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Dream Theater - Images And Words CD (album) cover

IMAGES AND WORDS

Dream Theater

 

Progressive Metal

4.29 | 2035 ratings

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baz91
Prog Reviewer
5 stars After their debut album 'When Dream And Day Unite', Dream Theater went through a tough period trying to replace their lead singer. Of course, they finally stumbled upon James LaBrie, and the rest is history. His voice, then unmarred by the tragic food poisoning accident that was to happen just three years afterwards, perfectly suits the music, making Charlie Dominici a thing of the past. For all of you who love links between various prog bands, you may notice that Derek Shulman of Gentle Giant appears in the credits for this album. Indeed, he was responsible for signing the band to the Atco label! (Time for some GG jokes) 'On Reflection' that was a very good move. Without him they would have been 'Nothing At All'. I shall never grow tired of prog rock and all its 'Funny Ways'. But really, to be 'So Sincere' I should probably get on with this review.

If you've avidly stalked my profile, (or if you're just some friend I've decided to share this review with) you may know that I was once a keen Dream Theater fanboy. During those months I quickly singled out 'Images And Words' as my favourite Dream Theater album, and hence for a while it was my favourite album of all time. Each song on the album is a great standalone track, and together they make a powerful ensemble. This has the advantage over 'Scenes From A Memory', say, because, while that album as a whole is awe-inspiringly brilliant, the tracks by themselves don't really deliver. It also features some of their best-loved and classic tracks, such as Pull Me Under, Take The Time and Metropolis (although I'd like to argue that all of the tracks on this album are classics).

The album start's with the surprisingly popular Pull Me Under. When I say popular, I don't mean among DT fans or prog aficionados, I mean this song actually featured a fair amount on MTV and got radio airplay! Sixteen years down the line, Dream Theater would satirise the fact that only one of their songs has been able to do this by titling their first compilation album 'Greatest Hit (... and 21 other pretty cool songs)'. However, upon listening to this song, you will be completely baffled as to how this could ever have been on MTV. For a start, this song is just over 8 minutes long and has many elements of prog and metal throughout, a recipe that doesn't exactly scream "Commercial!". For fans of prog and metal though, this song is an absolute treat. With lyrics inspired by Shakespeare's 'Hamlet' penned lovingly by Kevin Moore, perfectly written instrumentals appearing throughout and an anthemic chorus, it's not hard to see why this song has become a fan favourite. The obligatory music video - sloppily editing the track down to under 5 minutes and showing Images that definitely don't fit the Words - simply does not do it justice, and makes the song sound much worse, especially to the commercial ear. However, history is history, and whatever it was that got this song so much recognition is probably the reason that Dream Theater are so well known and so highly regarded today. Dream Theater's big break so to say.

While Pull Me Under is not the commercial song that MTV somehow thought it was, this is not to say that Dream Theater weren't trying to gain some radio airplay. Another Day is far more commercial-minded, with effort put into it's ballad-like nature. The song expresses John Petrucci's struggle to come to terms with his father's cancer in a beautiful way. This subject matter would reprise on Take Away My Pain from 'Falling Into Infinity' after his father passed away. While this track does feel more pop than prog, there is nothing corny about this extremely powerful, moving song. The song is decorated with tasteful soprano sax riffs played by the sensational Jay Beckenstein, although in a few cases this comes desperately close to sounding cheesy. Mike Portnoy brings the piece to life with some great drumming that is creative but not too distracting. In the second verse he executes a fantastic groove that he would later use again in both Lifting Shadows Off A Dream and the non-album instrumental Eve. This is one of Dream Theater's best attempts at a radio-friendly song, and I am bewildered as to why MTV didn't single out this track instead.

To hear Dream Theater at their best, you need to listen to their longer, more technical tracks, and Take The Time is a good place to hear this. Littered with bizarre time signatures, this track is every prog-metal fan's wet dream. With lyrics credited to all of the band, this track features wildly changing verses, and break-neck choruses. The instrumental is phenomenal: lasting just over 2 minutes, it can be split into at least 4 different sections, each as complex and mind-boggling as the last. However, it is surely the outro that makes this song so unforgettable. After the final chorus we are treated to a brilliant triumphant section, where we are invited to chant the phrase "Find all you need in your mind if you take the time!" This is followed by what I believe to be Petrucci's best and most memorable guitar solo on record. It may not be his best in terms of length or technical precision, but if this playing doesn't make you want to get up and perform an impromptu guitar solo, then I honestly don't know what will. Perhaps the most infuriating thing about this song (and possibly this album) is the fade-out ending, no doubt left that way so that the band could experiment with different endings during live shows. It is heartbreaking to hear such a great solo fade away, and we are left with a burning desire to know what happens next. Indeed, this a very satisfying song to hear live, as there is no possibility for the band to fade out at the end. Live versions of this track include a longer guitar solo, and, in one case, a cover of the famous guitar outro to Lynyrd Skynyrd's Free Bird. As infuriating as it is, one has to admit that the fade-out was the right decision for this song.

