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Porcupine Tree - Stupid Dream CD (album) cover

STUPID DREAM

Porcupine Tree

 

Heavy Prog

3.98 | 976 ratings

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Antennas
5 stars I remember all too well when I first exposed myself to Stupid Dream, Porcupine Tree's fifth 'official' full-length offering, some ten years ago - and it left me rather uncomfortably indifferent. My appreciation for it came no further than a meek 'nice'. Perhaps I expected more Floydian- like stuff la The Sky Moves Sideways and Signify, and wasn't yet ready for what-would-be-coming-beyond?

Ten years and some thirty+-PT-concerts later, I have to conclude that Stupid Dream (together with its follow-up Lightbulb Sun ) was indeed a transitional record - a departure from the earlier Floydian 'soundscapes' (even while those still occasionally appear), heading more towards simple (deceivingly so!) pop song-like structures - eventually, ultimately defining Porcupine Tree's unique and original sound. Though still a rather underrated album among the PT catalogue, Stupid Dream is indeed a genuine masterpiece, and as such the blueprint to the highly acclaimed, latter day PT-successes like, for instance, In Absentia.

In 1998/1999, PT was still a 'underground'-act, a band I could go and see perform live in the smaller clubs at least a couple of times each year in The Netherlands, in small, intimate venues. But even then, it was pretty obvious that this band was truly heading for Big Time, and I harbour no doubts that Mr. Steven Wilson was very aware of that himself at that time.

If anything, I think that Stupid Dream illustrates that Wilson very well realized that his decision of a couple of years earlier, to exchange his comfortable, well-paid job as a computer scientist for that of the risky, insecure status of a full-time musician, was indeed a very good one - but not without its drawbacks.

Hence the overall theme of Stupid Dream - the indeed 'stupid dream' of making it as a 'rock star' (Wilson himself would laugh at that term). it's not just the stardom, the glamour, the limelight, it's not that Talent-Always-Pays-Off-Freely, just like that - quite the contrary, there's a lot of hard work, loneliness, travelling, missing your loved ones 10 months out of 12 in a year, in short: blood, sweat & tears involved.

Moreover, in order to make it in the music business, the artist will have to deal with something entirely different than just producing his Art, the one major thing he's good at - he'll have to be ready to Go Out and Sell Himself. The 'Miracle of Marketing', so as to say. Or as Mr. S.W. himself puts it in Piano Lessons: "Forget your own agenda, get ready to be sold! - which would be a reoccurring theme in his later work.

Textually, Stupid Dream deals with Steven Wilson's personal insecurities about this matter, which makes this album even more appealing, as I think all of us can recognize elements of the burden of having to sell your soul in order to achieve your - indeed - 'stupid dream' of a goal, whatever it may be.

Some additional individual notes about the songs on this album -

Opener Even Less - a bunch of overdubbed orchestral synthesizer sounds form the intro to a very Floydian guitar-riff, very melancholic lyrics - Wilson comparing the fate of a suicide committer to the completely 'useless' things a musician does - "And I may just waste away from doing nothing - but you're a martyr for Even Less" - culminating into a truly FANTASTIC guitar solo. No surprise that many PT-fans hail this song among their best ever. Fortunately, the reissue of the album has included the full 15- minute version of this masterpiece, worth a five-star rating for the entire album in itself.

Piano Lessons offers the entire theme of the album comprised into just one song. A very simple, catchy tune (you might even call it 'pop') fittingly starting off with a very low-key piano tune, only to culminate in a trademark PT-track, with screaming guitars and multi-layered vocals. The song's lyrics are worth a review on their own - Steven in Self- Mockery-Overdrive, disputing his talents, ridiculing his laziness in practicing, and even comparing himself with Christine Keeler (a prostitute who became 'famous' because of the 1960's Profumo Scandal) in trying to 'sell' himself as an artist - a.k.a., a complete mockery of the entire Music Marketing Industry. Priceless. Even if the song itself were s**t - which it isn't at all - I'd still cherish it because of the brilliant, highly sarcastic lyrics.

The title track, Stupid Dream, is a hardly noticeable, 28-sec synthesizer intermezzo. I guess Steven did this just to show how 'stupid' this Stupid Dream indeed is. He's got that snarky sense of humour, as anyone should know by now.

Pure Narcotic A very gentle melodic song, acoustic guitars and piano, accompanying Wilson's gentle singing. It's just a guess of mine - it's about a failed relationship? "You have me distant and estranged..." There's a lot more happening over here though and it might well be something rather creepy. "I'm sorry, that I'm not like you...." Beautiful harmonics midway this song between acoustic guitar, glockenspiel and keys. Wonderful. One of the best songs on this album.

