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Images and Words

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★★★★½
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  • I first appreciated Dream Theater only after growing into modern progressive rock, having been stuck in 70s progressive rock for more than two decades. The first Dream Theater album that I appreciated was the phenomenal “Six Degrees of Inner Turbulence.” Once I realized how incredible that album was I moved on to this album from 1992. I was stunned and fascinated by the difference between the two albums and think that both are enjoyable for completely different reasons. One of the biggest differences to me was that the later album seemed to show fewer and different influences from this album, which reminded me more of Rush and seemed a bit more derivative than “Inner Turbulence.” Regardless of the strength and number of influences, this album deals with less weighty topics than “Inner Turbulence” and is more of a “fun” album than “Inner Turbulence.”

    The CD begins with the fantasy song “Pull Me Under.” While the topic is the inevitability of death, the spirited guitars, percussion and vocals generate catchy hooks that make you want to sing along, or at least hum along when you are unable to remember the words. The locomotive bass drives this song filled with rowdy passengers, all of whom are along for the ride, and you have to wonder why anyone would worry about death with a song this good.

    “Another Day” is uncharacteristic of Dream Theater and most hard rock bands. The style of the song is strongly reminiscent of 80s hair bands, mellow with a mild beat. This tune features ear-friendly and even radio friendly hooks. While the style may be very different from Dream Theater’s more challenging works, this song is well performed and I enjoy the surrealistic feel to the lyrics.

    You can start rocking again with “Take the Time,” which speeds up and ramps up the power of the beat. The technical sophistication of Dream Theater shows in this technically and vocally complex song. While there remain elements similar to “Another Day,” Dream Theater’s future musical direction is detectable.

    The pace slows again at the start of “Surrounded,” speeding up about a third of the way into the song. The beat remains relatively friendly, the lyrics are poetic and fantasy based, and the general tone is upbeat. After the frenetic center portion of this song the song slows dramatically at the end and becomes briefly introspective, perhaps conveying regret at the end of the dream.

    “Metropolis – Part I” is a song that is nine minutes and thirty-two seconds of playful fun. The song was written by John Petrucci loosely based on Romulus and Remus from the “Aeneid.” Romulus and Remus were linked telepathically and the lyrical elements of the song infer that link. The song feels like a fantasy though the elements are mythology-based. The tone of the song is upbeat and complex. I keep wanting to use the word “fun” because this song combines the enthusiasm of Rush with the complexity of Yes in the unique style of Dream Theater. I call this song ear candy.

    The next song is a grinder; “Under a Glass Moon” growls, rumbles, churns and vibrates. The bass guitar grinds sound like a food processor and the drums frenetically punch you with their relentless rhythm. The fantasy lyrics, the seven minute length, and the ever-intricate rock instrument composition are all indications that you are in the realm of progressive rock that has aged well.

    “Wait for Sleep” is a lovely piano and vocal interlude that calls forth imagery of someone lost in their thoughts, perhaps trying to escape their thoughts, perhaps dreading their dreams. This pretty song indicates to the uninitiated that progressive rock is indeed one of the broadest of genres, capable of encompassing any suitable style.

    While much of this album is positive in tone, “Learning to Live” is more contemplative and somber. I have read elsewhere that the song is about AIDS. However, the lyrics may be more broadly read to cover any situation where your priorities have changed to surviving, perhaps from an incurable disease, but depression could be included as well. At eleven and a half minutes this song is the longest on this CD, but it moves briskly with a fast and intricate progressive rock beat. This song seemed to me to be the most Yes-influenced song on the CD, particularly during the middle portion, which contains wonderful instrumental variations, including acoustic guitar. Instrumentally this song contains some of the most interesting music on this CD.

    The music on this CD is very different from “Six Degrees of Inner Turbulence.” The compositions are closer to hard rock with more influences from groups such as Yes and Rush. It seems to me that the later album shows how much Dream Theater has evolved its own style in the last 10 years. Surprisingly, I also thought that this album contained more traditional progressive rock elements than the later album (perhaps read old-fashioned, if there can be such a thing in progressive rock). After listening to this CD several times, I think it would have made a great soundtrack to the fantasy movie “Ladyhawke.”

    I can understand how some listeners might prefer this album to later albums such as “Six Degrees of Inner Turbulence,” which to my ear is musically current versus the strong 80s flavor of “Images and Words.” I like both CDs for very different reasons. The later album is very technically sophisticated and socially relevant, while this album focuses on fantasy and mythology imagery that Dream Theater tried to describe lyrically and musically. Both albums contain well-crafted and performed music that will challenge the ability of listeners to learn to appreciate the intricacies of Dream Theater’s music. This CD is surely a worthy addition to any progressive rock music fan’s library.

    Posted on January 19, 2010