Prog's Only Stupid Dream: Porcupine Tree - "This Is No Rehearsal"

"This Is No Rehearsal", one of Stupid Dream's most radio-friendly moments, is a concise demonstration of the heavy/soft balance Porcupine Tree has come to master, as well as a retelling of a horrific tale.

Porcupine Tree

Stupid Dream

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

In the first entry of this Between the Grooves series, I pointed out a certain Darwinian aspect to the lyrics of Stupid Dream. In the context of that first piece, I was referring to the lyric in "Even Less" where Steven Wilson sings, "Some kids are best left to fend for themselves / And others were born to stack shelves". This harkening to youth is something done frequently on Stupid Dream; recall how "Piano Lessons" reminisced about the destruction of childhood dreams, pointing out the biopower-like mechanisms by which children are stripped of musical creativity. If they grow up to be musicians, they're likely to just end up as carbon copies of all the other generic music that plagues the airwaves. Anything else, as the album's title suggests, is a stupid dream.

With "This Is No Rehearsal", one of Stupid Dream's most radio-friendly moments, Porcupine Tree again explore the dark side of youth in the contemporary age (or, at least how it was understood in 1999). Despite sounding almost cheery in relation to the tracks that come before it (especially the gloom of "Don't Hate Me"), "This Is No Rehearsal" is the most lyrically dark of the material on Stupid Dream. Though the song's three stanzas aren't too specific, Wilson has stated that this song is about the tragic murder of James Bulger, a two-year-old boy, by two ten-year-olds. Putting the fairly upbeat music against the extreme darkness of the subject matter may seem like a depraved bit of black humor, but in reality the song isn't meant to comment specifically on the Bulger case, nor is it a specific indictment of Bulger's mother. (Bulger was taken while at a shopping center with his mother). Instead, it can be seen as a criticism of the cruel nature of the modern world, wherein small trips to the shopping mall can end in a tragic and brutal murder.

This criticism is one that would fully blossom in Porcupine Tree's 2007 masterpiece Fear of a Blank Planet. In an unfortunate (and unanticipated) moment of dark irony, the music video to the title track, depicting groups of blank-faced teenagers wielding guns, was released the same day as the Virginia Tech shootings. (The video was later removed temporarily.) Like "Fear of a Blank Planet", "This Is No Rehearsal" chronicles how even the most mundane parts of everyday life are now vulnerable to human nature's darkest impulses. But while the former depicts this through the eyes of a catatonic teenager, the latter does it through the voice of a helpless mother. "Still I remember how I dressed him this morning / And then he was gone", she sings, "Stolen / My only one".

But while the song's infectious groove isn't quite level with the dark lyrical material, it does mirror the ways in which tragic events are often handled. Here we have a snippet of a mother losing her son in a graphic murder by two young boys; yet, knowing the contemporary news media cycle, her story would be overshadowed the next day by some manufactured controversy. We're just supposed to move on and keep a sunny disposition, lest we get caught up in the horrific events that ruin lives. This further explains why the lyrics here are so sparse; all we often hear from victims in cases like these are sound bites, fragments of much larger woes. Any of these lyrics could have easily been taken directly from a newspaper article about the Bulger case at the time.

Though a perfunctory listen to "This Is No Rehearsal" might suggest a straightforward rock song, in its three-minute and twenty-seven-second length it says quite a lot. Come for the hummable chorus and the thrashy post-chorus riff, stay for the larger criticism about the humanity-corroding nature of the modern world. Moreover, it demands your input: as the chorus asks, "Somebody interpret this for me."

Previous Entries

*"Even Less"

*"Piano Lessons"

*"Stupid Dream/Pure Narcotic"

*"Slave Called Shiver"

*"Don't Hate Me"

In the wake of Malcolm Young's passing, Jesse Fink, author of The Youngs: The Brothers Who Built AC/DC, offers up his top 10 AC/DC songs, each seasoned with a dash of backstory.

In the wake of Malcolm Young's passing, Jesse Fink, author of The Youngs: The Brothers Who Built AC/DC, offers up his top 10 AC/DC songs, each seasoned with a dash of backstory.

Keep reading... Show less

Pauline Black may be called the Queen of Ska by some, but she insists she's not the only one, as Two-Tone legends the Selecter celebrate another stellar album in a career full of them.

Being commonly hailed as the "Queen" of a genre of music is no mean feat, but for Pauline Black, singer/songwriter of Two-Tone legends the Selecter and universally recognised "Queen of Ska", it is something she seems to take in her stride. "People can call you whatever they like," she tells PopMatters, "so I suppose it's better that they call you something really good!"

Keep reading... Show less

Morrison's prose is so engaging and welcoming that it's easy to miss the irreconcilable ambiguities that are set forth in her prose as ineluctable convictions.

It's a common enough gambit in science fiction. Humans come across a race of aliens that appear to be entirely alike and yet one group of said aliens subordinates the other, visiting violence upon their persons, denigrating them openly and without social or legal consequence, humiliating them at every turn. The humans inquire why certain of the aliens are subjected to such degradation when there are no discernible differences among the entire race of aliens, at least from the human point of view. The aliens then explain that the subordinated group all share some minor trait (say the left nostril is oh-so-slightly larger than the right while the "superior" group all have slightly enlarged right nostrils)—something thatm from the human vantage pointm is utterly ridiculous. This minor difference not only explains but, for the alien understanding, justifies the inequitable treatment, even the enslavement of the subordinate group. And there you have the quandary of Otherness in a nutshell.

Keep reading... Show less

A 1996 classic, Shawn Colvin's album of mature pop is also one of best break-up albums, comparable lyrically and musically to Joni Mitchell's Hejira and Bob Dylan's Blood on the Tracks.

When pop-folksinger Shawn Colvin released A Few Small Repairs in 1996, the music world was ripe for an album of sharp, catchy songs by a female singer-songwriter. Lilith Fair, the tour for women in the music, would gross $16 million in 1997. Colvin would be a main stage artist in all three years of the tour, playing alongside Liz Phair, Suzanne Vega, Sheryl Crow, Sarah McLachlan, Meshell Ndegeocello, Joan Osborne, Lisa Loeb, Erykah Badu, and many others. Strong female artists were not only making great music (when were they not?) but also having bold success. Alanis Morissette's Jagged Little Pill preceded Colvin's fourth recording by just 16 months.

Keep reading... Show less

Frank Miller locates our tragedy and warps it into his own brutal beauty.

In terms of continuity, the so-called promotion of this entry as Miller's “third" in the series is deceptively cryptic. Miller's mid-'80s limited series The Dark Knight Returns (or DKR) is a “Top 5 All-Time" graphic novel, if not easily “Top 3". His intertextual and metatextual themes resonated then as they do now, a reason this source material was “go to" for Christopher Nolan when he resurrected the franchise for Warner Bros. in the mid-00s. The sheer iconicity of DKR posits a seminal work in the artist's canon, which shares company with the likes of Sin City, 300, and an influential run on Daredevil, to name a few.

Keep reading... Show less
Pop Ten
Mixed Media
PM Picks

© 1999-2017 All rights reserved.
Popmatters is wholly independently owned and operated.