Up The Downstair is the first ‘proper’ Porcupine Tree album, ‘On The Sunday Of Life…’ being more a compilation than a project conceived and released as an album. And as such, Up The Downstair pretty well sets the stage for what the band intend their sound to be.
Of course, I’m listening to the 2005 remaster, which may or may not sound more Porcupine than the original, but that’s not really important right now.
What is important is that Porcupine sound – the trippy prog-rock soundscapes with soaring guitar solos and incomprehensible lyrics – which kicks off the album on Synesthesia, then slows down a notch or two for the more melancholy Always Never before disappearing into the spacey ambience of the title track, itself a ten minute epic that builds from a spooky, minimalist beginning with some Gregorian samples buried in the mix somewhere, into something altogether stranger and more brilliant.
Not Beautiful Anymore has hidden away in it a message about how sex can spoil a relationship, but other than that it’s back to the 90s style psychadelia, from tiny snatches of wierdness like Small Fish, to the epic Burning Sky.
And, this being the reissue, it comes with the 1994 Staircase Infinities EP – itself made up of stuff that wasn’t finished in time for inclusion on the original Up The Downstair – on a bonus disc. Which is more of the same – mostly instrumental and with suitably random titles like Yellow Hedgerow Dreamscape – but it’s not bad for all that; the epic guitar driven soundscape of Navigator is equally good for driving or writing, and the eerie opening to Rainy Taxi puts me in a strangely Blade Runner-esque frame of mind before it ventures off into something like an uncanny church organ.
Up The Downstair is not my favourite Porcupine Tree disc – I think being released soon after the brilliantly trippy Voyage 34 made it almost disappointing in its not quite perfection, but all the Porcupine Tree strangeness is there, along with plenty more. Fans of psychadelia, prog-rock, or just plain weirdness should give this a listen.
Stand-out tracks: Always Never, and the title track. On the bonus disc, Yellow Hedgerow Dreamscape is every bit as weird as its title.