Fricke's Picks: Porcupine Tree, the Future Kings of England and the Raspberries

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Porcupine Tree — the long-running British progressive-rock band founded and commanded by singer-guitarist-composer Steven Wilson — are rare in their field: obsessed not with fantasy but the death of it, particularly in children. At a recent head-trip gig at New York’s Beacon Theatre, films of sickly-white preteen zombies — hypnotized by computer screens, gulping medication, brandishing handguns — were projected on a screen behind Wilson during his tangled distortion-bomb riffing in the long title track of the recent album, Fear of a Blank Planet (Atlantic), and the record's even longer centerpiece nightmare, "Anesthetize." A schoolgirl ran amok in what looked like a ruined psych ward during the convulsive title instrumental from the group's new EP, Nil Recurring (Transmission). Wilson started Porcupine Tree in 1987 as a home-studio experiment that has since evolved, live and on an extensive series of records, into an aggressively modern merger of Rush's arena art rock, U.K. prog classicism — especially Pink Floyd's eulogies to madness and King Crimson's angular majesty — and the postgrunge vengeance of Tool. There are no dragons evident on Fear of a Blank Planet or Nil Returning. But there are plenty of demons. And King Crimson guitarist-sage Robert Fripp plays on both records, an impeccable seal of approval.

New Royal Freaks
Witches and fiends run riot through the lyrics and instrumental vapors of the six extended tracks on The Fate of Old Mother Orvis (Backwater), by the Future Kings of England. The audaciously named British band's mix of art rock and freak folk is also rife with other specters — the pastoral Floyd, '72 Genesis, the echosoup psychedelia of Amon Dü‼l II — whipped together with an ardor that sounds like yesterday and tomorrow at once.

Seventies Rock Candy
Hard and sweet, the Raspberries were never the second coming of the Beatles. They were, in the early Seventies, and still are — based on a show I just saw by the original lineup — the rockcandy Who, packing the perfect-Sixties choruses of "Ecstasy" and "Go All the Way" with Live at Leeds fireworks. Singer-guitarist Eric Carmen still hits the mod-angel high notes, and no American band wrote better pop songs about being a great pop band ("Play On," "Overnight Sensation [Hit Record]"). There is no live album from the group's '72-'74 hit streak, which is OK. On Live on Sunset Strip (Rykodisc), a CD/DVD set of a 2005 show, they play every hit, and those that should have been, with the power and shine of their first heyday.

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