Porcupine Tree - Stupid Dream

Year of Release: 1999
Label: KScope/Snapper
Catalog Number: 128132/SMACD813
Format: CD
Total Time: 59:58:00

Though I had heard of Porcupine Tree before vocalist/guitarist Steve Wilson worked with Fish on Sunsets On Empire, I had never heard the band. Thus, whether their sound here differs from their previous disks, I can't tell you.

Here, on Stupid Dream, I hear echoes not only of Marillion and other neo-progressives, but, especially on "Pure Narcotic," I hear REM in their more understated moments. Of course, saying "so and so sounds like" is an easy way out. Nevertheless, I'm telling you that on "Stranger By The Minute" I kept thinking they were going to break into the closing section of The Who's "We're Not Gonna Take It" (Tommy). The rest of the track has a very 60's feel to it, I can't quite place it, other than The Who. Plus there's a Pink Floyd by way of Queensryche kind of groove here, too, on occassions. But I don't really wanna play spot the influence, because this music is made up of more than sound bites.

Porcupine Tree play around with sonic textures quite a bit, making them not your standard four piece. Of course, a look at the who played what tells you quite a bit about the sound here - Hammond, mellotron, and samples. There's a somewhat dreamy aspect to their sound here, more surrealistic than fluffy white clouds, mind you.

To say "Piano Lessons" is the quirkiest track would be wrong, but it certainly is quirky. With a chorus of "credit me with some intelligence (if not just credit me)/ I come in value packs of ten, in five varieties" this becomes quite catchy, all sung in a floating harmony.

Whether this is the best Tree album made, I can't tell you. Give me a few weeks to catch up on their output, then I can tell you (precluding, of course, what they come up with next). What I can tell you is that this album fits in a niche between pop and progressive - meaning that fans of alternative will dig this, and yet so will neo-progressive fans.

Playing devil's advocate, though, there are many neo-progressive fans who will think of Marillion's This Strange Engine during "Slave Called Shiver" and that's down to the hollow, quirky sounding percussion (though, it may be synthized) during the chorus that was reminicent of that used on "An Accidental Man" - maybe used to better effect here. I picture large, aluminium kettle drums making this loping sound, but even if it isn't, that's what it sounds like.

I was attracted to this album from the moment I first heard it, and wondered what I had been missing the past few years. Despite the comparisons, there is something fresh about the music here, that same new/old feeling I get from Spock's Beard, for example.

Theo Travis plays sax on "Don't Hate Me" and it took me back to the 70s - sort of jazz pop, I guess. His tone is warm ... I can't really describe it as the feeling is fleeting, just out of reach. But of course, then we meld into some very atmospheric synth washes, with Travis again on flute, gently flowing over the waves. This is when you realize that this is a prog band.

Wilson's voice is delicate, lilting, I want to say higher pitched, but certainly not ... well, this ain't the Bee Gees. Aside from the effects and phrasing he uses, it is in the same range as most neo-progressive vocalists - um, closer to Steve Hogarth say, than ... Barry White.

Okay, one more little "sounds like" here, because this will tell you how diverse their sound is - listening to the quirky [THAT word again? -ed.] "A Smart Kid," I'm brought to mind of two things: Steve Miller Band's "Wild Mountain Honey" and Genesis' recent "Uncertain Weather."

This may not be for Yes fans, or fans of classically inspired prog, but for those who like moody, atmospheric progressive, this may be to your liking. The second to last track, "Tinto Brass" is an all instrumental prog-rock-jazz workout that I really like - flute, funky bass ... almost a dance groove to it, actually. Soaring, yet subtle, guitar lines weave in and out, the flute trills away on an erratic path, like a feather caught in an eddy. Which all collides in a storm of crashing drums and guitars. This is bad weather seen in speeded up timelapse photography.

Frankly, I like this whole album, similarities or no. I tell you, it's at the top of my list for 1999, and ... oh, just go out and get it.

Even Less (7:11) / Piano Lessions (4:21) / Stupid Dream (0:28) / Pure Narcotic (5:02) / Slave Called Shiver (4:41) / Don't Hate Me (8:30) / This Is No Rehearsal (3:27) / Baby Dream in Cellophane (3:15) / Stranger By The Minute (4:31) / A Smart Kid (5:22) / Tinto Brass (6:17) / Stop Swimming (6:53)

Richard Barbieri - synthesizers, Hammond organ, and mellotron
Colin Edwin - bass
Chris Maitland - drums and percussion
Steven Wilson - vocals, guitars, piano, and samples

On The Sunday Of Life... (1991)
Voyage 34 (1992)
Up The Downstair (1993)
Voyage 34: Remixes (1993)
Staircase Infinities (1994)
Moonloop E.P. (1994)
The Sky Moves Sideways (1995)
Signify (1996)
Coma Divine - Recorded Live In Rome (1997)
Stupid Dream (1999)
Voyage 34 - The Complete Trip (2000/2004/2005
'4 Chords That Made A Million' (2000)
Lightbulb Sun (2000/2008)
'Shesmovedon' (2000)
Lightbulb Sun - Special Edition (2001)
Recordings (2001)
Stars Die: The Delerium Years 1991 - 1997(2002/2005)
Metanoia (2002)
In Absentia (2002)
In Absentia (European version) (2003)
Warszawa (2005)
Deadwing (2005)
Porcupine Tree (2006)
Fear Of A Blank Planet (2007)
Nil Recurring (2008)
The Incident (2009)

Arriving Somewhere... (DVD) (2006)

Genre: Progressive Rock

Origin UK

Added: July 25th 1999
Reviewer: Stephanie Sollow
Artist website: www.porcupinetree.com
Hits: 1448
Language: english


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