Up the Downstair feels noticeably different in tone from On the Sunday of Life -- the humor is nearly invisible, if present at all, and the focus is more explicitly up to date in keeping with Steven Wilson's long-stated belief that progressive music means incorporating the now instead of rehashing what progressive was. His singing is now more accomplished in turn -- it sounds like he might have been taking a lesson or two from his No-Man partner Tim Bowness, but he has his own dreamy approach. His already accomplished studio work seems to have turned even more so with time, and the end result is a delicate, complex, and remarkable effort. If there's an absolute standout, "Always Never" takes the cake. Starting with a soft combination of low vocals, acoustic guitar, and background electric feedback, it sweeps into life on the memorable chorus, with the keyboards swelling with a gentle majesty before turning into a full trip thanks to Wilson's ear for arrangements and space. Colin Edwin makes his debut with Porcupine Tree by playing bass here, as good a start as any, while Richard Barbieri also has an initial bow on the lengthy title track. Wilson's own playing here is just astounding, with some huge, driving feedback fills, while the equally long "Burning Sky" lets him exercise some guitar hero chops, and quite well at that. Brief cuts crop up throughout -- notably "What You Are Listening To...," which makes a nod back to the contents of Voyage 34 via the narrative spoken word sample at the start. The recurring use of synth loops and acid house rhythms alone mark Porcupine Tree's approach as being a more modern one, but at the same time a song like "Synesthesia" doesn't sound like a stab at crossover so much as it does one color on the palette. The unfolding guitar solos demonstrate that much, at least.
AllMusic Review by Ned Raggett