Music

Prog's Only Stupid Dream: Porcupine Tree - "Slave Called Shiver"

With this second song in the Unrequited Love Trilogy, the realization of rejection has now fully hit our narrator. Listen as what hints of optimism were present in the track before this one bleed away into a dark, obsessive determination.


Porcupine Tree

Stupid Dream

Label: K-Scope/Snapper
US Release Date: 1999-04-06
UK Release Date: 1999-03-08
Artist Website
Amazon
iTunes

There comes a time after being rejected by a love interest when, all of a sudden, the most melancholy, bitter, and angry music begins to fill up the spurned individual's mixtapes. Adele's 21 will likely play a prominent role. If you're into hip-hop you might go with Kanye West's 808s and Heartbreak. For those like myself who prefer their sadness communicated as heavily as possible, the doom and gloom of Katatonia will no doubt hit the spot. And, if you're not into subtlety, you can just throw J. Geils Band's "Love Stinks" into the CD player. Over the course of popular music's history, there's been no shortage of music to fill the hours we find ourselves wondering why the hell it is we even love in the first place.

With "Slave Called Shiver", Stupid Dream's fifth track and the second in the Unrequited Love Trilogy, our narrator finds himself in this exact spot, although his mood may be a little bit more obsessive than most people's.

We left off last week with the opener of the Unrequited Love Trilogy, the sunny-sounding "Pure Narcotic". At that point, the narrator knew that his crush didn't feel the same way, but the realization hadn't quite kicked in yet, made by the cheery glockenspiels garnishing the pleasant chord progression. But when the funky, brooding bassline of "Slave Called Shiver" enters, it's clear the mood has changed, and not for the better.

"Slave Called Shiver", like "Don't Hate Me" right after it, is a showcase for the rhythmic interplay of bassist Colin Edwin and then-drummer Chris Maitland. (Maitland has since been replaced by Gavin Harrison, who picked up the sticks for the band with 2002's In Absentia.) An unfortunate consequence of Steven Wilson's immense popularity is that Porcupine Tree is often seen by many as "Steven Wilson and a bunch of other really good musicians"; while this was true for the band's first few albums (1991's On the Sunday of Life . . . was exclusively Wilson), with records like Signify and this one there's little substance to that view. Porcupine Tree would be nothing without the sum of its parts, despite Wilson's prominence in the songwriting role. There are a few tracks in the band's discography that stand as a true testament to its genius, progressive interplay, and this is one of them for sure. The fact that this is both one of Stupid Dream's strongest pieces and a composition written by all members of the group proves more than aptly that Porcupine Tree aren't a one-man show.

Edwin's bassline is the forefront of the song musically. Maitland's incredible drum work and keyboardist Richard Barbieri's six-note keyboard riff weave in and out of it, creating a mood that mixes a near danceable funkiness and a sinister desperation, highlighting the narrator's beginning descent into madness. Wilson's guitar is less present, though he does contribute an absolutely monster riff after the second chorus. The song becomes something of a precursor to the music we would hear on David Holmes' soundtracks to Steven Soderbergh's Ocean's trilogy, although with an added menace.

In this funky, menacing state, our narrator has pushed past any of the hints of optimism heard on "Pure Narcotic", and has decided to pursue his love with a relentless, unstoppable power. The song begins with the terror-inducing line, "I need you more / Than you can know / And if I hurt myself / It's just for show". Attention-grabbing is the name of the game now; the narrator feels that he must turn to extreme displays of self-mutilation in order to gain his love's notice. "I found a better way to cut the pain", he assures her, "You put a trigger here inside my brain." By making her a cerebral opiate of sorts, he tries to pressure her into being his only mechanism for staying sane. Whereas in the last song he lamented, "No narcotics in my brain / Will make this go away", he now has found a narcotic to cure his loneliness: the object of his affection herself. Here his desperation begins to bloom into the full-blown insanity that will take place before the song's conclusion.

