Review Summary: A few classic songs get bogged down by a saxophone solo and too many pop sensibilities.
I first heard of Dream Theater while looking across iTunes for progressive songs that had extended lengths of ten or more minutes, because I ADORE long songs (I don't know why, I just do!) Anyway, I saw a 24:00 tune titled Octavarium, and instantly I was intrigued. I clicked the 30 second sample on iTunes for "These Walls" (which at that time was DT's most popular song!) and I was astounded. It was like nothing I had ever heard before. Mind you, I was a lot younger than I am now and so I termed it "melodic heavy metal". Then, about a year ago, I purchased Guitar Hero:World Tour for the Xbox 360, and, lo and behold, one of the last songs to beat was "Pull Me Under". I loved it so much, I bought I&W a little while later.
Now, the only real "progressive" recordings I had listened to in my lifetime are Yes' "Fragile" and "Close to the Edge" (both of which, IMO, were amazing for their time, but in this day and age, some songs sound a little too "acoustic" for my liking). So, when I learned that the subgenre of the music that DT played was progressive 'metal', I jumped for joy. Here was my impression when I first listened to the recording (and, usually, the first time I listen to something, I can tell whether I like that song or not):
1. Pull Me Under - The guitar tone in this song is, to put it simply, AWESOME. Same goes for the keyboard. Sounds like something out of medieval Britain (which is a good thing). Once the drums kicked in, I knew I was in for a wild ride. John Petrucci just thrashes on the verses, John Myung grounds the performance with his amazing bass playing, Kevin Moore gives an great ethereal feel to the track (as he did with most DT songs that he was in), Mike Portnoy...well, what can I say, a guy who's won Modern Drummer magazine's award for best drummer so many years in a row must be deserving of the title. And, finally, James LaBrie himself. People decrie him for being high-pitched and all that crap, but his voice almost always works with the instrumentation. My only gripes about this song is that it's a little too long for its own good, and I'm not a big fan of that "Dust fills my eyes" second verse. It seems too out of place with the rest of the song. 4/5
2. Another Day - My first thought when I heard this song was "A BALLAD?!?! I thought this was supposed to be METAL!" Although the song has grown on me a lot, it still gets way watered down by that...that...SAXOPHONE!!!! Wow, what a great way to ruin a song. Oh well, I can't do much about it now. Most likely the worst track on the album. This sounds like 80's adult contemporary. 2.5/5
3. Take the Time - Yes, yes, and triple YES! This, right here, ladies and gentlemen, is one of DT's best songs of all time and one of the best on the album. It's long, and that's a good thing. Really the only thing detracting from the song is the chorus is just a teensy bit annoying and a little too poppy. with its' "it's time to TaKe THE TIIIIIIMME!!!" Oh, and the keyboard solo and outro are amazing. 4.5/5
4. Surrounded - Another ballad?!? Hey, at least this one's actually decent. Actually, this is probably the best ballad by a metal band I've ever heard. I LOVE the keyboard tone on this song. The lyrics somehow remind me of the anime "Tsubasa: Reservoir Chronicle". In fact, I want someone to make an AMV to this song! Please? 4.5/5
5. Metropolis, Pt. 1: "The Miracle and the Sleeper" - OH. MY. GEE. Best song on the entire album and one of my favorite songs of all time by any band. The middle of the song is just...orgasmic. Pure ear sex. There's nothing more I can say about this song. YOU MUST LIKE THIS OR YOU DON'T LIKE MUSIC IN GENERAL.6/5 (By the way, I think this song activates a different part of the brain that's never been activated before in order to "get" this song.
6. Under a Glass Moon -Another classic DT track made all the more better by awesome keyboards and drums. AND THAT GUITAR SOLO. Face-melting, is all I have to say. John Petrucci is probably my new favorite guitarist. James' vocals really shine here, as well. When I become a professional musician/moviemaker, I will name my production company "Glass Moon Productions", after this song. Very unique. 5/5
7. Wait for Sleep - Amazing piano work by Kevin Moore. I'm having a hard time learning this on the piano even WITH the sheet music. Beautiful, yet unfortunately, it's a ballad and it's too short. 4/5 (BTW, another song that reminds me of Tsubasa for some reason.)
8. Learning to Live - Comes in second place (if not a very close tie) with Metropolis. What an amazing song. I could listen to the keyboard sound on this song for the rest of my life. Kevin Moore is my new god, and this song cements it. Oh, and can't forget about James' F#5. Probably the highest note ever sung by an adult male singer anywhere. An 11-minute experience not to be missed. Also, the keyboard riff from Wait for Sleep is reprised here, along with drum patterns from songs such as Pull Me Under. 5.5/5
In short, if more songs were like Metropolis, Glass Moon and LTL, this album would be the best album ever recorded in the history of man. Sadly, Dream Theater chose to write tack on pop songs to the rest of the album and still call the whole thing "progressive". Also, it may seem fanboyish to give two songs a rating higher than 5, but I'm definitely not as in love with Dream Theater as some people are (although I still think they're awesome). Thanks for reading!