For a few years, it seemed as if Bruce Soord’s Pineapple Thief would always be a genuine underground band. Then, with the release of ‘Tightly Unwound’ gaining favourable press in 2008 and 2010’s ‘Someone Here Is Missing’ being compared to Porcupine Tree, the band made a huge leap forward in the world of cult prog rock. From then on, each release has been eagerly awaited by fans and critics alike and The Pineapple Thief have truly carved themselves a place in the annals of thoughtful rock music.

Unbelievably, 2018’s ‘Dissolution’ is the band’s twelfth album and also the first since Bruce moonlighted with the critically acclaimed Wisdom of Crowds project, which saw him collaborating with Katatonia’s Jonas Renkse. Parts of the album settle into a similarly commercial style as 2014’s ‘Magnolia’, which will sit well with those who only discovered the band at a later date, but iltimately, this means that although the bulk of the album is well played, it just sounds like really light prog rock played with the aid of a big safety net.

The semi-acoustic ‘Threatening War’ gives the best example of the band’s direction at this time, since the number blends elements of very commercial prog with bits of indie pop in a way that should be more satisfying. Part of problem comes from Soord’s wispy voice – he’s never had a huge presence, but here he sounds like a man going through the motions; there’s also the fact that nobody thought to capitalise on a chorus. There’s half a hook that comes around a few times, but there’s nothing to sink your teeth into…and that might well be fine if the music were actually interesting. As it is, aside from a sheepish moment of electronica followed by a heavy riff that doesn’t really go anywhere, this number is almost seven minutes’ worth of pappy music for middle aged men that equates to being sort of “Steven Wilson plays elevator muzak”. The chances of remembering it after it’s ended are slim. In fact, unless you’re utterly besotted by The Pineapple Thief, there’s a chance your attention might even wander whilst its actually on. ‘Uncovering Your Tracks’ fares much better in the way it brings together a multi-layered sound, which during it’s finest moments offers a punchy bass and piano combo. However, despite some reasonably enjoyable sounds, there’s still a lack of actual song or decent vocal to contend with. A relatively fiery guitar solo creates a small crescendo, but it’s just not enough to combat the mild irritant of Soord’s annoyingly mild presence.

The middle of the album appears to comprise of songs that on first listen seem to blur into one another. On ‘Uncovering Your Tracks’, the riffs are particularly non-committal, the vocals mumbly and indistinct. The only saving grace is the work of ex-Porcupine Tree drummer Gavin Harrison and bassist Jon Sykes, both of whom do their damnedest to give the most bland, floaty rock music some structure. Sykes turns in a fine performance; his fat four stringed sound very much taking the dominant role. However, Soord’s repetitious lyrics and unsure vocals just cancel out anything of real interest. With the pretence of feeling a bit rockier, ‘Far Below’ crashes in with a bigger riff and then blands itself out into something that could be a dozen other PT tunes, at least until Harrison rattles at his kit during the instrumental break. Briefly, just briefly, there’s hope and the band charge into a choppy guitar-led melody that has the feel of something that would be much better live and then, with things actually making progress, Bruce comes back, mumbles a bit more and the track ends…leading to another disappointment.

Following an acoustic interlude (‘Pillar of Salt’ – a simple chord progression and utterly forgettable vocal), ‘White Mist’ presents the album’s only real nod to stretching out. There are echoes of lots of other Pineapple works underpinning the twelve minute ramble, but there’s a nagging feeling that none of it feels natural and that it’s just long for the sake of being long. On the plus side, it’s the only time on the album where drummer Gavin Harrison gets to play in a busier style – the way he rolls off his toms sounds effortless. Various passages of choppy guitars lead the way into a twenty first century prog rock rabbit hole, where occasional keyboard parts and echoing guitars promise more fun, but it’s eventually of no real consequence. A few discordant lead guitars suggest somebody in the band wanted to create something arty but no-one had any balls (or skill) to go the whole hog and lay down anything close to a wanton freakout a la Robert Fripp. After over half an hour of music that seems to blur into a big wall of bland beige noise, ‘Shed A Light’ finally finishes the album with something half decent. Sure, to begin with it sounds like more of the same, but by about half way, guitarist Soord decides it’s time to step out from the general murk and play his guitar. What transpires is some fine lead work, lending the music strong echoes of the 70s, even going as far to have a Camel-esque mood. Why could this not have happened much sooner?

‘Dissolution’ is only a forty three minute album – very short by average 2018 standards – but it feels like it goes on forever. For those who’ve come to the band late, or else have grown to love the band’s more commercial take on a twenty first century post-Porcupine Tree style rock, it will probably bring a very welcome feeling of familiarity – and perhaps bring with that a couple of things that stand out. In all honesty, though, it’s just not a very interesting album – it certainly doesn’t come close to being anywhere near as enjoyable as ‘Someone Here Is Missing’…

The Pineapple Thief Express: calling at Disollution, disillusion. disinterest, disengagement and finally…disappointment.

September 2018