Ok, This right here is the mind-dump of a 7 year Dream Theater fan. I’ve heard all the albums and follow the changes etc that went on up till now. My opinion may change, but here goes…
Did Mangini Perform?
Let’s start where my breath has been held. When Manginni arrived, I Was all for it and when I found out he didn’t write most of the drums for ADTOE, I took the drums with a pinch of salt in that it didn’t have to be perfect, because they were going through a rough change that’s bound to come through in sound. The drums weren’t bad by any means, but I could sense MP’s spirit still lingering as they tried to imitate his style for all the Portnoy fans with their ears peeled. This led to a slight conflict of direction in my mind, but I knew it would be all Mangini in the next album. So the question is, is Mangini letting his insane style and charisma out on Dream Theater?
For his part, Mangini was astounding on this album. I knew if they let him release his style he would be brilliant, and he was. Thumbs up big guy, now on with the rest of the album.
What’s with the lyrics?
James, you’re going to take a bashing on this one, especially if you wrote the lyrics for “Along for the Ride”
Can’t stop the world from turning around
Or the pull of the moon on the tide
I don’t believe we’re in this alone
I believe we’re along for the ride
why turning? everyone else says spinning because it gives the image of a sphere spinning, not a girl turning because you just said her ass looked fat. Did you think “Everyone says spinning, what’s look in the thesaurus?” quick tip, you could have also used curving, twisting, curling, rotating, oscilating, reeling, whirling or swirling. Or you could have spent 5 minutes thinking of something that’s not a huge cliche in imagery 😉
The 3rd and 4th lines do not relate to each other. what does being along for the ride have to do with being alone? in any way? when you link the ideas with believe you’re setting up the expectation of something related to the first concept. And holy Jesus, tide/ride? are you 4? It wouldn’t be so bad only that’s a Chorus! Repeated at least 3 agonising times. Perhaps it’s because I just took Pat Pattinson’s (Berklee) lyric writing course on Coursea, but that is haenously bad. Oh and there;s more.
Blind to the truth, Like hands reaching out in the darkness
what? because hands have no eyes, or because they’re poor judges of character? Again, there are a million things not blind to the truth, why hands and not “like bonjela on a mouth ulcer”, or “like feet being nibbled by fish” Both of those dumb phrases have the same in common with being blind to the truth as some non sentient hands.
I am not shattered, Out of the ashes I rise
Ok, you’ve already established you never died or were broken, so why are you now pulling a dead phoenix? have I misunderstood? have you literally covered yourself in ashes and stood up? Again it’s a mixed metaphor, you’re mixing “I’m unharmed” with “I died, but I got better”
On a side note, I’m not just picking on metaphors here or i’d mention “Finding hope in our hopeless lives”. There are other’s in there, and for a band that would write gems like solitary shell, In the Presence of Enemies and a Change of Seasons, this is just awful. The most painful thing about hearing this was knowing what they’ve written before.
On a wider note, I think this song might actually have more to it than meets the eye. The world turning imagery marries up with the album cover very well, and seeing as this album is meant to be a rebirth of Dream Theater, I think this is actually a song relating to Mike Portnoy. The fact that they’re using the word shatter, when MP’s Alcoholics Anonymous suite ended with The Shattered Fortress may be an unintentional jab at the mean machine, but I doubt it. And “I will not fall prey to your madness” could be some reference to the legal jiggery pokery that went on way back when. I may need to investigate this further, post lashing…
I’ve always had a problem with the way LaBrie articulates words such that they are easier to sing, at the expense of making them incomprehensible(when it gets really bad). On the lighter end of the spectrum, words are stressed where they shouldn’t be, and phrasing is generally hashed up in a way that sounds unnatural, and just forced. I believe it comes from the Bel Canto/Operatic tradition, which if true also gave him the soaring vocal prowess also so you take the good with the bad.
For example, there’s a point where the words are clearly meant to be “the vision’s …” but LaBrie Articulates it as “the visions” This may seem like an arbitrary point, but it’s so easy to add that slight inflection signifying an apostrophe that this was just lazy articulation. I mean come on, is that so hard?
And for that matter, why the heck is Another Day being quoted in behind the veil? (I had a friend once in a band called Zealous Veil with the same titled song: Behind the veil) Chaos, Redemption and Salvation are also making an appearance to remind us of the past, perhaps it’s part of a deeper meaning about leaving their old selves behind and moving on to the next chapter, but it really wasn’t that clear that they were doing an homage. We’ll leave that one for now, more pressing points await!
The band as a whole are still technically sound, but with no controlling force(and yes that’s a reference to Portnoy) the band sound all over the place. There’s no development of parts going on, just out of place sections.
Gone the way of Malmsteen
Some solos just felt frantic, unconsidered even. Going hyper speed should have it’s place, and you don’t need to always start slow, but when the album never really slows down it’s like you’re hearing an immense solo amoung other immense solo’s, making them ironically less immense. This I guess lack of development was a common thread throughout the album.
There are different themes, sure, but moments of simplicity were few and far between. This Ironically led to the album sounding very samey. I found my mind wandering to if LaBrie would be an agressive person to criticise and that’s a bad thing, because it means that the album had lost me, and through everything else, that was it. I was bored.
There was so much mixing(especially on LaBrie’s voice) that there was no soul to the thing. It’s like there’s a beautiful fresh steak that’s had so many sauces and spices put on that the original meat isn;t there anymore. Like taking a natural wood finish and coating it in varnish until the wood is glossy and unnatural. Take queen for example. Even with their extensive harmonies and synth use the natural resonance of the performers was still there. Even further, they were being enhanced. Take a listen to The Prophet’s song for exactly what I’m talking about. But here they weren’t highlighting strengths, they were concealing weaknesses(poorly), especially in LaBrie’s voice.
There was a point where they had a pretty epic ending, and I found myself asking “what exactly are you ending epicly, was there something I missed or were you just putting an ending where an ending might otherwise go?”
The Piano theme at the end and the string section earlier in the same song was great, I only wish there were more like it, and a bit of continuity between them.
I’ve been a long time fan of Dream Theater and all the otherwise occasional problems of band were at the forefront of this album:
- Incomprehensible Vocals
- Long lists of terribly contrived rhymes(though only on 2 songs to be fair)
- Lack of thematic development
- Over Production
- Lack of significant texture changes
- Lack of prosidy within songs
Let me say again, I’m a long time fan of DT, and I hold them to a far higher standard than any other band I listen to. The above flaws have all been very occasional in the DT catalogue, and are at quite a high level, but I’ve never heard them so prominent and obvious as they were in “Dream Theater”. You need a vision or binding element to get across a clear idea. Perhaps before you had Portnoy forcing the band a certain way, but at least you were being pulled in one direction. Here it feels like you have multiple members battling for control. LaBrie’s clearly getting more spotlight but you also have the band trying to showcase Mangini’s drumming as shown by the booming bass drum throughout. Then you have the occasional “Look! Myung’s getting a solo part now” Which I loved! but, then of course the big melodic guns are coming from Petrucci and Rudess who seem to be in a battle for top spot. There were some really obvious “Check out my cool Ipad App sounds” coming from Rudess, but even the professional mixing couldn’t blend the sound as well as, oh I dunno, a professional synth. Do you see the problem here? I’m not mentioning the unity of parts or the way they mix because to my dismay, they don’t! None of my favourite parts feature teamwork, it’s all a drum fill here, a string section there. Nothing that really screams “THIS is Dream Theater”
You have 5 Astounding musicians, but not one astounding band. (At least not in this album anyway)