Hot on the heels of 2014’s more conventional attempt at mainstream success, The Pineapple Thief are back with their latest endeavor, Your Wilderness, and it is not without a certain degree of anticipation. The big news here – and it would be big news for virtually any progressive rock band – is the addition of Gavin Harrison behind the drum kit. Yes, he of Porcupine Tree/King Crimson fame. A coup like this has to lead to great results, no?
Sort of. Opening track “In Exile” gets things going appropriately enough with drums, and we can recognize Harrison’s trademark complex rhythms immediately. The song itself is a promising start to this, The Pineapple Thief’s eleventh studio release, due in no small part to Harrison’s acumen behind the kit.
Interestingly, Harrison did not record Your Wilderness with the band. He produced and engineered his own drum tracks in his home studio, then sent them to Bruce Soord for the final mix. His skill overcomes the lack of unity one might anticipate hearing when the recording is disjointed. His technicality definitely forces the band to up their game over their last two average releases.
“No Man’s Land” begins as a sad, plaintive vocal and acoustic guitar number. It’s an odd choice for the second song, but after a couple of minutes of moping, drums and a super low bass patch enter, creating a foreboding, taut song fraught with tension that ends all too abruptly.
“Tear You Up” is another song that follows a similar pattern: moody, morose, with Soord channeling his inner Thom Yorke until the midway point, when the band kicks it up and some aggressive riffing comes into play. The song has an energy rarely seen in the last few years. The longest song on Your Wilderness is “The Final Thing on Your Mind,” a ten minute number that evokes a similar mood and feel, due in no small part to Soord’s plaintive vocals, as Porcupine Tree’s “Sentimental.”
These songs are some of the high points of Your Wilderness. They are strong rock songs with a progressive bent to them. Unfortunately, the progressive side of the equation still lacks compared with some albums from the band’s brighter days, such as Someone Here Is Missing. Boundaries are not pushed to the extent we would like to see. To be sure, the soundscapes are lush, beautifully produced and performed, just not interesting enough.
“That Shore” and album closer “Where We Stood” are perfect examples of brooding, expansive, dramatic numbers that ultimately fail to push any sort of envelope. Adding a clarinet solo from Supertramp’s John Helliwell on “Fend for Yourself” doesn’t scream prog rock either. Supertramp were exactly what The Pineapple Thief should be trying not to be; a talented but supremely boring band.
Your Wilderness is a step in the right direction for The Pineapple Thief, after two blasé recordings in a row. They have turned the ship back towards more progressive shores, and the addition of Harrison is a big boost to their sound and dynamics (let’s hope he does another album with them).
However, Soord and company could definitely stretch out a bit more than they did here and push some boundaries the way we know they are capable of. “I’ve rediscovered my progressive roots,” says Soord, but they aren’t quite evident enough on this album.
(released August 12, 2016 on Kscope)