Get off my lawn.

Saturday, October 21, 2006


Just got the newest CD from Dream Theater. It's called "Octavarium".

I've always thought of Dream Theater as one of life's great ironies. Here's why:

Imagine if you took 5 of the best musicians in the world, gave them the best equipment, a big budget, and lots of time, and told them to get together in a studio and let their creativity run wild. I would think you could reasonably expect stellar results.

So, there's Dream Theater. Arguably 5 of the best musicians in the world, getting together with some really good equipment and apparently ample time, letting their creativity run wild. The irony, as you're probably expecting, is the results. Not always stellar. Sometimes the singer does this weird thing with his voice that sounds... Well, I'll be nice, and just say "not manly". There's just kind of a wide vibrato with a lady-like lilt to it. I'm pretty sure I've never heard a man make a sound like it. Then there's the synth solos. Admittedly, I'm not big on those, it's a personal thing. At best, I think they sound like a small animal being tortured. At worst, they bring to mind the image of a weirdo in a pink spandex jumpsuit and an exposed hairy chest dancing around with one of those strap-on keyboards on. Echh...

Then there's the "group" solos. Remember, these guys are amazing musicians. If I had 1 penny for each note each one of these guys plays in an average solo (and they all play solos), I could quit my job. Their later albums feature a lot of "solos" that somehow involve the whole band. Everyone joins in on the fun. The drums sound as though someone dropped them into a tornado filled with drumsticks, the guitar player is wearing out picks by the bucketful, the keyboards sound like a herd of angry cats is running around on them, the bassist sounds like he has 30 extra fingers. The singer is taking a break. The weird thing is, they're all going nuts (except the singer), but they're all in perfect sync. They all speed up and slow down at the same rate, at the same time, and never have a wreck. They change modes in perfect sync, and do some really weird stuff. One of their earlier albums has a section where the speed-metal song they're playing degenerates into ragtime for about 10 seconds before taking off in a different direction. It's the sound of 5 great musicians with total creative latitude showing off, and it's so over the top, it actually works some of the time.

But sometimes it gets annoying. I sit there listening until I just can't take it anymore, then I say "wankers!" and hit the "FF" button.

Another thing is how long the songs are. I kind of like epic pieces of music, but it's a little inconvenient when you can't get in your car, drive 40 miles, and even get through one song on the trip. Dream Theater must be making prog metal for Amish people who ride to town in horse-drawn buggies.

Before you get to thinking I don't like them, understand that I own every one of Dream Theater's albums. Why? Every one of them has moments on it that make goose bumps pop up on your skin. I think it's a "musician" thing, and I know other musicians that experience the same phenomenon. I even read an interview with Alex Lifeson where he mentions the "GB Factor", which is how he used to measure the goodness of a particular piece of music. He would watch his arm while he listened to something, and if goose bumps appeared on it, he knew it was good.

"Octavarium" is good. DT seems to alternate between making "listenable" albums, and more wankish ones. This one leans far to the listenable side. The singer (James LaBrie) is still doing weird things with his voice. On "Panic Attack", a double-bass thrashing metal song, he sounds just like Gwen Stefani! There's a song that sounds like something U2 would do. I like it. Actually, I like them all. I think this is the first time I've listened to a DT album 3 times in a row, and not hit "FF".

The title track, "Octavarium", ends the CD, and is a perfect example of Dream Theater in action: It's very long, and it contains a big crazy middle section full of solos and unbridled wankery. The song roars along for about 15 minutes, farting and belching and grinding. There's a rapping pirate at one point (I'm not joking!), and they play the main riff from "Jingle Bells" at one point. (I'm not joking here, either). Kind of ridiculous. However: The last 4 minutes of that song contain some of the highest-horsepower music ever created. It sounds huge. Imagine the biggest movie ever made, with the most climactic ending ever imagined... Something involving mountains exploding, giants roaming, clouds parting, Hobbits pillow fighting, and God Almighty riding in on a white horse. This would be the kind of music you'd expect to hear. I played that last part of the song for my mom, an operatic-voiced classically-trained music snob from way back. She said "Wow! That's cool. Let's hear it again."

No kidding.


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