Monday, 4 January 2016

Porcupine Tree - Voyage 34 (1992)

One of the greatest of all Porcupine Tree albums. A pure gem of spaced out rhythmic cosmic music which flows together beautifully. 

Apart from Steve Hillage, what was big in the sixties and seventies, less so in the 1980s, but then fully embraced by the emerging underground squat-rave movement of the 1990's...? Have you guessed it yet? Yes, of course, I am talking about LSD. An incredibly-potent chemical that has essentially influenced virtually all the good music ever(maybe over-egging the pudding a little here, apologies), this once-legal drug changed everything back in the 1960s, paving the way for the counter-culture movement that bore such influential groups as Jefferson Airplane, The Grateful Dead and Pink Floyd whilst also helping to ferment revolution, progression and new ideals that revolutionised society. Not bad for a tasteless, odourless liquid often served in either sugar cubes or on blotting paper. Discovered, quite accidentally, by Swiss chemist Albert Hoffman during World War 2, LSD has gradually become less-and-less popular over the years, matching the declining quality of popular culture with scary authenticity. However, those who still like to tune in, turn on and drop out still exist, and Steven Wilson, founder of top British prog outfit Porcupine Tree, was obviously one of them. This album, which is split into four parts, recounts an LSD trip from exciting beginning to awe-inspiring end, a brilliantly-conceived, 1960's-style narrator helping us along our journey. Part-ambient, part-progressive, at times almost dancey yet always utterly engrossing, 'Voyage 34' may not be for everyone yet that, it seems, is exactly the point. Few people truely love LSD - many are terrified of it - but there is no denying what an incredible, conscious-altering substance it actually is. This album is the perfect foil for understanding this strange little drug, and those with an interest in all things psychedelic are urged to investigate. But remember folks, drugs are bad! STEFAN TURNER, STOKE NEWINGTON, 2014 

Originally intended to be included on the "Up the downstair" album, this 30 minute piece was omitted from that collection and released instead as a 12" single. The track was split in half due to the limitations of vinyl, this becoming "parts 1 and 2".
While primarily a lengthy instrumental work firmly rooted in the psychedelic sounds of Pink Floyd, the various motifs which make up the piece are interrupted by dispassionate narration. This tells the unfolding tale of an LSD trip by someone called Brian, his experiences being increasingly disturbing.
Musically, this is essentially a vehicle for Steve Wilson to put together some fine lead guitar work in a succession of riffs and occasional solos. Part 2 is less dynamic and thus less effective than side one, the emphasis being more towards the after effects. The narrative becomes increasingly troubled, and the music more ambient with trance overtones.
While "Voyage 34" is now considered to be of its time, I still find it to be a highly enjoyable listen, especially Part 1. Admittedly, it lacks the tightness of modern day Porcupine Tree, but the persistent rhythms and overall ambience are, in their own way, rather alluring.
Incidentally, the title of the "Up the downstairs" album is taken from the narrative of part 1, where "Brian" is devastated to meet himself coming down an up staircase. 

Voyage 34 is a brave step into the unknown. Steven Wilson's unique blend of Psychedelic Prog, Trance and Spoken Word is a swirling love/hate affair that plays out as a pathetic fallacy for a personal LSD trip, either beautifully relaxing and easy or frustrating, annoying and scary. Although the main theme of Pink Floyd's The Wall does lend itself well to this context, its overemphasised repetition a haunting background to the spoken testimonies of acid users in Phase II, its a shame Wilson couldn't come up with a riff of his own for such a mindbendingly experimental product. Even not viewed as a blotter paper induced nightmare Voyage 34 is a lush epic instrumental with some fantastically emotional lead guitar work. Hardly an everyday casual listen yet most fans of early Porcupine Tree should be able to appreciate this once in a while. Reviews from

 Songs / Tracks Listing 
1. Voyage 34 - Phases 1 / 2 (30:04)

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