Gordonton journalist Iris Riddell begins a regular column for Number 8 Network wherein she ponders the nature of the musical universe.
What’s your favourite song? A tricky answer to peg down, for sure. Personally, I think my favourite song changes from week to week, day to day, even hour to hour. So let’s start with an easier question: favourite album?
For me, that dubious honour goes to Stupid Dream, by UK progressive rock group Porcupine Tree. Describing them as merely ‘progressive’ is grossly over-simplistic – since forming in 1987, their style has morphed through wildly different styles, from psychadelic to prog metal, with heavy trance and experimental influences. If I seem to be floundering for a description of their style, I’m not the only one. On their own website, they admit “Porcupine Tree is unquestionably one of the most difficult-to-categorize and innovative bands
In their 25-year career, Porcupine Tree have produced nine studio albums, plus EPs, compilations and live recordings. Stupid Dream was released in 1999, sitting right on the cusp of a dramatic change in their musical style. Porcupine Tree went through a patch known as ‘The Delirium Years” in the early nineties before metamorphosing more in to metal from 2000 on. Stupid Dream feels like the point where those two styles meet and merge. To me, this album is Porcupine Tree in their prime.
The main thing I love about Porcupine Tree is they are an intelligent band – they write music you can dive in to and wrap yourself up in, like a big aqueous snuggle rug. They have a wonderful penchant for concept albums, and Stupid Dream is largely about frontman Steven Wilson’s relationship with the music industry. The very name of the album is a reference to the ‘stupid dream’ of young musicians, that being in the music industry will be glamorous and easy-breezy, then coming to terms with reality.
This comes through clearest in Piano Lessons (incidentally, the prize for ‘Favourite First 20 Seconds’ would go to this song. I love the opening and can’t say why): “She said there’s too much out there, too much already said; you’d better give up hoping, you’re better off in bed” and “You don’t need much to speak of, no class, no wit no soul; forget your own agenda, get ready to be sold” both speak cynically about the realities of working in the music industry.
It’s not all about Wilson’s gripes about the industry though – This Is No Rehearsal is about the tragic case of three-year-old James Bulger, who was kidnapped and killed by two young boys in England in 1993. “And still I remember how I dressed him this morning; and then he was gone, stolen – my only one”.
Slave Called Shiver and Don’t Hate Me are songs on unreturned love that turn to obsession, and both a manic sting in their tails. Even Less is my favourite song on the album. It’s a powerful, soaring piece of songwriting and typifies Porcupine Tree for me. Whenever anyone asks me for suggestions on songs to get them hooked on the band, it’s always at the top of my list.
Music is such a strange thing. It appeals to us on such a primal level and there’s no saying why a particular song does or does not push our buttons the right way – or a particular album. It’s fair to say Stupid Dream does that for me. Your own take on it is going to be wildly different but hey, it’s worth a listen. You may be surprised.