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20 May, 2006

Review: Stupid Dream reissue (Porcupine Tree, 2006)

It's here.  After having been out-of-print for about four years (blame Atlantic/Warner/Lava), Porcupine Tree's most highly-sought album, 'Stupid Dream' is back on sale, as a shiny new remix/remaster.

I'm not going to review the album itself in detail, instead concentrating on the new aspects of the package.
'Stupid Dream' is by far my favourite Porcupine Tree album and the opening track, 'Even Less', is my favourite Porcupine Tree song. Both would easily be amongst my all-time favourites by any artist if I was so anal as to rank albums and songs.
'Piano Lessons' and 'A Smart Kid' are also especially high highlights, but there are very few weak points in the entire composition. Forget 'In Absentia' and 'Deadwing', this is the Porcupine Tree I love.

Maybe it's because of my particular familiarity with the original album, but this is the first Porcupine Tree remix that's been immediately apparent as different to the original. Even in stereo (I haven't heard the 5.1 mix) there's greater depth, with previously unregarded background elements catching my attention for the first time. 'Pure Narcotic' is particularly enhanced, but I'd better stress that these are enhancements, not more substantial revisions. The original material is suddenly in greater focus, but it's still the same material.

The second disc, a DVD-A (playable in any DVD player, but not a CD player, to state the obvious), contains bonus material: two extra tracks, a video, a photo gallery and the album lyrics.
I already had the 'Piano Lessons' video on the 'Stranger By The Minute' CD single, but a number of people have reported that subsequent updates to Quicktime have rendered that unplayable, so it's good to have it back.
The concert photos of the band don't interest me (no criticism, they're just not my thing), and the lyrics are in the booklet, so I don't anticipate visiting those sections of the DVD-A again.

Alongside bonus material, the DVD-A contains the entire album in 5.1 surround sound. There's also a PCM (24-bit high-res stereo) mix for those without a 5.1 player, but rather surprisingly, the two bonus audio tracks are only offered in 5.1, not stereo. My first impression was that this rendered them inaccessible to anone without a surround sound DVD player (my PC's DVD-ROM drive won't even show them). That wouldn't be disastrous, as they were previously released in stereo on 'Recordings', but it's a strange omission and besides, 'Recordings' is out-of-print. Anyone who didn't buy the original edition of 'Stupid Dream', i.e. the target market of this new edition, is also unlikely to have bought 'Recordings'.
However, that's a false alarm: I subsequently discovered that my very basic standalone DVD (standard DVD-V) player does play the bonus tracks through the two speakers of my TV. If that can handle them, I doubt anyone else will have a problem.

[Update 19:00: Those who have equipment capable of playing the 5.1 mix are reporting a technical fault. The DVD-A actually contains two 5.1 formats: DTS, for standard DVD players, and a higher-resolution DVD-A format only readable by dedicated DVD-A players. Apparently, the DTS version of the first bonus track, the full-length version of 'Even Less', cuts out at 11 mins, three minutes before the end. The DVD-A version seems okay, but far fewer people have DVD-A players than DVD players.]

Incidentally, the title menu animation of the DVD-A features a circle of video material gradually eclipsed by a black CD. Steven Wilson (SW) has always resisted comparisons between Porcupine Tree and Pink Floyd, so it's surprising that the eclipse, a motif so closely associated with 'Dark Side Of The Moon' and Pink Floyd's signature visual style, wasn't deliberately avoided.

I've always considered Carl Glover's graphic design style to have been heavily influenced by Storm Thorgerson's work for Pink Floyd, and the new 'Stupid Dream' booklet is no exception. I'm not saying there was the remotest intention to copy it, but I see a similarity to the 'Dark Side Of The Moon' booklet's layout and photography.

When it was first announced that the reissue of 'Stupid Dream' would have redesigned artwork, I was unconvinced that that was necessary, and frankly still am. The only weak point of the original version was the band photo, and that's the only aspect carried across to the new version. However, I suppose the new booklet has greater visual cohesion, the lyrics are readable, and after all, it's SW's album: if he didn't like the old artwork, he's entitled to replace it.

To restate earlier entries: the 2-disc edition of 'Stupid Dream' is exclusively available by mail-order from the band's own web store, Burning Shed. It will not be sold via high street stores or other web retailers, so don't bother to shop around. There is to be a retail edition, containing only the remixed/remastered album on CD without bonus material, but no release date has even been implied. Do not wait – it could be several months away; if past events are any indication, it could even be years. For the foreseeable future, it's Burning Shed or nothing.
[Update 11/7/06: Contrary to the original plan, the two-disc edition will be available via normal retail outlets for a limited period.]


My copy hasn't arrived yet :(

Posted by danbee at May 21, 2006 08:24 PM
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