Porcupine Tree's first album for K-Scope/Snapper starts out with a definite bang -- "Even Less," with some of the quartet's biggest, blasting rock epic music yet, yet also shot through with the gentler, acoustic side that makes Porcupine Tree so intimate and lovely. The net result easily calls Yes to mind, but Steven Wilson's not so high-pitched as Jon Anderson and Richard Barbieri completely avoids Rick Wakeman's extreme idiocies -- prog that knows when less is more. With that as a fine signal for the album as a whole, Stupid Dream takes it from there -- Wilson as a songwriter and singer both sounds recharged and more ambitious, while the group collectively pours it on. The loud passages feel truly sky-smashing, the calmer ones perfectly close, and the overall sense of build and drama -- "A Smart Kid" is a fine example -- spot-on. Strings from the East of England Orchestra and guest work on Wilson's sometime Bass Communion partner Theo Travis add even lusher atmospheres without swamping the tunes. As always, the group isn't afraid to experiment where others merely re-create -- check out the funky breaks Colin Edwin and Chris Maitland lay down on "Slave Called Shiver," not to mention Wilson's catchy piano figure and Barbieri's Hammond organ fills. Lyrically, Wilson comes up with some of his best work yet. "Piano Lessons" looks back on past musical learning and a doubtful teacher as a spur to trying harder, while "Pure Narcotic" offers up a romantic scenario and tip of the hat to Radiohead all at once: "You keep me hating/You keep me listening to The Bends." There's actually a musical hint or two of the Oxford quintet as well -- the acoustic guitar/drum intro to "This Is No Rehearsal" is a good example -- but leave it to Porcupine Tree to drop in some fully plugged in thrash metal, as well.
AllMusic Review by Ned Raggett