Porcupine Tree – Stupid Dream

Well, if it wasn’t already clear with ‘Signify’ that Porcupine Tree was moving in a new direction with their music, than ‘Stupid Dream’ made it blatantly obvious. Although there would still be some psychedelic sounds in the band’s music (and still are), Porcupine Tree was working themselves up to be the masters of the modern prog rock scene by incorporating a more concise sense of songwriting into their music, largely throwing out the indulgences of their psychedelic freakouts and jams. Porcupine Tree largely reinvent themselves with this album, and for those that may have doubted them at the time and thought they were selling out, they can think again; Porcupine Tree evolved from a spacey psychedelic act into one of prog’s leading bands with this album.

Porcupine Tree have always been one of my favourite bands since I was first introduced to them, and ‘Stupid Dream’ reminds me why I was so attracted to them in the first place; they are a perfect mesh of memorable songwriting, dynamic performance, and some of the most beautiful and atmospheric production one is bound to hear in rock music. ‘Stupid Dream’ opens with one of its best known songs, the soaring anthem ‘Even Less’, which I first heard in its full ten minute plus form on the ‘Recordings’ compilation, but sounds just as great here in a somewhat edited form. A full string sections jars on their open strings as the opening riff of ‘Even Less’ comes to invite the listener in for more, and after a relatively heavy hard rock intro, the music recoils into a more acoustic form of progressive rock. The sound here is modern, even by today’s standards, and the song is a good indicator of what ‘Stupid Dream’ is all about; maintaining their atmosphere while focusing more on the art of songwriting.

While Porcupine Tree’s early material was undoubtedly a Wilson-only affair, ‘Stupid Dream’ does execute as a full band performance. The deep grooves of Colin Edwin’s bass playing are very memorable, and Chris Maitland’s drumming is precise and dynamic, although in hindsight, Gavin Harrison does do a better job with rearing Porcupine Tree. While not given the same room to sport his skills as many other prog rock bands allow their keyboardists, Richard Barbieri adds alot of depth to the band’s typically guitar-driven sound, and all of this is tied together by Steven Wilson’s distinctive style of production, which- as will come to no surprise to any who have experienced it before- tends to reward those with good stereo systems.

‘Piano Lessons’ is the single to this album; an intentionally conventional piece of songwriting where Steven Wilson subtly mocks the pop writing format, all the while making a very good piece of psychedelic art pop. ‘Don’t Hate Me’ is another highlight and great track from the album, a fairly dark song with a beautiful chorus that could even make a statue cry. Arguably the best piece here though is ‘A Smart Kid’, a slower track that is led in with a reprise of violin strings, along with haunting acoustics and Steven’s emotional lyrics. Without a doubt, it is the most atmospheric song on the album, and one of the best things that Porcupine Tree have done. Much like my view on ‘In Absentia’ however, while there are quite a few magnificent tracks on the album, there are a handful of less successful tracks that while still decent enough, tend to pale a little too much when compared to the gold that the album has to offer. Among these would likely be the only moderately exciting pair of ‘This Is No Rehearsal’ and ‘Baby Dream In Cellophane’; both tracks that are given the same beautiful production and some nice melodies, that do not tend to leap out at me and strike as powerful a feeling.

An excellent album by all standards in conclusion, ‘Stupid Dream’ is a powerful segment in the saga of Porcupine Tree, and especially being one of my favourite bands, I can see myself experiencing this album many more times in the future. Great stuff!


1. Even Less (7:11)
2. Piano Lessons (4:21)
3. Stupid Dream (0:28)
4. Pure Narcotic (5:02)
5. Slave Called Shiver (4:41)
6. Don’t Hate Me (8:30)
7. This Is No Rehearsal (3:27)
8. Baby Dream in Cellophane (3:15)
9. Stranger By The Minute (4:31)
10. A Smart Kid (5:22)
11. Tinto Brass (6:17)
12. Stop Swimming (6:53)


* Richard Barbieri – synthesizers, Hammond organ, and mellotron
* Colin Edwin – bass
* Chris Maitland – drums and percussion
* Steven Wilson – vocals, guitars, piano, and samples

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