Review Summary: No surprises here. Three revamped 'Images and Words'-era tracks, five single edits, one B-side, a humorous, irony-laden case, and thirteen other representative Dream Theater tracks.
Not to state the obvious here or have the subtlety of a dump truck, but a love/hate relationship exists with Dream Theater in the metal community. Some listeners unquestionably love (or hate) them, some listeners hate to love them, and some listeners love to hate them. For every fan who swears by the virtuosity of guitarist John Petrucci, keyboardist Jordan Ruddess, and drummer Mike Portnoy or pontificates on how genius Metropolis Pt. 2: Scenes from a Memory
is, there is at least one dissenter who will remark that vocalist James LaBrie is a crappy Geddy Lee impersonator whose nuts are being squeezed by a Jaws of Life and/or a hermaphrodite with his range (or, a James Hetfield impersonator, considering some of the passages from Systematic Chaos
), while another will note how the only two things John Myung moves onstage are his head and his fingers, and another will comment that, despite having an esteemed Berklee College of Music education, none of them know how to write a song because they're too busy wanking on their instruments.
Whatever camp you may fall into in the above scenario, feel free to decide for yourself. Fact is, the oft-lambasted, oft-adored American metal quintet release Greatest Hit (... and 21 Other Pretty Cool Songs)
this week, and it's guaranteed that the fanboys and the haters will be out in full force on message boards and review sites all over the Internet on April Fool's Day. Accordingly, it is best to approach this compilation with a sense-of-humor, considering the blatantly-obvious Easter eggs that are prominently displayed on the album's cover. For example, listeners will be quick to notice how the 's,' 'h,' 'i,' and 't' are all emblazoned in red on the front cover, the seagull sh
it on the Dream Theater logo-clad chair, and the band's lone Greatest Hit (Pull Me Under
, from Images and Words
) highlighted in yellow on the tracklist. As pretentious as Dream Theater is perceived by some folks (while other folks consider them maestros at their craft), having a sense-of-humor is certainly appreciated.
Greatest Hit (... and 21 Other Pretty Cool Songs)
is a two-album compilation, divided into "The Dark Side" and "The Light Side." Yes, somehow Dream Theater were able to compress twenty-two tracks into two albums - consider your minds blown. Also, not to insult anyone's intelligence here, but "The Dark Side" tracks are significantly heavier and more metal-tinged than "The Light Side," which features slower tempos with an eye towards their more mellifluous numbers. Pop quiz: the two Train of Thought
tracks (As I Am
and Endless Sacrifice
) appear on which side?
Another important element to this compilation is that three of the Images and Words
tracks (the aforementioned Pull Me Under
, as well as Take the Time
and Another Day
) have been remixed by the South African Caveman, Kevin Shirley. The difference between the original recordings and the 2007 remixes is surprisingly bold: the wind instruments in Another Day
ring with impeccable clarity and warmth, while the mixing in Pull Me Under
is markedly improved. Also of note, five tracks are single edits, meaning that something from the original recordings has been truncated in each (take for instance Six Degrees of Inner Turbulence
, which is a more-manageable 5:12 compared to the original recording's 9+ minute runtime). The edits flow rather nicely, with each segue inconspicuously passing by. There is one non-studio track on the compilation: entitled To Live Forever
, the track is a B-side of Lie
- the song was co-written by former keyboardist Kevin Moore before Ruddess entered the fold) and is, by all accounts, characteristic Dream Theater.
Greatest Hit (... and 21 Other Pretty Cool Songs)
comes at a pretty good time in Dream Theater's career. While the compilation mercifully does not feature anything from Charlie Dominici-era When Dream and Day Unite
(1989) or 2007's Systematic Chaos
, the two-album anthology does an excellent job incorporating every single studio album (save for A Change of Seasons
, known for the 23+ minute epic opener and the four covers that follow it). In this regard, Greatest Hit (... and 21 Other Pretty Cool Songs)
would be an ideal introduction to Dream Theater. Some of the band's defining songs are located on one central compilation, and new listeners can take baby-steps figuring out if they can handle the mannerisms that define Dream Theater, from LaBrie's vocals to the elongated song lengths to the solos (some of which have been cut down or completely removed). If new listeners can stomach the single edits on this record, it stands to reason that they can graduate to the original recordings.
In summation, Greatest Hit (... and 21 Other Pretty Cool Songs)
is not going to change your mind about Dream Theater. While the new remixes courtesy of Kevin Shirley are superior to the original recordings, the bottom line is that fans will still be fans, non-fans will still be antagonistic, and people on-the-fence will more than likely remain planted there if this assortment does not push them one way or the other. What the compilation does a marvelous job of, though, is showcase some of the most representative Dream Theater tracks into one centralized double-disc. In this fashion, Greatest Hit (... and 21 Other Pretty Cool Songs)
comes strongly recommended for new listeners, but only a "collectors only" recommendation for everybody else. It goes without saying that Dream Theater detractors would do well in avoiding this, save for possibly smirking at the album cover and using the case as a coaster.
... this compilation for new and/or undecided Dream Theater fans as an introductory record
... the three new Images and Words
... "The Light Side" over "The Dark Side"