Review Summary: Porcupine Tree become their own band and confirm themselves as the saviours of British prog rock
By 1999 Porcupine Tree had already carved out something of a reputation for themselves as the "new Pink Floyd" and it was easy to see why. 1995's 'The Sky Moves Sideways' followed a near identical structure to Floyd's classic 'Wish You Were Here'. The band's sound combined the classic sounds of British progressive rock with a modern edge. However the band did not have a unique sound all of it's own. 'Signify' may have dispelled some of the Pink Floyd comparisons with it's occasional trip-hop echoes but it was slightly messy, as the first of the band's albums as a full band not just a lone effort by mastermind Steven Wilson. Therefore it was not until 'Stupid Dream' arrived in April 1999 that the Porcupine Tree sound was defined.
This may be somewhat hard to believe on first listening to the album as opener Even Less
harkens back to the days of Pink Floyd comparisons with it's slide guitar intro and atmospheric keyboard sounds and textures. It's a fantastic song but was easily comparable to the band's earlier work whereas the majority of 'Stupid Dream' is not. This is still progressive rock but with the aforementioned modern edge. The influence of Radiohead, for example, is apparent throughout and is even referenced in the lyrics to Pure Narcotic
; "You keep me hating / you keep me listenting to 'The Bends'
Furthermore it is clear that the band has tightened up to become a proper unit, albeit still with Wilson's direction. The material present on 'Stupid Dream' is more ambitious and yet more accessible than ever before. The band really rock
for the first time with some great riffs present on both Piano Lessons
and instrumental jam Tinto Brass
. The bass driven Slave Called Shiver
meanwhile is more similar to the material on 'Signify', except it is executed slightly better, and gives bassist Colin Edwin a chance to shine. There are poppy moments too, Piano Lessons
is an instantly memorable single and Stranger by the Minute
features excellent harmonisation between Wilson and drummer Chris Maitland in it's chorus. For those who prefer their music to be brooding however there is the superb Don't Hate Me
, featuring excellent flute and saxophone solos by Theo Travis. There is also Mikael Akerfeldt's Porcupine Tree song of choice, A Smart Kid
being a dark and subdued acoustic / piano ballad greatly enhanced by Richard Barbieri's keyboard and synth textures. Closer Stop Swimming
treads the minimalist line, inspired by Wilson favourites Talk Talk. It's wonderfully depressing, if that is possible, and one of the highlights of the record.
Overall 'Stupid Dream' is an excellent album with no weak tracks and an excellent level of variety. It's accessibility compared to previous Porcupine Tree albums allowed it to become the band's biggest selling record to date and it is still the best album with which to start journeying into the band's catalogue. One of the great albums of the nineties without a shadow of a doubt.
: Even Less, Piano Lessons, Don't Hate Me.