Meanwhile, it's not long before his obsession gives way to delusion. In a dark echo of John Lennon's famous quip about the Beatles' popularity, the narrator sneers, "I may be nothing now / But I will rise / I'll have more followers than Jesus Christ". Despite the force of the claim, it only reinforces how alone he is in his determination.

The song's final lyric depicts the chaotic state the narrator has made for himself: "Through all the smashing things and crashing cars / I love the ground you walk with all my heart". There's a hint of the doe-eyed love that was present on "Pure Narcotic", but now it's so imbedded in the narrator's obstinate, paranoid resolve that he has reached the point of no return. He will either win her over and finally reach the thing he so desires, or he will crash and burn, destroying any hope he ever had for love. When we look at "Don't Hate Me" next week, we will see the result of the narrator's scheme.

As the adage goes, "The things we do for love . . ."


Previous Entries

*"Even Less"

*"Piano Lessons"

*"Stupid Dream/Pure Narcotic"

Music


Books


Film


Recent
Books

Ivy Mix's 'Spirits of Latin America' Evokes the Ancestors

A common thread unites Ivy Mix's engaging Spirits of Latin America; "the chaotic intermixture between indigenous and European traditions" is still an inextricable facet of life for everyone who inhabits the "New World".

Film

Contemporary Urbanity and Blackness in 'New Jack City'

Hood films are a jarring eviction notice for traditional Civil Rights rhetoric and, possibly, leadership -- in other words, "What has the Civil Rights movement done for me lately?"

Books

'How to Handle a Crowd' Goes to the Moderators

Anika Gupta's How to Handle a Crowd casts a long-overdue spotlight on the work that goes into making online communities enjoyable and rewarding.

Music

Regis' New LP Reaffirms His Gift for Grinding Industrial Terror

Regis' music often feels so distorted, so twisted out of shape, even the most human moments feel modular. Voices become indistinguishable from machines on Hidden in This Is the Light That You Miss.

Reviews

DMA's Go for BritElectroPop on 'The Glow'

Aussie Britpoppers the DMA's enlist Stuart Price to try their hand at electropop on The Glow. It's not their best look.

Film

On Infinity in Miranda July's 'Me and You and Everyone We Know'

In a strange kind of way, Miranda July's Me and You and Everyone We Know is about two competing notions of "forever" in relation to love.

Music

Considering the Legacy of Deerhoof with Greg Saunier

Working in different cities, recording parts as MP3s, and stitching them together, Deerhoof once again show total disregard for the very concept of genre with their latest, Future Teenage Cave Artists.

Music

Joshua Ray Walker Is 'Glad You Made It'

Texas' Joshua Ray Walker creates songs on Glad You Made It that could have been on a rural roadhouse jukebox back in the 1950s. Their quotidian concerns sound as true now as they would have back then.

Music

100 gecs Remix Debut with Help From Fall Out Boy, Charli XCX and More

100 gecs' follow up their debut with a "remix album" stuffed with features, remixes, covers, and a couple of new recordings. But don't worry, it's just as blissfully difficult as their debut.

Television

What 'Avatar: The Last Airbender' Taught Me About Unlearning Toxic Masculinity

When I first came out as trans, I desperately wanted acceptance and validation into the "male gender", and espoused negative beliefs toward my femininity. Avatar: The Last Airbender helped me transcend that.

Interviews

Nu Deco Ensemble and Kishi Bashi Remake "I Am the Antichrist to You" (premiere + interview)

Nu Deco Ensemble and Kishi Bashi team up for a gorgeous live performance of "I Am the Antichrist to You", which has been given an orchestral renovation.

Playlists

Rock 'n' Roll with Chinese Characteristics: Nirvana Behind the Great Wall

Like pretty much everywhere else in the pop music universe, China's developing rock scene changed after Nirvana. It's just that China's rockers didn't get the memo in 1991, nor would've known what to do with it, then.

Reviews
Collapse Expand Reviews

Features
Collapse Expand Features
PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 PopMatters.com. All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.