Review Summary: A great entry point for potential Porcupine Tree fans, being the album that crafted and exemplified the psychedelic sounds and vocal harmonies that defined the band.
I'm aware that there are two other reviews for Porcupine Tree's Stupid Dream, I'd like to approach the concept of the album this time, and offer my perspective of what it means to me. I'll skip the band bio bit and jump right in, cus all that has been covered in the two other (well-written, IMO) reviews.
Whilst the existence of Stupid Dream as a conceptual album is not explicitly mentioned by Steven Wilson, it is pretty apparent in it's consistency, both lyrically and sonically. This is best felt by listening to the entire album in a single sitting, in track order.
Steven Wilson, in Stupid Dream, creates satire out of our society's commercial and profit-driven habits. Being entire written in first-person, it gives a reflective account of a jaded persona, one that is well aware of the hypocrisy and superficiality of our world.
Straight from the opening track, Even Less plunges the listener into an atmospheric soundscape, with young laughter leading into a short instrumental intro. The lyrics give mention to a certain memory, or hopeful aspiration, but in a jaded light, with the achingly depressing chorus line:
"And I may just waste away from doing nothing,
But I'm a martyr to even less."
The word "martyr" presents the listener with multiple interpretations, being of a sacrifice for one's aspirations, or "Dreams", as would be more relevant here, and also an extreme take on what it means to represent and fulfill a certain order. This ambiguity fits in perfectly with the atmospheric rhythm section wonderfully, creating a dreamy and spacey mood.
Piano Lessons, too, creates a nostalgic atmosphere akin to one looking back at one's childhood, but with the idea of all his hopes being "Stupid Dreams":
"And even though I got it all now,
My only stupid dream.
I see you and me together,
And how it should have been."
Here, also, Wilson satirises our profit-driven and mass-production habits, dropping hints as to why the persona's dreams are "Stupid":
"I come in value packs of ten
(in five varieties)"
As the album progresses, it's apparent that there is increasing acceptance of the futility of the persona's dreams, with the desperate obsession of Slave Called Shiver to the angry cries of Don't Hate Me.
The high point of the album concept, for me, is A Smart Kid. Here, Wilson paints a beautifully melancholic picture of the persona waking up to a dead world, only to find himself communicating with "a spaceship from another star". With a haunting rhythm section driving Wilson's heavily layered psychedelic vocals, A Smart Kid projects the culmination of the persona's "Stupid Dream", ending in a desperate plea for hope:
"I tell them I'm the only one
There was a war but I must have won
Please take me with you. "
This hope, as the listener will realize by the last track, Stop Swimming, is never realized. Instead, we are greeted with a painfully depressing acceptance of our world, where, very aptly put lyrically:
"Maybe it's time to stop swimming.
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."
This concludes what Porcupine Tree's Stupid Dream conveys to me, conceptually. It's not as in-depth as it could have been with a track-by-track account, but I guess it's best for the listener to extract their own interpretations of the album as a concept.
I hope you'll enjoy reading it as much as I have writing it.