It totally baffles me how much this album is overlooked when it comes to true DT fans. If you were to talk to a DT fan, the first words that are likely to come out are “Images and Words” or “Scenes from a Memory”. If you were to talk to me, however, you would likely hear me rave first about how incredible of an album “Awake” is.
Yes, “Images and Words” is the album that brought them into the prog-rock limelight. Yes, “Scenes from a Memory” is supposed to be their most outstanding, most virtuoso rock-opera concept album performance. And while “Awake” simply falls under the category of most DT fans as “just another album”, not being their most famous or their most “progressive”, it is, in my opinion, quite possibly their greatest work, and that’s a bold statement to make. It’s tough to say which is better for me, “Images and Words” or this, but first let me state the differences between the albums.
When I think of I&W compared to this, I think of an optimistic, happy album with all-out prog bombast and fanfare. However, I think the production on the album took away some of the potential power and energy it had (for example, listen to “Learning to Live” on I&W, then listen to the sheer power it has on “Live Scenes from New York”…big difference!). “Awake”, however, is very different. It’s dark. It’s ominous. It’s quite pessimistic. It’s full of feeling and emotion. And, strangely enough, despite being so different from their “masterpiece”, it’s just as good, dare I say even better? The production is INCREDIBLE, and every song blasts through the speakers with power that I&W can’t even hold a candle to. LaBrie, in my opinion, sings with more power and emotion on this album than any of DT’s other albums. Some reviewers have likened his singing to a Hetfield-like growl at times, and they are right. Take that however you like. To me, it only adds to the dark feeling and emotion of the songs. And even if you are not too keen on the idea of an angry, growling James, when he is not snarling into the mic, he’s belting out all his notes in top form. As for his bandmates, what really needs to be said? Mike is on top of his game for this album, as others have said. Petrucci, while not showing off the most virtuoso of his performances, falls in line with the others in the band, trading in his incredible, long-winded (which is not a bad thing at all) solos for brilliant musicianship that meshes perfectly with the others in the band. Some may hate that, but though I love what he can do, I’m not about to go hating an album just because he’s not showing off his supreme chops. Kevin, this being his last album, is in good form–he’s not as virtuoso or pretentious as Jordan Rudess, but many claim that he has much better musicianship and adds more to the songs than Jordan ever will. John Myung is, as always, pushed too far back in the mix once again, and he yet again remains an inconspicuous, mysterious shadow in the band, and unfortunately so, since he’s such a great bass player. Make your own judgment. I’ve made mine, and I couldn’t be happier.
“6:00″ – 10/10
How is this song not praised more than it is? I LOVE THIS SONG!!! My personal fav from this album. From the stunning intro with a memorable, identifying drum beat from Mike to Petrucci’s driving guitar through the verses to the catchy, phenominal chorus with a remarkable vocal performance from James, this song is pure perfection. It begins with some haunting, ominous lyrics, and closes on a dark note, setting the tone for the entire album. So why is it not praised so much? Because at a mere five and a half minutes, it’s the third-shortest song on the album, that’s why. Doesn’t matter to me. Everything is perfect on this song; the only thing that would make it better is if it was even longer.
“Caught in a Web” – 9.5/10
Another criminally-overlooked song from this phenominal album. It took second, third, or fourth listen for me to really appreciate this song, since I found Kevin’s playing in the opening of the song to be a little awkward, but once that passes, the song is perfect. Portnoy is again great on this song, but his performance pales in comparison to the incredible show that Moore and Petrucci put on together through the verses. More dark lyrics run through this one, and the highlight is the haunting and strangely catchy chorus, which is driven by Mike, Kevin, and James. This whole song has been flowing through my head for days. There’s even a short solo towards the end from Petrucci, but it won’t be enough to satisfy the DT Nazis. Regardless, this song is incredible, yet again too short, at 5:25, even shorter than “6:00″.
“Innocence Faded” – 9.5/10
This one could possibly be classified as a power ballad with its cheery sound and radio-friendly hooks. It has some of the more optimistic yet mysterious lyrics on the album, but also some of the best. Mike shows off another wonderful performance (one of his best, even?) behind Petrucci and Moore, who trade off the spotlight throughout the song behind LaBrie’s vocals. The song closes out with an outstanding instrumental part highlighted by (who else?) Petrucci and Moore. This song really grew on me.
