Review Summary: You don't need sex under LSD
At this point in time Porcupine Tree was a one man band, Steven Wilson had already created his first record "On the Sunday of Life" which succeeded but also failed in many ways, but it was a necessary stepping stone towards success. While the previous album took a more playful and whimsical approach, Up the Downstair is much maturer record and vast step up from it's predecessor in every way possible. The overall sound is substantially more interesting, fusing elements of progressive, psychedelic and space rock, with britpop and even techno, to create a unique and diverse soundscape. From the get go the album sets a dreamy atmosphere, the opening lines of What You Are Listening To set the tone for the rest of the psychedelic drug influenced tunes. The second track Synesthesia instantly impresses with it's unbelievably catchy melody and upbeat britpop influenced drive. Synesthesia is perhaps the single most upbeat song on the album, it has a real effervescent quality about it, but it's certainly not the most memorable, the longer more ambient tracks are the real gems. The title track is perhaps the greatest example, easily being one of the bands best songs, it successfully combines techno beats with spacey textures. The two final tracks are similar in this regard too, while Fadeaway is a much moodier piece containing some of the best melodies the band has ever produced. But even the more rocking tracks such as Not Beautiful Anymore retain the mood of the epic tracks.
While Steven Wilson may be a massive bellend, there is no denying his chops, his talent especially shines through on this record, him being the sole songwriter and playing the majority of the instruments. His guitar work especially is extremely impressive and at the top of it's game on this record, his heavily Gilmour inspired leads blend magnificently with the dark brooding rhythm section. His lyrical output is also vastly superior to his later conceptual offerings. The production is also more pleasing than the bands later outputs, being less harsh and overblown which gives the subtle samples, synths and instruments room to breathe.
Porcupine Tree simply were a better band before they decided to focus on a more metal orientated, less experimental style, their psychedelic sound was better realised, especially on here and the following album "The Sky Moves Sideways". Even if you've heard their later works and you found them unimpressive this is worth giving a shot, as it bares hardly any resemblance to their later albums. Up the Downstair remains the most underrated and overlooked album in their discography and is their first truly great album and is ultimately among their very best.