Sunday, December 02, 2007

Porcupine Tree: "Fear of a Blank Planet"

By Michael J.W. Stickings

Please excuse the lack of posting from me the past couple of days. I've been feeling under the weather, as they say.


Call its music what you want -- prog rock, nu prog, psychedelic, metal, some undefinable combination of all of that and more -- Porcupine Tree is one of the most interesting bands in the world today. (Find out more here.) Some of its earlier work, like The Sky Moves Sideways, sounds a good deal like Pink Floyd, intentionally so, but its most recent album, Fear of a Blank Planet, based on a Bret Easton Ellis novel (Lunar Park), reveals a much harder sound, not quite metal, but with a distinct edge to it, a dark, gloomy, and deeply empathetic examination of technology, media, and youth.

Alienation may be an eternal element of the human condition, and reflections of it can be found throughout the history of pop and rock music, but with this album Porcupine Tree gives voice to today's youth in a way that understands how they perceive the world around them -- how they feel about it, how they escape from it. Pink Floyd's examination of the human condition was universal in scope; Porcupine Tree's is more contextual -- it is the specific context of the here and now, a context characterized by the seeming ubiquity of information technology, a world of narcotization and disillusionment. We are amusing ourselves to death, as Neil Postman put it, but for many the amusement isn't terribly amusing.

Our media talk about youth without ever really trying to understand them. Columbine or Virginia Tech or some other tragedy requires them to ask all the usual questions, but it is the sensationalism that interests them, not youth culture -- and certainly not the alienation of the narcotized and disillusioned, the condition of a generation raised on technology in what is otherwise a seemingly meaningless world, the worsening condition of generations to come. And where a brief attempt to delve into youth culture is made, where Columbine or Virginia Tech is not interpreted merely as a violent outburst of the criminally insane, there is almost invariably a condescending, dismissive arrogance to it.

Fear of a Blank Planet -- both the album and the title track (watch the awesome video below) -- captures precisely what many of us avoid, namely, the shockingly brutal nihilism that has developed in response to the deification of man and technology in the postmodern age.

This nihilism may challenge are illusions, but our illusions are very much in need of challenging.


Sunlight coming through the haze
No gaps in the blind
To let it inside
The bed is unmade
Some music still plays

TV, yeah it's always on
A flicker of the screen
A movie actor screams
I'm basking in the shit flowing out of it

I'm stoned in the mall again
Terminally bored
Shuffling around the stores
And shoplifting is getting so last year's thing

Xbox is a god to me
A finger on the switch
My mother is a bitch
My father gave up ever trying to talk to me

Don't try engaging me
The vaguest of shrugs
The prescription drugs
You'll never find
A person inside

My face is mogadon
Has given up on me
I'm tuning out desires
The pills are on the rise

How can be sure I'm here?
The pills that I've been taking confuse me
I need to know that someone sees that
There's nothing left I simply am not here

I'm through with pornography
The acting is lame
The action is tame
Explicitly dull
Arousal annulled

Your mouth should be boarded up
Talking all day
With nothing to say
Your shallow proclamations
All misinformation

My friend says he wants to die
He's in a band
They sound like Pearl Jam
The clothes are all black
The music is crap

In school I don't concentrate
And sex is kinda fun
But just another one
Of all the empty ways
Of using up a day

How can be sure I'm here?
The pills that I've been taking confuse me
I need to know that someone sees that
There's nothing left I simply am not here

Bipolar disorder
Can't deal with the boredom

You don't try to be liked
You don't mind
You feel no sun
You steal a gun
To kill time

You're somewhere, you're nowhere
You don't care
You catch the breeze
You still the leaves
So now where?

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