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PORCUPINE TREE - Stupid Dream cover
4.11 | 21 ratings | 3 reviews
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Album · 1999

Filed under Non-Metal


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)

Total Time 58:28


- Steven Wilson / Vocals, Guitar, Piano
- Colin Edwin / Bass
- Chris Maitland / Drums
- Richard Barbieri / Keyboards, Hammond Organ, Mellotron

- Theo Travis / Flute, Saxophone (track 6, 11)
- East Of England Orchestra / Strings
- Nicholas Kok / Conducting

About this release

March 1999
Kscope, Snapper

Reissued in 2006 as Expanded 2 Cd Edition with a new stereo mix and Dvd-A edition of the album and with the following bonus tracks on the second disc:

13. Ambulance Chasing (6:32)
14. Even Less (full version) (14:08)

Double LP Edition of the album has the following bonus tracks:

13. Ambulance Chasing (6:32)
14. Even Less (full version) (14:08)

Thanks to The Angry Scotsman for the addition and Lynx33, VerticalUprising for the updates


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Specialists/collaborators reviews

As Steven Wilson explains it in interviews, Stupid Dream (and its sister album Lightbulb Sun) saw him focusing more on composing traditional songs as opposed to the extended proggy soundscapes Porcupine Tree were more known for at this point. In many respects, it parallels the departure Marillion took at around this time with Radiation, with both bands writing more conventional songs influenced by the art rock approach of Radiohead and by more retro influences. (Here, I detected the influence of Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young as opposed to the Beatles - particularly in the vocal harmonies.)

However, I think Porcupine Tree do a better job at taking on these influences and integrating them into their spacey sound so that the resultant album is something that's much easier for their existing fans to enjoy (as compared to Radiation, which many Marillion fans consider to be a rather weak effort). It helps that despite all the indie rock influence in evidence, the album leads off with the decidedly prog-oriented and rather Floydian Even Less, and regularly alternates between the more ethereal realms of prior Tree efforts and the indie-art rock territory the band were moving to explore. On the whole, this phase of Porcupine Tree would prove to be brief - encompassing just this album, Lightbulb Sun, and the Recordings compilation of off-cuts from both - but a very rewarding one nonetheless.
Porcupine Tree have always been a bit of an oddity in the progressive rock world. Sure, they've experimented with many other genres to date, but not many bands in the musical style can lay claim to such an accessible and inviting sound in the process. Of course their 90s work is a bit more obscure and inaccessible because of Steven Wilson's psychedelic offerings, but with Signify, the band hit a turning point. A more band-oriented approach was taken, a more streamlined style was introduced (although still psychedelic, mind you), and the the switch in sounds was quite surprising to the fans of Porcupine Tree's more sprawling early work. And then if that wasn't enough, Stupid Dream was released.

Stupid Dream is basically Wilson's first foray into more commercial pop and alternative rock music, complete with shorter songs and much cleaner musical arrangements. The instrumental work is incredibly tight and crisp, but many of the songs are much more uplifting in tone (especially "Stranger by the Minute" and "Piano Lessons") despite some very depressing lyrical themes. Traces of the old Porcupine Tree sound are definitely present, especially in longer tracks such as "Tinto Brass" and "Don't Hate Me," but I really enjoy the balance presented here between alternative rock and hints of progressive rock; other than the band's next offering Lightbulb Sun, this mix can't really be heard as prominently as in other releases by the band. The lyrics also happen to be a strength of the record despite Wilson's unfortunate track record of having consistently weak lyrical work in other records, ranging from subjects such as survival ("A Smart Kid"), tragedy ("This is No Rehearsal"), complacency ("Stop Swimming"), and multiple other subjects throughout the experience. Interestingly enough, however, the atmosphere of the record usually remains pretty sunny and light, making the whole thing a comfortable entry for newcomers to progressive rock music in general. However, just as with most Porcupine Tree albums, there are still many complexities and inner-workings that serve to make Stupid Dream a compelling listen; Richard Barbieri in particular has wonderfully layered keyboard work that melds wonderfully with Wilson's melodic guitar lines. The production is also a strong reason for this, being exceptionally lush while highlighting every instrument perfectly; it's clean, but has enough edge during the heavier and more distorted moments.