Surrounded is a softer piece, with more melodic tendencies. This track has a bold structure, with the main section of the song being sandwiched between two keyboard sections which act as a distinct intro and outro to the song respectively (rather like Yes's Awaken). The disadvantage of these sections is that they take up around 40% of the song, which feels excessive when the song is only 5:30. It's rather like having a painting where the frame is too large. The intro and outro, while both beautiful, are the less interesting parts, and it can feel like a chore to listen to them along with the rest of the track. The main section, on the other hand, is extremely engaging. Starting in subtle 9/8, the melodic beauty of this track becomes apparent very quickly. The lyrics are great, and can instantly be recognised as Moore's. One highlight for me is James LaBrie's accurate timing when he sings 'Light to dark, Dark to light, Light to dark, Dark to light.' The main section ends with a very powerful section, all strong chords and beautiful singing. The intro and outro are a little too long, but otherwise this is a really well-written and beautiful track.

In my opinion, the best prog rock songs are epic, complex and memorable. It is for these reasons that Metropolis - Part 1 is my favourite Dream Theater track of all time. Beginning with a majestic instrumental intro, this song epitomises the word epic. The intro gives way to strong verses featuring theatrical and evocative lyrics (which some may argue as being pretentious). The music that follows these verses is one of the most complex, well-written rock instrumentals I have ever heard. Lasting a staggering four minutes, this instrumental section showcases the talents of each band member (minus of course singer James LaBrie). There's even a bass solo, for the usually subdued John Myung to shine! Starting in 13/8, the instrumental is of course awash with time signatures. There are too many sections to count, and substantial listening is required to be able to remember all the parts in the right order. To demonstrate how intricate and complex progressive rock can be, one needs to go no further than this song. After four minutes of one of the best instrumentals of all time, James LaBrie returns to bring this epic song to it's symphonic close. If I had to sum up Dream Theater with one song, it would have to be this one, as Metropolis showcases just how intricate and epic the band can be. Of course, they released a sequel 'Metropolis - Part 2' in the form of a concept album, 'Scenes From A Memory'. The album, while not explicitly linked to this song, employs musical and lyrical themes from it, and gives you a better idea of what the first part is about. In case I haven't made myself clear, Metropolis is Dream Theater's magnum opus.

Under A Glass Moon is best known for Petrucci's high-paced guitar solo in the instrumental. The song on whole is very enjoyable, and Portnoy's handling of the complex time signatures is also very remarkable. While there is little to fault this song, I find this track less memorable than the other tracks on the album. The high level of complexity on this track has now become a standard for Dream Theater, which is really the reason why they are so highly regarded.

Wait For Sleep is a beautiful keyboard track with sensational singing from LaBrie. It's usually quite difficult for a band like Dream Theater who are known for lengthy songs, and complex songwriting to come up with a simple track which is of the same quality as the rest of their work. In my opinion, Kevin Moore was their best songwriter, and consequently this is a sublime piece, with subtle time signatures boosting it's quality on this progressive album. The title 'Images And Words' is referenced in the song, making it an integral part of this album.

With lyrics by John Myung, Learning To Live closes this album in the most progressive way possible. This song has a very odd structure, with lyrics cutting out less than halfway through the song, to give way to an epic instrumental. The instrumental is not quite as technical as the one on Metropolis, but has many other standout features. For example, LaBrie famously hits F# at 7:05, which is the highest note on any Dream Theater song besides Octavarium's G5. The theme from Wait For Sleep is also reprised, as if it were the intro to Learning To Live. The song ends with a fantastic bass-driven outro, giving an epic, anthemic end to the album. This song engages me in a different way to other Dream Theater songs, in a way that's difficult to describe. This track is very unique amongst the other songs in Dream Theater's catalogue, which is typical of Myung's songs.

'Images And Words' continues to be an inspirational album. This album would have been a very strong indicator that Dream Theater were destined for greatness. The sound quality is far superior to that of their first album, although notably Portnoy's snare drum was triggered so that it lacked all subtlety in some of the tracks. The artwork is also brilliant, and one can gaze at the cover discovering new things each time, although the band pictures are extremely dated. To anyone wishing to discover the legend that is Dream Theater, this is a perfect starting place, and is THE essential record from this group. With so many great classics on this album, how could you refuse?

baz91 | 5/5 |

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