Great review DJ!
I mostly concur, except I would be a lot less harsh on Shallow (which I actually like...PT's take on a "dumb American metal song" is still pretty interesting) and Lazarus (which does drag a bit, my roommate dismisses it with "it's a chick song.")
The rest of the album I unabashedly and unquestionably adore. I'm totally with you on "Deadwing" (the song), it's one of PTs best, ever, and it's great live. But I think it's topped by "Arriving Somewhere But Not Here" and "The Start of Something Beautiful." I didn't like TSOSB at first, but it's really drawn me in, and you're right, the drumming is fantastic (I wouldn't say, as you did, "better" than ASBNH, just different).
Many long-time fans on the Porcupine Tree forum think Deadwing (the album) is too "commercial." I totally disagree...I think it's a bit more ACCESSABLE to a wider audience. It's still da Tree! And it's still progressive as hell, despite what some think.
To my mind, way too much has been made about In Absentia and Deadwing being too "heavy" or "metal-influenced." Wilson merely uses these heavy guitar riffs as another color on his musical palatte. The prog/metal balance is much more tilted to prog than, say, Dream Theater (who I also like).
I'd say to any serious fan that Deadwing is essential. If you liked In Absentia, it's even more essential, as it is an extremely logical next step from there. If you've never heard PT, I think Deadwing is a logical place to start, and work backwards through their catalog. You are in for a MAJOR treat. Virtually everyone I have played Deadwing for has loved it, including my roommate, who HATES prog.
Also, if you like this music at all and the band is coming anywhere remotely close to you, GO. They are even more amazing live.