The album is essentially split between what you would call the "singles" in structure and style, and the more sprawling progressive tracks such as the aforementioned "Don't Hate Me" and "Tinto Brass," much like Lightbulb Sun that came after it. "Piano Lessons" is pretty much the most accessible and fun track on here, with an incredibly poppy piano arrangement and Steven Wilson's melodic vocal work, while "Stranger by the Minute" and "This is No Rehearsal" follow suit (despite the depressing subject matter of the latter). On the more complex side, "Don't Hate Me" and "Even Less" are fantastic numbers with a ton of instrumental buildup to their melancholic songwriting. In fact, "Don't Hate Me" even has a killer saxophone solo and lots of jazz elements during the middle portion! "Tinto Brass," on the other hand, is less impressive; it basically sounds like meandering left-overs from the Signify album and doesn't fit the atmosphere of the album very well. "Baby Dream in Cellophane" is also quite weak, being one of the blander ballads in Porcupine Tree's catalog despite combining both depressing and uplifting moments pretty decently. Despite this, the thing that perhaps solidifies Stupid Dream as one of Porcupine Tree's stronger records is that, even with the catchy alternative portions, the album doesn't sound complacent or lazy when viewed as a successor to Signify... it merely comes off as a logical progression. "A Smart Kid" is probably the best way to view the evolution, as it is perhaps the most beautiful tune in Steven Wilson's entire discography; the acoustic portions are wonderfully minimalistic, and the catharsis reached by the more climactic chorus is truly a sound to behold because of the layered instrumentation and Wilson's emotive vocals.

Stupid Dream is pretty much the definition of a transitional record (along with Signify), but it's a damn good transitional record. The balance between emotion, accessibility and complexity, which is key to the Porcupine Tree formula, was pretty much in full effect by this point and the experience is quite satisfying as a result. I wouldn't say it reaches the heights of some of the band's subsequent releases such as Lightbulb Sun or In Absentia, but the leaps and bounds of Stupid Dream were pretty much instrumental in leading up to those albums, so I can't pick on it too much. Not when the music is this good, anyway.

(Originally published on Sputnikmusic)
Opening with the brilliant Even Less, "Stupid Dream" is a genuine turning point for Porcupine Tree. Steven Wilson's slide guitar is joined by his sparkling clear voice and it sends the listener into a relaxing state of mind. Barbierie's incredible keyboard playing is always a delight, Maitland's drums and Edwin's bass are impeccable. The heavy distortion is mixed with moments of tranquil beauty. in fact the whole album drifts along on a wave of tranquility with only short outbursts of heavy rock to keep us awake.

This is an album packed full of mystical moments, enchanting effects, guitars that soar and lyrics that entrance. Piano Lessons has a jaunty tempo and some reflective lyrical poetry as only Wilson can deliver. Stupid Dream is a 28 second droning transition to the magic of Pure Narcotic. This track has a nice tempo and a ton of acoustic over piano. Slave Called Shiver has a killer bassline that drives headlong with loud drums and Wilson's breathy vox "I need you more than you could know and when I hurt myself its just for show". The dark lyrics are a taste of how introspective Wilson became on his solo albums such as the masterful "Grace For Drowning" and "Raven that Refused to Sing". The spacey wah wah lead break is amazing.

Don't Hate Me has appeared on many live albums or DVDs and has a catchy chorus, "Don't hate me, I'm not special like you". It is lengthy at 8:30 running time but its haunting soundscape is absolutely wonderful. The flute and bass instrumental break has an ethereal quality unsurpassed in previous albums. Then there is a great jazz fusion sax solo to indulge in and some reverberated flute warbles that are ghostly with their chilling icy breath. A landmark track and one of Porcupine Tree's triumphs.

This Is No Rehearsal reminds me of the upcoming Trains with its rhythmic patterns. Wilson uses his filtered vocal tone on this, a device that appears many times on the classic album "In Absentia", "Deadwing" and "Fear of a Blank Planet". A wah wah lead solo is simply the icing on the cake.

Baby Dream in Cellophane is a drifting hypnotic melody with acoustic rhythms and estranged keyboard pads, over Wilson's sleepy vocals. Stranger By The Minute has Wilson's vocals mixed to the front and a jumpy 4/4 beat with drum strikes, glazed over with scintillating harmonies in the chorus. A Smart Kid is overlaced with acoustic vibrations and a soundscape of multilayered synths. Wilson speaks of being "stranded here on planet earth, its not much but it could be worse."

Tinto Brass opens with Italian commentary of the Italian porn director Tinto Brass, then a massive drum beat kicks in and some flute trills over a fast bass pulse. This is on the more experimental level for the Tree. Stop Swimming returns to Wilson's dreamy vocals and very soft focus keyboards. It is a beautiful closing song to reflect on.

Overall this is one of the better PT albums leading to the big three. It is so well produced as has become the standard for Steven Wilson projects. "Stupid Dream" is a really wonderful album with consistent melodic fire and passion.

Members reviews

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  • sploosh
  • Caio2112
  • Paluvatar
  • Unitron
  • stefanbedna
  • tempest_77
  • PS-RagE
  • Xenoflux
  • Nightfly
  • starlessabstract
  • luanpedi
  • serenitypaintedeath
  • Coracin
  • sauromat
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  • IMPF2112
  • Lynx33

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