Review Summary: Outstanding variety and a very accessible sound makes for a fantastic entry into the Porcupine Tree discography.
For all of you modern Porcupine Tree lovers out there, do not come into this record for the first time expecting it to be like In Absentia or Fear of a Blank Planet. Stupid Dream features a totally different raw sound that sounds nothing like the latest Porcupine Tree records. Not only does it sound a bit rawer, it also has a very simple sound that is extremely accessible. It’s bursting at the seams with great musicianship and some of Steve Wilson’s best song lyrics to date. Most of the songs on Stupid Dream are so infectiously catchy and memorable that you won’t want to stop listening.
The album’s title came from Wilson’s idea that most artists strive to become music artists because they want the lifestyle of fame when in actuality it is extremely hard work. When listening to this it’s clear that Wilson and co. are making music not to please anyone but because they love it. Each song is refreshingly diverse in its music and lyrics. From the incredibly trippy Baby Dream in Cellophane to the staggeringly radio friendly appeal of Piano Lessons, this record has something that everyone will enjoy. Piano Lessons is for anyone who loves those simple and catchy yet complex guitar riffs and choruses. However, make no mistake that Stupid Dream is not without incredibly progressive songs like Don’t Hate Me and the King Crimson like Tinto Brass. Tinto Brass is an entirely instrumental song that is driven by Colin’s ever so present bass, woodwind instruments and a heavy guitar riff towards the middle and end. The song is a bit out of place considering how light and radio friendly most of the album is, but it’s a masterful song on its own. Don’t Hate Me brilliant in its vocal delivery as Wilson sarcastically delivers “Don’t hate me/I’m not special like you/I’m tired/and I’m so alone” beautifully over his simple yet effective guitar riff. The jazzy saxophone solo in the middle also doesn’t disappoint.
When it comes to the lyrical department on this record, he without a doubt shines brightly. One of the best songs lyrically on Stupid Dream is Baby Dream in Cellophane. The beginning line states “I am in my pram.” This line gives away that Wilson is creating a mental picture in your head of what goes on in a baby’s mind. The song is extremely trippy and paints a picture that the baby can not talk but all of its thoughts are innocent and simple. The song is followed by the equally brilliant Stranger by the Minute which is another lyrical highlight. Underneath its overwhelmingly catchy psychedelic chorus are lyrics about a boy with mental problems being saved from drowning by a person completely fictional. The lyrics are quite bleak, but they are covered up by the songs pop like nature and memorable guitar. In fact almost every song on the album showcases memorable riffs and the guitar solos are not in short supply. A Smart Kid features a beautifully inspiring guitar solo towards the end.
Unfortunately, the album features a couple duds and those two songs are Slave Called Shiver and the title track. The title track is a perplexingly short interlude that literally adds nothing to the overall experience of the album and therefore it is completely useless. It’s only 28 seconds of static and one note from a violin that drones on until the end of the interlude. In addition to that, Slave Called Shiver is one of the only songs on the record that one could call boring because it never really climaxes and it just doesn't contain anything memorable about it like the other songs on Stupid Dream.
The album has so much variety on it that anyone could pick a song off this that they would like. It’s psychedelic, progressive and accessible. It places less emphasis on experimenting like their earlier works and heaviness like their newer works to create a simpler sound that really works. Wilson named his album Stupid Dream for a reason and lucky the band hasn't fallen under the spell of hypocrisy and actually follow the “stupid dream” Wilson speaks of. They are clearly in the business because they simply want to make beautiful music so that is admirable.