Every time Dream Theater releases a new album it usually takes between three and five listens before I'm really able to wrap my mind around the music and decide if I like it or not. Of course, I always end up loving it and can't imagine them making any new albums that don't sound like this. Then after a couple years they release another album that sounds very different from the last and the whole process starts over again.
Now that I've finally fallen in love with the newest release, Octavarium, and have been listening to it non-stop for well over a week I thought I'd post my personal ranking of Dream Theater's studio albums. I’ll post my thoughts on one album per day, starting with the lowest ranked and moving upward. Here we go!
1. Metropolis Part 2: Scenes From A Memory
Well, here we are; the last Dream Theater review. It was supposed to take a week to write and post, but ended up taking a few months to get the lot of them out. I suppose I could still review the live albums and/or the DVDs, but not now or anytime soon. Before I get into the nitty gritty of the review I should point out that not only is this my favorite Dream Theater album, it's among the select few albums that I would point to as being in the running for my favorite album of all-time. But let's get down to it.
What can I say about this album? Unlike most of the rest of the list I loved it from the first spin and it’s remained my favorite Dream Theater album since it was released in 1999. It’s got fantastic musicianship on every song, great melodies, and I believe is among the best concept albums ever crafted. This album epitomizes the way I feel about Dream Theater: I can listen for fun and just rock out, I can try to break down the music and think about the interesting things they’re doing, or I can think about what they’re songs are about. It’s a meaty musical experience that can capture many moods and many different ways I want to come at the music.
Though Dream Theater often ties and album together by using similar themes through the tracks on a given album, this is their only full length concept album. Actually, it's not just a concept album, it's the sequel to the song "Metropolis Part 1: The Miracle & The Sleeper" off the Images and Words album. Interestingly, the band never planned to create a series out of the song, they just thought they were being funny or clever in their naming. As groups with rabid fandom often find, however, fans rarely if ever get the joke and almost immediately began asking when the band would make a sequel. After their label forced them into the borderline mainstream Falling Into Infinity, the band decided the would swing to the other extreme with a seventy minute plus concept album while simultaneously sating the cries of the hardcore fans.
Another interesting bit of trivia relating to this album is that the band started recording this album with their second keyboardist, Derek Sherinian. They got about halfway through writing and recording the album when personalities clashed and Derek left the band. Having worked with him on both Liquid Tension Experiment albums, Mike Portnoy (percussion) and John Petrucci (guitars) suggested Jordan Rudess as a replacement and the other band members agreed. They discarded the entirety of the album that had been written and recorded with Derek and started over from scratch. Trust me when I say that there has been plenty of web board discussion of what that first half-album might have been like.
I hate saying things are the best, and making this list is torture, but I can say this is among the select crème of the crop of all albums I’ve ever listened to. There's not a bad song on the disc, from balls to the wall rockers like "Beyond This Life" and "Home" to ballads like "The Spirit Carries On". If you want to know what progressive metal is all about, and why Dream Theater has been at the forefront of the genre since they basically invented it in the late-80s, this is the album to listen to.
"Spin the bottle, post office/Kiss and tell, dressin' up /Playin' doctor, peek-a-boo/Two hand touch, cooties/Little League, Looney Tunes/Scissors rock paper, Zoom/Kick ball, stick ball/Kill the guy with the ball"