Prog Rock PORCUPINE TREE Nil Recurring (Peaceville) Out Feb 18

21 February 2008

Saul GlasmanPicture this. More than two decades ago, you started a band, and slowly it’s risen to cult status, ripping like an unhurried missile through a papery atmosphere of critical acclaim and old album sleeves. You have a huge fanbase who hang on your every guitar riff and drum fill, and some of them even listen to your ambient side projects. Not only this, but your last couple of albums have brought you your first delicious, tingly taste of acceptance into the mainstream.

In your circumstances, releasing an EP comprising four outtakes from your last album might seem hasty and unshowmanlike. It can’t even claim to be all-new: Normal recycles the chorus of Sentimental, and What Happens Now quotes riffs from Anaesthetise. So when I, several years a fan of yours, hear this news, I need convincing that you haven’t wobbled just a little into ungainly professional dyspraxia.

The EP’s eponymous first track does little to reassure. A bloated, ponderous instrumental featuring the dubious guitar texturing of Robert Fripp (King Crimson), it falls mercifully flat in its attempt to set the tone for what’s to come. But then second track Normal dons its shining armour and, heralded by a tide of Stephen Wilson’s ethereal production, charges in decisively and beheads your doubt with a shiny, razor-sharp guitar. The other two tracks, an introspective prog-ballad and a scorching slow-burner respectively, follow suit.

If this recording has a fault, it’s that the songs vary too little in tempo and mood, and Wilson’s pretty lyrics are still underscored by hackneyed social commentry. But Nil Recurring isn’t opportunistic or ill-advised; it’s just a natural byproduct of Porcupine Tree’s writing more excellent songs than they know what to do with.