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Sunday, July 06, 2008

CD Review: Dream Theater - Greatest Hit (...and 21 Other Cool Songs)

Dream Theater - Greatest Hit (...and 21 Other Cool Songs)
2008 Rhino Entertainment Company
Ray Van Horn, Jr.

Not exactly an enviable task trying to come up with a pliable compilation when it comes to a band like Dream Theater. By-and-large, Dream Theater has always been inherently an album band, not a single-oriented band, which accounts for the hilarious title Greatest Hit (...and 21 Other Cool Songs) on this two-disc anthology that features another interesting twist that is fun in theory, but uncertain in presentation.

By "Greatest Hit," Dream Theater is of course referring to their breakout single "Pull Me Under" from their 1992 sophomore album Images and Words. If Dream Theater has contributed anything in their mainstayed career, it's ushering possibilities within a heavy metal construct that was only being tinkered with before them by Savatage, Yngwie Malmsteen and Celtic Frost. Long before Dream Theater there was plenty of progressive rock out there to wrap one's head around such as Yes, Emerson, Lake and Palmer, Nektar and King Crimson. However, Dream Theater is the reason for the coined subgenre term "prog metal" and every month a handful of new prodigies who have been inspired by these guys crop up from their shadowy conservatories and locked basements.

Still, when your band isn't necessarily known for individual pieces of musical payoffs, but rather sell millions of actual records like Dream Theater has done with Images and Words, Awake, Six Degrees of Inner Turbulence, Metropolis Pt. 2: Scenes From a Memory and Train of Thought, the proposal of a singles-minded package is rather anticlimactic. Still, Dream Theater bounced back on the scene last year with their rockout Systematic Chaos album on a new label (Roadrunner), which leaves an entire catalog at the mercy of the big boy companies to keep the machine running while the cogs are nicely greased.

To its credit, Greatest Hit (...and 21 Other Cool Songs) tries to be ambitious enough to segregate the two discs into "The Dark Side" versus "The Light Side," which only means that the first disc is full of heavier material such as "Lie" from Awake, "Home" from Scenes From a Memory, (both presented here in edited form) "The Root of All Evil" from Octavarium and the nearly doomy "As I Am" from Train of Thought.

On the flipside, the second album "The Light Side" gathers eleven ballads and softies from Dream Theater's repertoire such as Octavarium's "I Walked Beside You," "Disappear" from Six Degrees of Inner Turbulence, "Another Day" from Images and Words and "Through Her Eyes" off of Scenes From a Memory. Trying to wedge a bunch of low-key tunes onto one disc is novel in concept and it's certainly a good way to make nice with your loved one on a rainy night, but for serious listening, the effect is a little too Kenny G-ish when run straight through, caveat emptor.

Though the Pink Floyd-esque "Peruvian Skies" from Falling Into Infinity makes an appearance on "The Dark Side," as does the overture-minded "Sacrificed Sons" from Octavarium and the heavy-handed and extremely busy "The Test That Stumped Them All," excavated from its imbued sequential run on Six Degrees of Inner Turbulence, the biggest detriment to Greatest Hit (...and 21 Other Cool Songs) is that it hardly scratches the surface of Dream Theater's capabilities, even at 22 songs. Never mind nothing from When Dream and Day Unite is offered here, although that may simply be a matter of licensing issues.

Sad to say, it's much better to partake songs that are links in a large concept such as those written for the broad-scoped Metropolis Pt. 2: Scenes From a Memory or on Six Degrees of Inner Turbulence. Still, for casual fans or newcomers to Dream Theater, at the very least Greatest Hit (...and 21 Other Cool Songs) will act as a primer with which to get acquainted. The bigger recommendation obviously is to seek out the full-length albums, because a couple of remixes, a B-side track ("To Live Forever") and a cute though ploy-driven vehicle to create actual singles from a full-length school of thought is hardly getting the most accurate picture.

Rating: ***1/2


bob_vinyl said...

I've never liked Dream Theater, but I have to give them credit for a clever album title and a willingness to laugh at themselves a bit. I suppose it also pokes fun at all the "greatest hits" albums by bands that had one or two actual hits.

Ray Van Horn, Jr. said...

spot-on, Bob

cjk_44 said...

good review, Ray.

i don't think this "hit" album did Dream Theater any favors. so much about DT is their ability to weave so much sonic diversity within tracks and among tracks over an entire album that listening to the songs outside their intended sequence seems foolish.

David Amulet said...

I love DT--when they avoid the worst of keyboard virtuosity for its own sake--but this seems like a stinker of an album to me. The only saving grace is the title.

Ray Van Horn, Jr. said...

cjk, I agree; I mean, if you're really casual about DT, this isn't bad, but I don't feel it's a solid overview

David, I know exactly what you mean; I used to hate keys and synths in metal but over time grew to appreciate what they do for textural purposes, but sometimes the key soloing gets a bit too geeky for my tastes; better than I could do, but it takes away something in my opinion