...and once again I prepare for the argument that I always have when writing a review of a new Dream Theater release. It's the argument that I always make, and that every one of you musicians out there that worship this band always fight me tooth and nail on. That argument is simple - that Dream Theater are the most talented, and yet most undisciplined band in the history of recorded music. There is no person in their right mind that will say that they aren't a collection of some of the most talented virtuoso performers on the planet. With all their talent though, they are simply not disciplined enough to write songs that aren't bloated, pompous and designed to be more of a showcase of their musicianship than to creating something instantly memorable to anyone but their hardcore fans. There's a reason that casual fans don't know that they ever had another song after "Pull Me Under" - it's the lack of discipline in their songwriting to write concise, brilliant songs. They have brilliant performances all over each and every release, but few brilliant songs. I'd argue that Mr. Big was a much better band. They are a band of equal talent individually, but were also a band that honed their individual talents to create a lot more memorable songs. Let the hatred begin!
So, after what was a really solid effort with A DRAMATIC TURN OF EVENTS, Dream Theater falls backwards with their new, self-titled effort. Like always, there are some big, lush songs here. The slow moving ballad "The Bigger Picture" is an absolutely grand song that could act as the soundtrack to a very long movie preview. While I will give them some credit for shortening up most of the songs (with only 1 tune breaking the 8 minute mark), the band once again spend far too much time noodling around instead of creating anything that's easy to grasp. I get it...that's their thing. They want people to dig deep into the tunes to fully "get" what they are doing. I also get that I'm not one of those guys. There's too much other music out there that's more fun and doesn't require months of dissection to appreciate. While I can listen to a song like "Enigma Machine" and appreciate the brilliant performances from guitarist John Petrucci, drummer Mike Mangini, keyboardist Jordan Rudess and bassist John Myung, none of it is peripherally memorable at all. In fact, listening to DREAM THEATER, the only instantly memorable part of the entire experience is the somewhat simple and raw guitar lead from Petrucci on "Behind The Veil". As for the rest of the material, it just doesn't stick at all. Maybe I'm just too dumb to get it.
I know this though. I'm not too dumb to understand the complete and totally useless experience that ends this release - the over 22 minute long opus called "Illumination Theory". There's never, ever a need for a song this long, and the reality is that it's not one song. It's three or four fused together. Again, it's that lack of discipline I was talking about.
PITRIFF RATING - 60/100 - I get that this is what Dream Theater does, and I get that it's just not my thing. I appreciate the talent of the musicians in the band. Even trying to judge this against their past catalog though, it's a letdown. It's certainly not as good as A DRAMATIC TURN OF EVENTS. It's certainly not as good as TRAIN OF THOUGHT, or even SYSTEMATIC CHAOS. It's closer to BLACK CLOUDS & SILVER LININGS in my book, and that isn't great. If you are a hardcore, you'll add 40 to my score anyway and claim it as perfect, just like the rest of their catalog. To me though, DREAM THEATER is fairly blah.