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Artist: Porcupine Tree
Date Released: May, 2000
Produced By: Steven Wilson
- Lightbulb Sun (5:33)
- How Is Your Life Today? (2:48)
- Four Chords That Made A Million (3:38)
- Shesmovedon (5:15)
- Last Chance To Evacuate Planet Earth Before It Is Recycled (4:50)
- The Rest Will Flow (3:36)
- Hatesong (8:28)
- Where Would We Be (4:14)
- Russia On Ice (13:05)
- Feel So Low (5:16)
Review: Having heard many of Porcupine Tree's discs prior to Lightbulb Sun, I must say that this is definitely one of my favorites. It is less progressive in the usual sense, particularly when compared to the band's recent efforts like Deadwing. It is much more akin to Stupid Dream, but really lacks the traditional oppressive darkness of most of Steven Wilson's repertoire. Many of the songs' lyrics are not exactly light-hearted, but the music reflects the album title perfectly: it is like a breath of fresh air mixed with some jolts of energy and heat. And where some of the previous albums have some stunning, epic progressive passages of Fear of a Blank Planet, it is just as consistently excellent. Where the aforementioned Deadwing and In Absentia begin to lose the listener midway through their long running times, Lightbulb Sun begins to excel. Despite the pop-oriented nature, each song stands on its own, and each track sounds original in its own right.
The album begins with the title track, "Lightbulb Sun" which doesn't serve to separate this album from the band's previous work, or what would follow. In fact, it sounds quite alike something that could have been on In Absentia, a track that is somewhat like "Blackest Eyes," as its juxtaposition of acoustic strumming and heavy, electric chords is a very nice excercise in dynamics. When the acoustic guitar returns midway through the song it is wonderfully soothing and quite uplifting.
"How is Your Life Today" quickly changes the pace, and makes apparent that this album is different. Now, instead of the dark, ambient passages, Wilson includes this pretty-yet-dark piece.. The carousel of the piano leads and swirling feedback create an eery atmosphere, but the hook of the lines "How is your life today?" is undeniably catchy.
"Four Chords That Made a Million" suddenly pops in, and this is a track that would almost feel out of place on any other Porcupine Tree album. This is straight up rock and roll with a bit of Indian influence. However, the chorus and riffs hit hard that are reminiscent of Pearl Jam, of all things. This is a song that is simply asking to be turned up to really hear all of the intricacies beneath those thick electric guitars. The feeling of the bottom of those thick guitar and basslines is one of absolute power, an awesome experience. Wilson has cut all of the extraneous "fat" of the ambient, electronic passages, leaving just his songwriting out in the open. And here he is at his peak. There are a few standard, cliché verses, as on the single "Shesmovedon," and the album closer "Feel So Low." However, both of these songs end up being very affecting, back up by the brilliant melodies and choruses. Wilson's lyrical content is not extravagant or stunning, but he just says what he feels, and in this way he is believable and the music sounds honest.
"Last Chance to Evacuate..." is an excellent mood piece, continuing the string of great music from the start of the album. By the end of the song, the haunting bass and ethereal keyboard lines become very touching, and this song paired with "The Rest Will Flow" makes for a very important part of the album that really leaves its mark. Wilson's vocal on the latter really feels almost too good to be true, his inflection and the melody is effortlessly pretty; simply sublime. The end of this song also seems to signal the end of this part of the album, as the second half of the album, beginning with "Hatesong" takes a darker and more progressive turn. Here, the trademark Porcupine Tree ambience is back, as the song slowly unravels over its eight-minute running time. The electronic, neurotic bleep of the opening basslines is a stunning change from the previous pop tracks. However, it is instantly memorable as well, which cannot be said of many of the band's similar passages. Here, the underlying electronic feeling is emphasized by the tinny piano notes that seem to hang over the rhythmic bass. The guitars are there, but they sound just a little more "processed," just a little more reverb and fuzz. Soon, though, a bridge enters on a carpet of sweeping strings, and the song becomes instantly uplifting as Wilson yells out "Yes I'm hearing voices too," and this ends in a new segment driven by the sporadic entrance of guitar, drums, and bass riffing with some real menace. Soon, more sounds arise, this heavy riffing continuing below this patina of building distortion and noise. The song really doesn't have an ending, which is my only criticism, because it sort of drags off, but it is a very enjoyable little jam between the bass and drums that eases into the background as the sound of birds chirping marks the end of this track and the beginning of the next.
"Where We Would Be" is a change of pace back to the previous pop work, and it provides a necessary bit of lightness to the proceedings. This is one of the album's best songs as far as I'm concerned. The song evokes feelings of strong nostalgia, with its gentle acoustic guitars and laconic vocals. The jangling acoustics together almost have an poppy electric sound. The little touches in between are what really make this one great; the ringing backing vocals, reverberating struck bass drums, and the sublimely beautiful guitar solo in the middle of the song. It really will send shivers down your spine, and quite possibly provoke tears from your eyes. The tone, the phrasing, everything here is just note perfect. "Where We Would Be" is just one of the prettiest songs you will find on a prog album, and because it is bordered by songs like this and "The Rest Will Flow" and interjects its own pop melodies sparsely in between, "Hatesong" doesn't end up feeling out of place, and the same goes for "Russia on Ice." The 13-minute run-time seems a bit daunting at first, and though it is no "Arriving Somewhere But Not Here" or "Anesthetize," it is quite good and even more pop-oriented than either of those two epics.
The finale, "Feel So Low," closes the album, picking up where "The Rest Will Flow" left off, with its emotional string arrangements and the final verses creating a really sad, yet somewhat uplifting, atmosphere.
Lightbulb Sun may just be Porcupine Tree's most consistently great album. Its only real failings lie in the fact that "Russia On Ice" is just a bit too long, and some of the lyrics aren't exactly profound. However, there isn't a single bad song or dull moment on the entire album, something that the band will have a hard time ever reproducing. It is one of the band's least prog-rock albums, but it has some of the band's best songs, so the trade-off is really worth it. What is really refreshing about the album, however, is the underlying feeling of hope; where many of Porcupine Tree's albums are mired in the oppressively dark lyrics, Lightbulb Sun includes an uplifting message and is an album that will welcome many listens.