Slave Called Shiver Intro by Colin Edwin's gorgeous bass combined with some very straight-forward but on-the- spot drumming by Chris Maitland. A very groovy tune, indeed. Wilson's slightly distorted vocals add up to the creepy atmosphere - "I'll have more followers than Jesus Christ...!" Ends up with an industrial-tinted, heavy instrumental jam. Great work on the wah-wah pedals from Wilson. A clear sign of what was about to come on next albums. Heavy stuff.

Don't Hate Me The ultimate JEM of the album, imho. Starting off with an intro on acoustic guitar, accompanied by Richard Barbieri's eerie sounds on his keyboards/computers, it culminates into a true highlight in Wilson's/PT's entire discography. Depressive, creepy, but highly enchanting. Great straight-forward drumming by Chris Maitland again. Is this about one of those things that comes with 'stardom', namely 'stalkers' - In all the song emanates deep psychological isolation, loneliness. "Can I call you, on the telephone, now and then?" Absolutely fantastic wind instruments on this one, most notably that solo on the sax - just immaculate.

This Is No Rehearsal Back to the poppier tunes over here, but even so, this one's not one you should allow yourself to miss. Lovely drumming by Maitland, great acoustic guitars and vocals by Wilson. Turns out as a genuine rocker, while still remaining gentle and nice on the whole. Lovely mellotron back-ups as well, only the prelude to some very bluesy distorted soloing by Wilson. This is one of the few songs on the entire album that doesn't has that 'dark' feeling about, and it's a welcome relief from that. To end it all, some very nice straight-forward hard- rocking!

Baby Dream In Cellophane Very atmospheric tune, reminding of PT's older work, "Nine Cats" anyone? - Great vocal harmonies, here. Eerie, atmospherical. Simple tune, but just lovely all the same.

Stranger By The Minute Well here we have Steven Wilson playing Alice-in-Wonderland. And in Wonderland he apparently feels he is, as a 'rock star', 'getting stranger by the minute'. Very melodic sing- along tune, great job by Edwin (that comfortably-sounding distorted bass!) and Maitland, and of course, again a great job on singing and guitar playing by Wilson. Very pleasant - and even funny - lyricism, too. "But you're just fiction, and I'm a twisted boy?" - a true gem.

A Smart Kid Drawback to Old PT Times here. A left-over from 'The Sky Moves' - At least the intro sounds like that. Well soon enough it becomes clear why this song appears on this album. "Stranded on Planet Earth - Not much, but it could be worse - Everything is free here, there's no clowds", as it dissolves in yet one another lovely acoustic/vocal piece, only to end up into one another classical PT piece after the 2-minute mark. A very emotional, very doomy piece, I might even think the term 'gothic' is appropriate for this one. Great job by Barbieri with all of his soundscaping-jobs here.

Tinto Brass The concluding choirs of 'A Smart Kid', as well as the soft voice of a lady talking in Italian in a distorted voice, softly move into what is the heaviest - instrumental - piece on this album - a sheer showcase for both Edwin and Maitland. Here's the band's Heavy Metal attempt on this album, again, a sign of what was about to come in the next step of their career, most notably when Wilson kicks in with his very distorted heavy guitar solo'ing.. It swings, it grooves, and it's HEAVY! - just don't skip it. A truly awesome piece of music!

Stop Swimming If you're thinking about jumping off from a building, this song might just give you that extra push to indeed do so. So eh, just don't... What a depressive feeling it emerges, but even more - how heartbreakingly beautiful. A lovely, soft tune, perfectly sung by Wilson, "Maybe it's time to find out where I'm at. What I should do and where I should be - but no one will give me a map." Chris Maitland drumming's subtle drumming to this song forms the perfect heartbeat to Wilson's sad vocals. A 'song that leaks onto the pavement', indeed, celebrated by his fantastic Floydian guitars in the background. A Grand Final to a genuinely fantastic album.

*****

I apologize for this way too long blabbering piece of text, and sorry for emphasizing on textual interpretations (all too personal I guess), rather than going into technical descriptions about the music itself - but I do believe that if you think an album is indeed worth five stars, you might just well go into extent to explain why. And as such I've given it my best effort.

Even if I'd have some 50 pages to write about this album, I still wouldn't manage to fully describe what this particular album means to me. This is indeed A Stupid Dreamer's Stupid Dream.

"So, I think I'll leave by the window..." ~wink~

A Masterpiece, no doubt about it. Five well-deserved stars!

Antennas | 5/5 |

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