The news that Porcupine Tree are back together and lining up a new album for 2022 has me heading back to their old albums. Today I’ve been listening to the first album of theirs that I heard, 1999’s Stupid Dream. As always, A Smart Kid stands out as one of the superior tracks: a spaced-out, Floydian prog tune with a wonderful, lush sound and an enchanting mix of acoustic instruments and electronic textures. It has charming lyrics too, relating the travails of the last guy on Earth as he muses on the low cost of living and lack of crowds before attempting to hitch a ride on a visiting spaceship. I was never totally sold on the parent album as there are a few too many piano Brit-poppish tunes for my liking but Porcupine Tree excel here. Clever lads.
Saxon concluded their 90s catalogue in robust fashion with the aptly-titled Metalhead. It continued the dark, heavy vein of 1997’s Unleash The Beast but with a vigour and confidence bolstered by a traditional metal renaissance in Europe.
The crushing metal chugs and ominous tones of tracks like Metalhead and Are We Travellers In Time have a contemporary edge but also a technicality to the riffage that bulldozers away the boozier, spritlier charm of the band’s early days. But Saxon’s spirit and songcraft remains. Even at its heaviest, the album sports durable melodies and there’s a welcome lighter touch and variety on songs like the bouncy Prisoner, grooving What Goes Around and the proggy Sea Of Life. It’s not all gleaming and modern: the Saxon traditions of headbanging and tales of olde are upheld in the thrilling All Guns Blazing and the rousing Conquistador.
Some inevitable clunkers (Piss Off and the forgettable Watching You) and a sense of solid proficiency prevent it ranking alongside inspired classics like Power & The Glory. But with Metalhead Saxon made their stongest, timeliest statement of the decade. I’ll bang my head to that.
*Worth pointing out that Nigel Glockler had left (again) due to injury, replaced by Fritz Randow. But you won’t notice the difference.