Steven Wilson: "Stupid Dream was definitely a pivotal album for me"
Just a few years earlier, Porcupine Tree’s Steven Wilson was buried deep in the prog ghetto. But with the band’s fifth album his inner pop star broke out
It’s quite interesting to cast one’s mind back to 1999 when Porcupine Tree released Stupid Dream and to draw comparisons to the furore that surrounded the release of Steven Wilson’s most recent album, To The Bone, last year. When early reports filtered out onto the web that with To The Bone Wilson was making a sonic shift, all manner of toys were hurled out of the prams of the prog diehards and Wilson devotees, and the tumult hasn’t stopped since. “It’s a pop record” was the oft-heard cry from detractors as Wilson pointed his compass in the direction of the 80s. Not the brash, garish, shoulder-padded 80s pop of Duran Duran or Frankie Goes To Hollywood, but the more progressively minded intelligent rock and pop that had emanated from artists such as Peter Gabriel, Kate Bush, Talk Talk and Tears For Fears. These are all artists who currently find much favour with the progressive community, but that didn’t stop barbs being sent in Wilson’s direction. And it continues to this day.
For all the assumed musical superiority over other genres, prog fans, like most rock fans, are afraid of change. It’s strange for a genre called ‘progressive’, that supposedly prides itself on pushing boundaries as it constantly evolves, that the default setting for anything new or slightly different is ‘panic’. Equally, Wilson’s ubiquity is often cited by those who wish to diminish his achievements, yet this is another very common trait for a musician in the progressive world. The very fact that To The Bone reached No.3 in the UK album chart on the week of its release (it had even duelled briefly with Ed Sheeran and Elvis Presley for the coveted top spot) was looked upon sniffily by some of the prognoscenti. Almost “How dare this new prog man-child be so successful when my beloved Fruupp battled so gamely in the early 70s for nothing?” One imagines Wilson feeling he’s damned if he does, damned if he doesn’t. Although the huge success he’s attained since he dreamed up the idea of Porcupine Tree in 1987 probably makes things bearable for him.
“I don’t think I ever said I didn’t want to be popular or successful,” Wilson muses. “Obviously I’m best known for making music in an area where there hasn’t been a huge amount of commercial success in recent years. But I’m just like every other musician you’d meet: I have an ego, I want to be accepted and liked, and I want my music to be as popular and successful as can be. Who wouldn’t want that?”