Images And Words

Dream Theater

Atco Records, 1992

REVIEW BY: Christopher Thelen


Every so often, I tend to infuriate the legions of progressive rock by saying something that isn't totally positive about a group or a specific album. It's not that I'm looking for a fight, or that I particularly like getting hate mail on a regular basis. It's just that, for some reason, I'm not able to see that cosmic oneness or some other hare-brained stuff that others claim is so obviously visible.

I'm in that kind of a situation today, as I sit here with Images And Words, the 1992 release from modern-day prog-rock gods Dream Theater, staring at me from the desk, just minutes after my third complete listen to the album in two days. Fire up the e-mail forms, and get ready to sling abuse at me, 'cause here comes my damning comment: Images And Words is a decent album, but it's boring.

This album marked the debut of lead singer James LaBrie in the fold, as well as the group's first major-label release. But somewhere in between the recording of their debut album When Dream And Day Unite and the writing/recording of this disc, something got lost in the shuffle - and that was spontaneousness. It's one thing to put five virtuosos together -- and "virtuoso" is the right word to describe LaBrie, guitarist John Petrucci, bassist John Myung, keyboardist Kevin Moore and drummer Mike Portnoy. But it's another to make music that doesn't sound like virtuosos demonstrating their superior abilities - and that's something that can't be forced. Just one album previous, the group was writing songs like "The YTSE Jam" and "Light Fuse And Get Away". 'Nuff said.my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250

Images And Words has the closest thing to a "hit single" that Dream Theater has in their repertoire: "Pull Me Under," a track that does successfully capture the talent and power of this band. It is a wonderful track for LaBrie to get settled in with, and is rightfully still a track that thrills audiences at live shows. I still remember the reaction the band got when I saw them perform this song in 1998 in concert -- and even though I wasn't totally familiar with it, I loved it from the start. My one complaint: I don't like the way the track ends suddenly, as if the tape machine ran out during recording.

The only other time that Dream Theater gets even remotely close to this magic is on the disc's 11-minute closing track "Learning To Live," another track that shows the absolute power and mastery that the group has over the genre and the material. (I do also like the lead-in track "Wait For Sleep," though its brevity almost makes it seem like it's underdeveloped compared to some of the other opuses on this disc.)

The problem with the bulk of Images And Words is that the songwriting fails to highlight the artistry, instead dragging it down to a more mediocre level. There are moments, like Myung's brief bass solo on "Metropolis - Part I," but not many -- or, more correctly, not enough. I won't pretend to know the answer of how Dream Theater could have fixed this. All I do know is that it takes skilled songwriting to truly highlight extraordinary work of bandmates. Yes knows how to do this from time to time; Rush knows how to do this more consistently. And while I'm still very much in the learning curve of Dream Theater's music, I think it's safe to say that they would learn this with the passage of time.

And by no means is LaBrie at fault here; his more controlled vocals seems to be exactly what was called for by Dream Theater. If anything, adding him to the band was a smart move, and one that would briefly serve as some consistency for the band. (This particular lineup would remain intact for one more album, Awake.)

Images And Words does have some material that is absolutely incredible, but when you expect the whole album to be of this caliber, it only serves to highlight the weaker tracks that much more. And while the album is a sign of things to come, it is still a very tentative step.

Rating: C+

User Rating: B



© 1999 Christopher Thelen and The Daily Vault. All rights reserved. Review or any portion may not be reproduced without written permission. Cover art is the intellectual property of Atco Records, and is used for informational purposes only.