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Dream Theater - Images And Words CD (album) cover

IMAGES AND WORDS

Dream Theater

 

Progressive Metal

4.29 | 2067 ratings

From Progarchives.com, the ultimate progressive rock music website

TGM: Orb
Prog Reviewer
3 stars Images And Words, Dream Theater

Images and Words is, on the whole, a fairly good album. It's not, in my view, a masterpiece, and I share Certif1ed's doubts on how 'progressive' most of it is. The instrumental side is generally excellent, even if occasionally perfectly good songs are dragged down by the band deciding to throw in a basically unrelated bit of noodling, the lyrical side is a bit shabby, ubiquitously positive in feel, and completely lacking any subtlety, but not often emphasised enough to be a huge problem (exception: Another Day...). All in all, however, a number of excellently-played good tunes, of which my favourite is maybe Metropolis. No bad effort.

The band can clearly play, and particularly enjoyable are Myung and Petrucci's excellent performances, Moore's understated keys act as a sort of emotional anchor for the whole thing, and generally acquit themselves very well. Labrie is clearly a technically capable singer, and maybe the paragon of the generic singer-with-a-big-range, however, he really doesn't, most of the time, convey a lot of emotion or innovation and his voice becomes really rather unbearable when he's reaching after the high notes. A good singer, but not a great artist, in my opinion. Now, onto Portnoy... he admittedly has a lot of energy, but the drum performances here end up as an annoyance rather than an attraction, with one homogenous thick drum sound drowning out a lot of the other subtleties of the music just about every time he wants to make an impression. Finally, a note on the mix, I wouldn't mind hearing Myung a bit more audibly, and it sounds much better through headphones than through a decent sound system.

Pull Me Under is a catchy opener, from the first twanging guitar note through to the end. The band manages to build up a bit of communal tension, emphasised by occasional One-Of-These-Days-esque jabs from Moore through the intro and the verses, and then release it in the heady chorus before resuming it again, a burst of lone vocal and disorienting guitar-and-bass runs sort of focussing in a point maintain interest, while the solid riff and wailing guitar act as a constant. Mostly excellent, but it could have done without the rather abrupt ending, I'm afraid.

Another Day is, very much, a rock ballad, complete with tacky drumming and god-awful lyrics (I mean, just look at the chorus... 'you won't find it here, look another way, you won't find it here... so die another day'... it's offensively bad) and a rather irritating James Labrie moment, where he's making overtures to innovation by singing fairly high every now and then and adding an 'a' sound to every bloody vowel. Isolate those gripes, though, and there are a few very redeeming features. The soprano sax, courtesy of Jay Beckenstein, is smooth and moving and Labrie manages a rather impressive, if disconcerting, Eva Cassidy imitation at the start, along with a generally strong vocal when he's not messing around with a sounds, if you can shut out the lyrics. Petrucci pulls off some excellent guitar soloing as well as some vague shimmering sounds which don't really add a lot to the piece, Moore's piano, if a bit patronising, is nice. Comfortably the worst song on the album, and if you somehow like the lyrics to this, you're welcome to them...

Take The Time could well have been the best piece on the album, but it sadly isn't. The opening synthy whispering meets a tense bass part, and develops with rather Jacob's Ladder-esque metal drumming into an aggressive, punchy creature, bleeding cool guitar lines all over the place. A bit of impressively funky Myung playing underpins the first verse, with actually superb vocals from Labrie, complete with insidiously awesome high bits. The little deceleration before the lightning playing of the chorus is entirely merited. Thus far, incredible stuff, complete with catchy harmonies, hilarious dynamics and an ability (largely provided by Moore's tender piano) to slow down whenever needed. Unfortunately, the single most forced, unneccessary and baffling bit of random noodling follows the second verse... it's just so blunt, so utterly uncalled for. Despite a rather neat little bit of stop-start guitar thrown in there at some point and a rather cool bit of synthesque, or maybe even synth, soloing the instrumental break could surely have been introduced much, much better. Still, the only reason that annoys me this much is that the rest of the song is so good. Completed with another Cassidyesque outro, and a not-entirely-necessary bit of feelgood soloing and chorus repeat. Still, a very enjoyable song, and it could well hit my top ten bass performances list.

