Review Summary: Dream Theater rectify the mistakes of their debut, and create a classic album in the process. Strong songwriting and consistently enjoyable musicianship make this a great listen from start to finish.The Journey Through Dream Theater, Part 2
Dream Theater’s first album, When Dream and Day Unite
, showed potential but fell short due to poor production and Charlie Dominici’s sub-par vocals. Luckily, after ditching Dominici and picking up Canadian vocalist James LaBrie, Dream Theater wasted no time at all in creating one of their best and most well-known albums. Images and Words
is a truly magnificent album, putting the virtuosic abilities of its members to good use without once sacrificing songwriting quality. It deserves the praise it gets.
Opening the album is Dream Theater’s biggest hit, Pull Me Under
. If you’ve heard only one song from Dream Theater this is probably it. It’s a strong song and not a throwaway single in the least. The progression from the opening clean riff to the quicker distorted riffs is well-done, and LaBrie delivers a solid performance. Overall, the song is pretty straight-forward for a heavier Dream Theater track, it doesn’t feature different time signatures or lengthy instrumentals; the solo itself is only 20 seconds long. Catchy and accessible, it was definitely a good single choice and a good song to introduce people to the band.
There is simply not a bad track on the album. Metropolis Pt. 1
(which was later expanded upon for Scenes From A Memory
), is a delight, truly capturing the epic feel that the band was going for, from the building intro to the excellent ever-changing instrumental section in the middle. John Myung, whose bass work in Dream Theater is often unappreciated, gets a rare moment in the spotlight with a short but excellent bass solo. It is followed up by Under A Glass Moon
, which is equally impressive. It features LaBrie’s strongest vocals on the album, and also one of Petrucci’s finest solos, which is the centerpiece that holds the track together.
The shorter and softer tracks are a great complement to the more expansive tracks. Another Day
is the weakest link on the album, but it still works well as a straight-forward ballad, incorporating a saxophone that adds a jazzy element to the track. Surrounded
is a more progressive ballad, slowly building tempo but eventually cooling down at the end. Wait For Sleep
is an excellent emotionally-driven piano track that lets LaBrie deliver a more restrained performance for once. It works well on its own, but even better as an intro to Learning To Live
LaBrie’s vocals do take getting used to for the uninitiated, particularly his occasional high-pitched wailing, but he proves himself to be a powerful vocalist, and despite not being praised as a metal vocalist, his vocals actually fit the music Dream Theater plays quite well, especially on this album. He is just as essential to Dream Theater as any of his virtuosic band mates. He is particularly effective given that this was his first album with the band. While Petrucci typically gets the most spotlight, the rest of the band performs just as excellently as he does. Kevin Moore’s keyboard work is excellent, adding an extra level of depth to most tracks here. He also has a few solos (Take the Time
, Under A Glass Moon
). Mike Portnoy’s acclaimed drumming is in full force here as well, as is John Myung’s underappreciated bass work.
Images and Words
is a true classic. Musically it is constantly engaging, and the songwriting is consistently outstanding. Dream Theater would be accused later in their career of being complex for complexity’s sake, overusing odd time signatures and letting their instrumental wanderings replace actual songwriting. (Or as many would say, “wanking”.) But none of those criticisms apply to Images and Words
. While each member gets to show off his virtuosity, each song feels connected and not a moment is out of place. The instrumental sections that exist are there for the purpose of adding to the song, making the technicality that is displayed all the more enjoyable. This album is a treat for both the prog fan and the casual music listener alike. Only on Scenes From A Memory
would Dream Theater ever make an album of comparable quality.
Top Tracks: Surrounded, Metropolis Pt. 1, Under A Glass Moon
For Images and Words
, Dream Theater was:
• John Myung – Bass guitar
• John Petrucci – Lead guitar
• Mike Portnoy – Drums, Percussion
• Kevin Moore - Keyboards
• James LaBrie – Vocals
To Be Continued…