Images And Words

(1992), 8/10
After their debut bombed, Boston’s progressive-metal Dream Theater recruited high pitched and operatically trained James LaBrie, launching this grandiose mixture of terminally uncool progressive rock, hair metal and AOR balladry. Dream Theater’s biggest draw-card is the member’s impressive instrumental abilities; if you could prove that intricate solos and riffs automatically equated to good music, and there are music fans for whom this is certainly true, Dream Theater would be top of the pile. LaBrie’s high pitched vocals can be off putting, but he fits in nicely to the sound of the band even if he does come across as soulless at times (it doesn’t help his credibility that he doesn’t write any of the lyrics); the purity of his voice on this record is often gorgeous. But the primary reason for the success of Images And Words is that the group have some straightforward, memorable tunes on occasion, balancing the more intricate and demanding pieces.

The centrepiece of Images And Words is the ten minute ‘Metropolis-Part 1’; a complex progressive piece full of insane instrumental breaks, memorable melodies and an involved story-line that was later expanded to create 1999’s album Scenes From A Memory. ‘Take The Time’ effortlessly explores difficult rhythms, while Petrucci’s solo in ‘Under The Glass Moon’ was designed to be so technically challenging as to be impossible to copy. Of the more accessible songs, the simplistic structure of opener ‘Pull Me Under’ works when coupled with the group’s blazing chops. ‘Surrounded’ turns a beautiful piano piece into a full blown rocker before dropping back into ballad mode. On the negative side of the ledger, ‘Another Day’ drifts a little close to adult contemporary with its saxophone solos, and the closer ‘Learning To Live’ could have been trimmed.

I don’t know that I recommend Images And Words per se – there are music fans to whom it just won’t appeal – but I enjoy its blending of pop hooks and progressive shredding, served with an extremely hearty dollop of cheese.

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