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Porcupine Tree: Stupid Dream (Special Edition)

Porcupine Tree's success with their last two albums has garnered them so much attention that their new fans started exploring their back catalog, only to be disappointed upon finding out most of those albums had long gone out of print. Stupid Dream being considered the band's ultimate masterpiece by many, Steven Wilson finally decided to re-release it with an improved mix and a bonus disc of 5.1 surround sound, also featuring a video of "Piano Lessons". For those who are interested in the difference between the original version and this one, the sonics in some spots are slightly sharper, but the most noticeable aspect is the clarity in Steven Wilson's vocals. The lyrics are much clearer now, and one no longer has to check the booklet in order to make sure whether he got the words right or not. I'll assume most of the fans will be exposed to the brilliance of Stupid Dream with this version of the album, so I'll try to review it more so like a new studio release rather than giving out some overviews about a well-known disc.

Unlike In Absentia and Deadwing, the songs on Stupid Dream tread on a lighter sound, but the writing presented is some of Steven Wilson's best in his entire career. There is a vast amount of diversity present here; this could be their most varied work up until In Absentia was released. Wilson, besides doing the vocals and playing the guitar, also plays lots of instruments. On the relatively poppier yet instantly memorable "Piano Lessons", driven by a simple rhythm arrangement, gorgeous acoustic guitars, and clean-toned harmonies, his Hammond organ literally bleeds into the short title track, taking on a thick soundscape of footsteps, choirs, effects, and pure white noise. At only 28 seconds, "Stupid Dream" is stunning in its effect. Similarly, "Stranger by the Minute" finds Wilson exploring this style further. This song almost functions as a pre-cursor to his later Blackfield project with Aviv Geffen, as he favours a strong pop flavour, while providing all the bass himself, and harmonising beautifully with the backing vocals of drummer Chris Maitland.

Steven Wilson also shifts to a different approach in his lyrics on Stupid Dream. His work on the earlier spacey stuff is now replaced by more personal writing. On "Even Less", the theme of loss is perfectly expressed, utilising a strong keyboard, bass and drum interplay, wah-laden guitar work, but the ending still makes a nod to their futuristic style. This album excellenty bridges the transition from their earlier psychedelic phase to their current heavier mode. Two other songs that underscore this transition are "A Smart Kid", with fantastic space ship metaphors in its lyrics portraying alienation and loneliness, not to mention Wilson's arguably finest vocal melody on this album; and the curious instrumental "Tinto Brass", save for the weird, Japanese-like female narration in the beginning with subtle electronic bleeps. This track actually hints at Porcupine Tree's interest in limtless experimentation, blending a wicked, ethnic-tinged flute solo by Theo Travis and very big sounding drum and bass interaction atop a heavy barrage of crushing metal riffs.

On the darker front, "Stop Swimming", a song with suicidal references ("I'll leave now this can't continue / But I forget which I door I came through / And I know that the lift can be painfully slow / So I'm happy to leave by the window"), and "Pure Narcotic", addressing one-sided love, the band weaves darker textures, highlighted by subtle vocal shifts and cynical glockenspiel supplied by Barbieri. However, the apex of this style is perfected on the eight-plus-minute "Don't Hate Me", which has fantastic organ playing by Wilson, an indelible flute and tenor saxophone lead by Travis, and a tragic vocal line that goes, "Don't hate me I'm not special like you". The song's foray into a tense, tranquil passage somewhere along the midway generates unmatched atmosphere thanks to the genius use of sparse acoustic guitars and ominous synth effects by Richard Barbieri. The silence is broken up by wonderfully restraint drums kicking in, only to put forth the aforementioned chorus that induces goose bumps. This song is still among Porcupine Tree's best, no matter which era one may favour the most.

Stupid Dream is one of the most overlooked progressive rock masterpieces ever. Now that it is available again, fans shouldn't miss it.

Track Listing

  1. Even Less
  2. Piano Lessons
  3. Stupid Dream
  4. Pure Narcotic
  5. Slave Called Shiver
  6. Don't Hate Me
  7. This Is No Rehearsal
  8. Baby Dream in Cellophane
  9. Stranger by the Minute
  10. Smart Kid
  11. Tinto Brass
  12. Stop Swimming

Added: September 24th 2006
Reviewer: Murat Batmaz
Related Link: Porcupine Tree website
Hits: 4843
Language: english

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