold up to the band’s previous releases such as Stupid Dream, In Absentia and Fear of a Blank Planet.
// Ultimate Guitar: “Considering the band’s consistently excellent output for the last few years, The Incident’ can easily be seen as the band taking a well-deserved rest before they really start to push themselves again. It obviously takes a very different form to their other records but it doesn’t feel like anything new has really been done, and that all the effort that’s been put in has been to make the ambitious first disc work”.
Pop Matters: (found the song cycle structure as conceited and a hype gimmick) : “Which isn’t to say The Incident is bad. By no means. This is yet another high-quality release from the band, which remain at or at least very near the top of their game. There are moments of pristine beauty here, as well as singalong pop songs and punishingly heavy passages. But the album’s main conceit, that the title track is a single 55-minute work, seems to be mostly hype. Porcupine Tree’s new home is Roadrunner Records, a label which knows the audience they’re marketing to and understands that the idea of one super-long song is an attractive one to the band’s hardcore fanbase. In reality, The Incident is a loosely connected concept piece that is comprised of 14 separate tracks.”
Sputnik Music: “But for Porcupine Tree, a band that has been known to accomplish excellence and greatness, something merely good is a slight disappointment.”
Song Details: Album Tracks
Song Details: Outtakes and Non-Album Tracks
Written by Quinn Downton and Chetan Ashish