Dream Theater – Scenes From a Memory
Ever since their classic Images and Words produced “Metropolis, Part I”, Dream Theater fans have clamored for part two. By my recollection, it began as a similar counterpart to the original, and then progressed to a more epic stature, like “A Change of Seasons.” Finally, rumors abounded about it being an entire album. And thus, it actually is. Scenes From a Memory takes some of the ideas expressed in the original, both musically and lyrically, and stretches them out into a full blown concept album. Too bad the end result was much less satisfying than the original.
Musically, Scenes veers away from some of the more accessible bits of Falling Into Infinity. While I commented at the time at how much of those bits didn’t really work all that well, I thought some did and the enhanced focus on tighter song writing led to some classic DT material, such as “Lines In The Sand”. Unfortunately, the bands seems to have taken the good that came out of Falling Into Infinity and chucked it out the window. The music here is very riff heavy and balls to the wall prog metal from beginning to end. The few bits that sound a bit more laid back seem out of place and too derivative of concept albums past (the acoustic beginning sounds like a dead ringer for some of The Wall).
The result is a lot of impressive playing and shredding, with John Petrucci’s guitar heroics now matched fully by new keyboardist Jordan Rudess. It all adds up to less than the sum of their talents, however. Some of Rudess’s keyboard lines, especially, sound really overwrought and not at all connected to what the rest of the band is doing. Occasionally they get it together, tho’, as in on track where they display an Zappa-like synchronically. There’s way too few of those moments spread over the disc, however.
As I said, it is a concept album, which means the lyrics are more important than normal. Let me start off by saying I think James LaBrie does a much better job here than on the recent live album Once In A Livetime. The lyrical material, however, is pretty weak. It focuses mainly on straight forward story telling (as much as possible given the convoluted story). Notably absent is any sort of content that makes the lyrics interesting. The best concept works, for my money, don’t deal specifically with what happens so much as using what happens to make comments on various issues. The Wall isn’t just a story of an insane rock star, it’s a statement about the shattered lives lived by many children partially (or completely) orphaned during WWII. Marillion’s Brave uses the story of the girl on the bridge to examine everything from child abuse to sensationalist journalism. There’s nothing like that here. To be fair, maybe they just wanted to tell the story. It’s a shame they didn’t pick a good one, then.
In the end, upon repeated listenings, I grew at least to accept this disc as not being as bad as its first impression on me. Every other DT album has those high moments that grab me by the gut and don’t let go, even after the disc stops. Two minutes after Scenes is over, however, there’s nothing that sticks with me. It just washes over. And that qualifies as a major disappointment in my book