Dream Theater

EastWest Records, 1994

REVIEW BY: Christopher Thelen


By 1994, progressive rock band Dream Theater had found what they may have thought they wouldn't have: consistency. They had secured a deal with a record label, and recorded two albums with the exact same lineup.

But their third album, Awake, is not as consistent as the band was at that time. There are some great moments on this release that build on their groundbreaking work Images And Words, but in the end, things do begin to splinter for James LaBrie and company.

In a sense, what you are presented with on this disc is the portrait of a band torn between two worlds. On one hand, you have a group who wants to live up to the success of the surprise hit "Pull Me Under," and struggles to come up with a song that has all the right hooks ("Caught In A Web," "Innocence Faded"). But right behind it is a band who want to follow their progressive roots, singles be damned ("6:00", the three-song suite "A Mind Beside Itself"). In the end, you'd have to call it a draw, and everyone loses some ground.my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250

If you listen to "6:00," the opening track from Awake, you quickly will realize that Dream Theater is a band who are best off left alone to do what they do the best - and that is churn out progressive rock. This song has everything, from a catchy rhythm pattern to John Petrucci's blistering guitar work, from Mike Portnoy's simple yet complex drum work to LaBrie's unrestrained vocals. It holds the promise for great things to come.

And while the first half of Awake doesn't quite turn into the blockbuster it could have been, it still holds out much promise for those willing to put the time and effort into listening to it. "Caught In A Web" actually does a disservice to Dream Theater, as it shifts the focus from strict prog-rock to a radio-friendly song. (I will admit, though, that Petrucci's guitar work on this one is astounding.) And while this track is still a favorite live staple of the audience, it was an unnecessary shift in style. Fortunately, the three songs that make up "A Mind Beside Itself" - the instrumental "Erotomania," "Voices" and "The Silent Man" - help to undo some of the damage.

It is only in the second half of Awake that the struggle between the two musical sides truly shows its head. Tracks like "The Mirror," "Lifting Shadows Off A Dream" and "Lie" all focus on a band struggling to determine which musical path will serve to provide the greater good for them. In the end, it sounds like they try to keep one foot on each path, and the music suffers. It's not that these songs are unlistenable; it's just that they don't have the glue-like qualities that keep the listener focused on other works by Dream Theater.

Maybe there were forces working on the band that I'm just not aware of at this stage. After all, this album proved to be keyboardist Kevin Moore's swan song with the group. But whatever the case, Awake is not as strong of an album as it could have been. Would Dream Theater discover the best musical route for them to take? Would it take a toll on their music? We'll have to see about that down the road...

Rating: B-

User Rating: A



© 2000 Christopher Thelen and The Daily Vault. All rights reserved. Review or any portion may not be reproduced without written permission. Cover art is the intellectual property of EastWest Records, and is used for informational purposes only.