“Erotomania” – 10/10
Part 1 of the “A Mind Beside Itself” trilogy, “Erotomania” is a seven-minute instrumental piece that many hold to be DT’s best. It might just be their most flashy and complex (except for the incredible “Instrumedley” from “Live in Budokan”), though it’s tough for me to say that it’s their best. I’ve got a real thing for (and DT purists will KILL me for saying this) “Stream of Consciousness” and “Hell’s Kitchen”. But this one is awesome nonetheless. Taking instrumental parts from other songs on the album as well as adding its own sound, the highlight of this song is the very moving middle section, from 2:00 to 5:00 (yeah, that’s a big portion, but that’s just how good this song is). You can feel the emotion being poured into this song.
“Voices” – 9/10
Part 2 of the “AMBI” trilogy. This song appears to be a real favorite amongst a lot of DT fans, but I haven’t been able to get into it nearly as much as the other songs on this album. That isn’t to say it’s not good. Actually, it’s quite good. If it were on, say, “Train of Thought” (besides being really out of place), it would be the second-best on that album. It’s ten minutes long, putting it dangerously close to the “epic” monicker that DT’s songs earn at times, but it doesn’t have enough variety, in my opinion, to be called that. Very dark, schizophrenic lyrics are the driving force behind this song, and LeBrie puts all his emotion into his singing, but except for exceptional drumming and a short guitar solo towards the end, the instruments aren’t beyond DT average (which is, by all other standards, still some of the best).
“The Silent Man” – 9/10
Part 3 of “AMBI”. The shortest song on the album, at less than four minutes. It’s a short, beautiful acoustic number that remains one of the band’s best ballads. And I’m not really a fan of the band’s ballads on other albums. That shows you how good “The Silent Man” and “Innocence Faded” are. More emotional singing by LeBrie and an (unfortunately) short solo by Petrucci that is poignant enough to bring some to tears. Though the lyrics are beautiful, they are not optimistic, nor are they dark. They are simply mysterious, raising the question (in my interpretation) of “where is God in man’s worst suffering?” A tough question to think about.
“The Mirror” – 8.5/10
Following the beauty of “The Silent Man” is this heavy, brooding number with an awesome intro that builds this song up to be an incredible, fast, energy-driven song. However, it’s a bit of a disappointment that the rest of the song doesn’t live up to the intro. It’s a little too slow and repetitive, with Petrucci playing the same riff over and over for most of the song. Its mainstream sound is belied only by its seven-minute length. It’s got some good instrumental parts, but even its good lyrics aren’t enough to catch my attention for its entire duration as much as the other songs on the album. Still, it’s a great song.
“Lie” – 8/10
The second-worst song on the album. It was released as a single, and it’s easy to see why. It’s not too short (about 6:30), but it’s got a bland, mainstream sound. It’s got more dark, introspective lyrics, but it’s also got one of James’ less impressive performances on the album. I don’t hit skip on this song–it’s not bad, really–it’s just not up to par with the rest of this masterpiece album.
“Lifting Shadows Off a Dream” – 8.5/10
This one has always been tough for me to classify. It begins very hauntingly, but despite James’ soft, emotional singing and euphoric chorus, it somehow doesn’t feel like much of a ballad to me. It’s in its own classification, I suppose. Petrucci’s playing is rather subdued for much of this song, yet it’s very interesting to listen to.
“Scarred” – 10/10
The epic of the album, clocking in at just below 11 minutes, this song is the second-best on the album IMHO (just behind “6:00″). It’s not as complex as their other epics, with most of the instruments taking a back seat to James, but it remains one of their best songs. James limits his growling to only a couple parts, and he gives one of his best performances of the album. It’s got a cool solo at about the 7:00 mark, but the real highlight is James and the captivating lyrics. The echo of the vocals and guitar that is prevalent through much of the song was a cool touch that adds atmosphere.
“Space-Dye Vest” – 8/10
Keeping in form with the rest of the album, the closer is a creepy song that Kevin wrote, and one that the band refuses to play live since he is no longer with the band. Full of TV and movie samples and some pretty cool keyboard effects, it is the most haunting and ominous song on the album. However, it remains one that I have never been able to get into. Yes, it follows form with the rest of the album, but it’s not the powerful, energetic closer I’m used to hearing from DT. It’s not as energetic as “Learning to Live” or “Only a Matter of Time”. It’s not as epic as “Octavarium” or even “Trial of Tears”. Some people love this song. Maybe I’ve got to hear it a few more times, but I still have yet to get into it. Make your own decision, since you should own this album anyway.
I think this is the perfect album for some new fans of DT to pick up. It may not be as defining as “Images and Words”, as mainstream-sounding as “Falling into Infinity”, or as epic as “Scenes from a Memory”, but it just oozes pure emotion that most music fans should love to death. Is it their best? Maybe not. But it’s one that every human being should listen to. If anything, the lyrics will give you something to think about. But if you’re like me, it should be something more than that. It should take you on a stunning emotional journey that is not so easily forgotten.