Porcupine Tree: Chuck’s Favourite Tracks [notes]
This is meant to be accompanying notes for the playlist I made. I hope you’re enjoying it! Remember, it’s a collection of my favourites, not necessarily a “best of”. Use my playlist as a starting point to jump off and explore more of this band. And yes, tracks from C/C are included.
The playlist: Porcupine Tree — Chuck’s favourite tracks (Spotify | YouTube)
- If you’re new to PT (you lucky person!), expect Floyd-like atmosphere, subtle-but-not-in-your-face prog, earwormworthy melodies, heavy metal riffery and incredible production.
- As with all my “favourites” playlist, it’s a ranking — so it jumps across eras, moods and technicality. It’s not a structured “this is an ideal order to listen to them to” format.
- What I like about this list is that the best songs come in songs 1–15, the best guitar solos come in 16–30.
- If you already have listened to a fair bit of PT, do check out the unfamiliar songs — there are some absolute gems, especially from the earlier, pre-Signify days.
- Around 30% of the joy of listening to PT is the quality of production. They are such pretty and beautifully MADE songs. I’d highly recommend headphones for them. Good ones, that is.
- Some say PT is best enjoyed with lyrics and that’s certainly true for some songs that tell a story (Heartattack in a Layby). I personally am not a fan of some of his whinier views about how the music industry is fucked (The Sound of Muzak, the annoying 4 Chords That Made a Million) or how tomorrow’s generation is basically fucked (all of Fear of a Blank Planet). Still, he uses phrases and words nicely and his special brand of depressive storytelling has a certain appeal. So it’s worth keeping Genius / Songmeanings on the side (or if you’re like me, the Winamp lyrics plugin)
- Yes, yes I know I ranked Trains and Lazarus that low. That’s only because I think there are ~20 songs better than them. Sorry. Still fuckin’ great tracks.
- Did I say listen on headphones? I did? No matter. I’ll say it again. Listen to PT on good gear. Please.
My favourite tracks
A quick line each on the top 15.
- Anesthetize: In my mind, modern prog’s finest moment. Insane non-over-the-top drumming by Gavin, and a guest solo by Rush’s Alex Lifeson.
- Arriving Somewhere But Not Here: The proggiest (and longest) a pop song can get. Unhateable. Fantastic. Colin’s bass playing is simple and sublime. Barbieri’s atmosphere-setting with keyboards is second to only Pink Floyd’s Richard Wright.
- The Sky Moves Sideways Phase 2: An underrated gem from the early days. Trippy af instrumental. Dare I say, the song that really DID it for me, with respect to PT. Guest vox by keyboardist Richard Barbieri’s sister Suzanne.
- Normal: The non-album sibling of Sentimental. Melodic, brilliantly constructed, and great reuse of a brilliant chorus. Why not.
- Sentimental: From that un-time-keep-able piano intro to the haunting chorus, from Wilson’s vocal delivery to whatever it is Gavin’s doing… This is one for those new to the band.
- Cloud Zero: Instrumental from the early days, in my opinion Wilson’s finest solo. Love this.
- Buying New Soul: Probably the best non-album PT track, and probably their best (and most heart-wrenching) chorus. Dripping in emotion.
- Open Car: 4 minutes that shows you what PT is all about. Heavy riff, sudden vibe change, a wonderful melody, and an irrepressible chorus.
- Heartattack in a Layby: Even for a music>lyrics person like me, I’ll admit this is one song where reading the words not just pays off, but adds so much gravitas. This is probably their most haunting track, a full story told in just over 4 minutes.
- The Start Of Something Beautiful: Hey, that seems like a happy song title… Oh wait (but what a gorgeous chorus!)
- Shesmovedon: PT’s middle years saw them at their pop-song-writing best, and there’s no better example than this. In another timeline, Wilson could have been a world-famous frontman for a boyband and this song would have Max Martined its way to a billion views on YouTube. Hey, we’ll take this version with that two-minute wah-laden solo.
- Radioactive Toy: The best song off their goofy first album (back when the band was still a joke project), and possibly the closest song from the early days to later-day PT. Some great Wilson soloing.
- Hatesong: An early example that PT could be heavy, a fine example of how Colin’s basswork could drive a song. Great all-round banger.
- Synesthesia: One from the early days, with a keyboard refrain that won’t get out of your head. A sweet chorus (until you read the lyrics).
- The Sound of Muzak: If you can get over the letters-to-editors lyrics, there’s a fine rock song with some glorious blues guitaring, fine basswork and Gavin Harrison making his mark felt on the drums.
- The Sky Moves Sideways (Alternative Version) is a nice remixed version of Ph 1 and Ph 2 together. It’s different enough to warrant its own place in the playlist apart from the two individual phases (of which I like Ph 2 way, WAY better)
- Voyage 34 has many versions (these are the songs you might see as ‘Phase 1’ and ‘Phase 2’ in the playlist). There’s the ‘popular’ 12 minute version, then an expanded version, then an even more expanded 4-phase version on its own EP. I’ve kept Ph 1 + Ph 2 together here.
- Spotify users: The song “No Reason to Live, No Reason to Die” sadly doesn’t exist on the platform, so here it is on YouTube. (It’s #18 in my playlist order)
- I’m sorry, but the new album really didn’t do it for me too much. Some good songs in there (Love In The Past Tense, Chimera’s Wreck) but nothing really to disrupt the top 20.
Steven Wilson’s best guitar solos
Apart from being an extraordinary composer and producer, I think Steven is a fabulous “feel” guitarist. Some of his best work below, in no particular order. You’ll notice many are earlier songs, and this is true — I’ve noticed Wilson solos far less in later albums.
Cloud Zero (0:50–3:40)
Yellow Hedgerow Dreamscape (3:45–8:00)
The Sky Moves Sideways Ph 2 (6:10–8:52)
Dark Matter (5:25–7:40)
Always Never (4:55–6:40)
Nine Cats (2:50–4:35)
Even Less (4:45–5:55)
Time Flies (6:10–8:05)
I Drive The Hearse (3:50–4:30)
The Sound of Muzak (2:35–3:32)
Radioactive Toy (1:25–1:50) (6:30–7:55)
Voyage 34 Ph 1+2 (8:55–10:20) (25:30–27:45)
No Reason to Live, No Reason to Die (0:33–8:35)
Lightbulb Sun (3:40–4:20)
Buying New Soul (7:28–7:50)
Waiting Ph 1 (1:35–2:40) (3:20–4:22)