Surrounded is the seond of the 'soft' pieces, opened by a flood of delicate, almost nervous, Moore keys with an obligatory calm vocal, before a lukewarm Petrucci solo leads onto the whole-band bit. A rather tasteless bit of metalness leads onto increasingly annoying Labrie yowling and a tedious pop beat. The only real redeeming features of the latter part of the song are the occasional excellent Petrucci bits, but really, it's a mediocre pop rock ballad which ends up crippled by its own grandiosity.

The majestic, powerful, sweeping Metropolis is probably the album's highlight, opening with a tense distorted guitar riff, mysterious percussive twinklings, and a thick, murky keyboard background. Even the lyrics have shaped up here, or, more accurately, sound a little better without the constraints of rhyming. Even Portnoy comes across as an interesting player, and the keyboard lines run in perfectly with the shredding guitar. The interplay between the steel (I think) guitar and the the bass is intricate and precise. Labrie contributes a highly emotional performance to the piece, using harmonies rather than simply extended notes, to good effect. After the end of the first sung bit, a very nice bit of keyboard work turns up, and the band even manage a couple of rather neat pause-based transitions as well as a fantastic sort of ultra-complex guitar-bass thing. I've no idea what one particular, rather distinctive synth sound is, but my word is it cool. Anyway, I do like the 'jam' in the middle, even if it maybe relies on messing around with a few motifs a bit. The return of the vocals, subtly underlined by Moore, and assisted by a superb bass part leads to a drum-based outro. Fantastic song. Maybe a tiny weak patch somewhere in the middle, but strong enough to make up for it.

Under A Glass Moon opens with a rather tedious bit of grandiose guitar-led metalness, hamstrung by a wallowing tone, much as Portnoy seems in his element. The piece comes together a bit more when Moore adds some frantic organ jabs, and then weakens again as a dire case of lyrics-music non-relation hits home (cf. Red Barchetta... absolutely not convinced about the nervous flashlights bit). Portnoy is particularly agonising as the piece develops, just adding volume, not effect, from behind the drumkit, and the piece is only really redeemed by the weirder keyboard choices, and the fantastic playing of Myung and Petrucci. Admittedly, those are pretty redeeming when we get to the solo part towards the end, but it's a shame that the first part of the piece has no effect on me. Underwhelming, really, searing though the guitar part is.

The tender Moore piece, Wait For Sleep, is a really quite careful piano-dominated piece, and even if I think it could do with a little more challenge, movement and dynamic to live up to the charming intro and maybe a less blanketing string-synth, it's nice. The lyrics are actually quite nice in a slightly na´ve way, and Labrie manages the vocal quite well. Pleasant.

Learning To Live is maybe a bit anti-climactic as an ending. Extended feelgood metal song, really. An amusing jumpy synth part complemented by a sort of aggressively-restrained drum part opens the song, and a bit of tension-creation through various keyboard song leads up to the 'main song', which has a quality Labrie vocal and rather Floydian keyboards, even if the rest of the band doesn't seem to be doing a lot of any interest, and though the intent is clearly to keep up the tension, the continual irksome drum stabs let it out as soon as it is created. A medievalish-sounding synth and an unoffensive, but unexceptional, Spanishy guitar solo add a bit of colour to the middle of the song, often underpinned by a rising vocal harmony and more subtle keys. The band pulls together a bit at around the seventh minute, with a bit of effective soloing, a hilarious retake of the Wait-For-Sleep keys, before the fairly nice chorus comes on again. A bass solo, always welcome here, ushers in a guitar motif, vocal backing and all, and the piece fades out to a bit of overriffing. My issues with the song are twofold... one, it's not a satisfying conclusion... it's not invested with any lasting emotion, or resolution... just comparing the end guitar fade with Supper's Ready shows exactly what it's lacking. In Supper's Ready, the fade feels like it's going on endlessly towards an eternal celestial goal. Here, the fade just doesn't feel like it's going anywhere. Two, it's just not as solid as many other songs on the album, and could've lost a bit of the 'metal' parts without anyone noticing.

I'm wavering between a three and a four here, and I think I'll have to settle on the former. The three high points of this album are very high, but I've dropped albums to three for having stronger 'weak' material than this (Nadir's Big Chance and McDonald And Giles come to mind). Anyway, I suppose the point of this review is to say that Images And Words will get the occasional spin from me, I'm certainly interested in acquiring more Dream Theater albums and that's fairly high praise in itself, coming from a not-particularly-metal man.

Rating: Three Stars, but with some exceptional material.

Favourite Track: Metropolis

TGM: Orb | 3/5 |

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