For this week’s Classic Albums we travel back to the fall of 1992. Once again I owe this one to my old friend Steve. The same Steve who turned me onto Fates Warning is also the guy who sat me down and made me listen to the one and only Images and Words by the mighty Dream Theater. I was over at the house waiting for him to get ready so we could wander aimlessly around the mall or wherever it was we went in those days, and he put the CD in. This served to not only cease my bitching about how long he was taking with his friggin’ primping, but also to drop my jaw to the ground pronto. As soon as I heard it I was done. Hooked. Reeled in. You get the idea. My girlfriend at the time was summarily forced to listen to my taped copy in the car pretty much everywhere we went, poor girl.
We open with John Petrucci’s guitar on “Pull Me Under”, one of four eight-minute plus epics, and the drums of Mike Portnoy coupled with Kevin Moore’s keyboards all coming together and snowballing into this progressive rock/metal monster. All this and new vocalist James LaBrie doesn’t even show up until the two minute mark. There are a lot of detractors out there, and they can all suck it as far as I’m concerned. The man’s voice is unbelievable (particular on DT’s newest self-titled album!), and his delivery is second-to-none. I had a hard time moving on from this one, but I had to see what else was in store. Next up is the ballad “Another Day”. You probably think that’s a crazy way to go for track two of a record and ordinarily you’d be right. But this song will have you under its spell after just one listen. The alto saxophone used is a nice touch, and makes it truly unique. LaBrie’s impassioned singing before Petrucci’s solo also really make this song about finding another way to live and not end it all something really special.
“Take the Time” is one of the first times we see the whole band flex their collective muscles. This is also the second epic on the record, with guitar and keys solos flying about like something at a beach volleyball tournament (minus the hot girls). And now we come to one of my absolute favorites “Surrounded”. Moore’s piano and synth intro sets a mood that no one has before or since, and carries the song, save for Petrucci’s beautiful digital delay-enhanced solo, which in turn gives way to Moore taking us home. End of side one.
I don’t even know how to describe “Metropolis, Pt. 1: The Miracle and the Sleeper”, other than it being the SINGLE GREATEST DREAM THEATER SONG EVER. EVERRR!! And also, Epic #3. Over the course of nine minutes and change each player pushes himself to and seemingly exceeds the limits of human endurance. Now whether or not this is the case I don’t know; what I DO know is that after just one listen I felt like I had worked out for 30 minutes, and I don’t play a note on it (save for air drums)!! The solos from bassist John Myung, and the dual harmonies of Moore and Petrucci are of heart-stopping proportions. Also, Portnoy’s fills and stop-on-a-dime changes are downright dizzying as he moves in perfect synchronicity with his band mates. This one got rewound in the car…a LOT (apologies to the lady!).
The first time I saw Dream Theater live in 1995 at Birch Hill they chose “Under a Glass Moon” to open with. This song features one of my all-time favorite guitar compositions by ANY band past or present, and oddly enough, I attended this show with another girlfriend who became more of a willing convert. I know for a fact she still listens to them to this day. The short piano song “Wait For Sleep” goes hand-in-hand with final epic “Learning to Live” which clocks in at 11:30. On all these songs it feels like James LaBrie is telling us a story, but this one is truly a journey of the mind, spirit, and heart. Such is the power of his delivery.
From that fall of 1992 until the fall of 1997 I was a complete and total Dream Theater addict, as many people (especially my long-suffering female companions!) can attest to. One such person, the mysterious Girlfriend X we’ll call her, recently called me out on not featuring these guys in Classic Albums, which was an eerie coincidence because I knew they would be this week’s pick. And I have so many great memories of Images and Words, as well as Dream Theater, not just with lady friends, but with my buddy Steve, and with friends I made at college in Philly. Hell, I even went with my old guitar player Eddie from RDB to see them at the Electric Factory in 2000, and what did they open with? “Metropolis”. So you see, this album will never, ever leave me. And if you’re looking for a Dream Theater starting point, then look no further. ~dc