Dream Theater

Mosh

Winner of the 2020 Dumbest Comment Ever Award
Staff member
Images and Words
Everyone talks about the jump from WDADU to I&W and rightfully so. It really is an incredible leap. In the span of two albums, DT went from being a decent basement Metal band to world class force. Every weak area is improved: the songwriting is stronger, the playing is better, the vocals, the production, the lyrics. It might as well be a different band. While there’s extensive documentation around this period, interviews, the biography, liner notes, etc etc, I don’t think we’ve ever really learned what exactly caused the band to make these creative leaps in such a short period of time. But it’s the same amount of progress that we typically see bands make in the span of a few albums. It’s like if Pink Floyd went straight from A Saucerful of Secrets to Dark Side of the Moon, or if Rush went straight from Fly By Night to Moving Pictures. Whatever it is, I&W is an album that is fully worth the hype. It wouldn’t be unusual to see a DT top ten that featured at least five of the album’s songs. And although we know the most popular album is rarely also the best, especially when the discography is as expansive as Dream Theater’s, you could make a strong argument for this one (although I would pick two or three other albums before I get to I&W.

In retrospect, I do think there are a lot of elements in I&W that, for better or worse, didn’t really stay in the band’s arsenal. This album is very produced. Lots of glittery vocal overdubs, a drum sound that is very of its time, and as has been beat into the ground mostly by Portnoy, there was a lot of outside influence on this album. The record label blocked the band from putting A Change of Seasons on the album (the right choice IMO) and Pull Me Under was conceived after a request from an A&R rep to write some more commercial material. Obviously this level of outside involvement would eventually come to a head and Dream Theater has been self produced and managed for the majority of their career (to varying degrees of success I would say). But they rarely venture into the same commercial territory as some of the material on I&W and when they do it seems more because they were influenced by a pop artist rather than they’re trying to score another hit single.

I also think the album is lyrically quite different from basically every other Dream Theater album. Petrucci’s writing is very freshman English major, but I’m not sure if any of his songs (Another Day excepted) actually mean anything. Kevin Moore is the strongest lyricist on the album, he has the same flowery style as Petrucci, but it’s much easier to extract meaning from the songs and I’ve found that they tend to speak to me a lot more as a result. Same with Myung, Learning to Live is probably to this day his most interesting lyrical contribution. Starting on Awake, Petrucci would start writing more about personal experiences and Portnoy’s lyrical contributions would also take the band in a more to the point direction. This is all for the better, I have a hard time connecting to a lot of the I&W material on a lyrical level and I think that is one element (along with the super glossy production) that keeps it at a solid #3 or #4 spot in my rankings.
 

MindRuler

Ancient Mariner
I&W, together with Awake is my favourite by far.
Really incredible songs and musicianship. I remember my first time listening to this album (I had bought Live At The Marquee and Awake earlier, the latter was just released back then) and totally overwhelmed by it.
 

MrKnickerbocker

clap hands
Images and Words is a perfect, magical album. WDADU truly sounds like a demo (and a terrible one) compared to this album.

The songwriting is interesting, exciting, and unique. Petrucci and Co. seamlessly blend elements of metal, rock, jazz, blues, prog, and funk into something distinctly them. James LaBrie's performance is astounding throughout. His range is truly impeccable and, even at its most shrill, his tone carries every song to new heights. I understand the criticisms many find in his voice, but there are no criticisms to be had here (or on the next album). This may be the only Dream Theater album that sounds like a band. It sounds like 5 people harmoniously creating something far greater than their individual parts. There is no other album in the discography that sounds like this, as later records tend towards the "Petrucci wrote this song so it's built around three heavy riffs and solos." Scenes from a Memory is probably the second most collaborative-sounding.

As for the songs (and the track order), it's spellbinding. It is a truly progressive record. It is the record that still defines the band to this day. Images and Words is an experience. There is not a bad song here, there is not even an average song here. It is my favorite Dream Theater record, it is the best Dream Theater record.
 

MrKnickerbocker

clap hands
I feel like I should rank Awake higher than I do. It's heavier than its predecessor, darker, moodier, and it sounds better...but it just never really clicks with me as a whole (despite being far more instrumentally connected than many Dream Theater albums). The whole album feels very concept driven in terms of the pure musicality, it all flows rather nicely in a way that even Images and Words does not. While it is an expertly crafted piece of work, the compositions themselves do not draw me in nearly as much as they did on the previous album (or as they will do on later albums).

There is a lot of greatness to be found here, particularly the infectiously groovy opener 6:00, the twin pummeling of The Mirror and Lie, the brilliantly slithering Erotomania, and the myriad beautiful melodies found in songs like Space Dye Vest, The Silent Man, etc. Many of these songs, however, fail to hold my attention even after repeated listens over the years. I feel like Voices and Scarred are referenced frequently by fans as being top tier material, but they just don't do it for me. Innocence Faded and Lifting Shadows Off a Dream reach for the pure emotion of something similar to Surrounded, but never get there.

Petrucci's playing on this record skews a bit more bluesy and occasionally a bit towards Satriani-worship (which is never really a bad thing), but he sounds phenomenal. LaBrie, again, just demolishes the whole album from start to finish. It's probably his most finely tuned and multi-faceted performance on any single Dream Theater record. It's just not his catchiest. Portnoy and Myung, as always, provide a stellar backbone (when they're not taking turns in the spotlight). I feel like you can hear the tension throughout the record of Kevin Moore's dissatisfaction with the group. It's probably responsible for a lot of the darkness heard here.

All in all: a good record with many classics and a bunch of songs I wouldn't be upset to see in a live set (and have many times). Some elusive, dark mystery will always keep it from being one of my favorites, however, which feels almost like something Awake strived to achieve.

6:00 - 10/10
Caught in a Web - 9/10
Innocence Faded - 6/10
Erotomania - 10/10
Voices - 7/10
The Silent Man - 8/10
The Mirror - 10/10
Lie - 10/10
Lifting Shadows off a Dream - 6/10
Scarred - 9/10
Space-Dye Vest - 7/10

Album rating - 8.3/10
 

MrKnickerbocker

clap hands
I could do without "Space-Dye Vest". It feels like it doesn't belong. It's a Dream Theater album that ends with a Kevin Moore solo song.
And admittedly so! They only put it there to appease him. I love the piano playing and the vibe of the song, just wish it had 100% less media sampling and didn’t end the record.
 

Detective Beauregard

Independent as a hog on ice
I’m a big fan of Lifting Shadows. The whole thing has a very tranquil, almost zen-like quality to it. It may never reach typical DT highs, but it’s an underrated song for sure.

I used to love Awake, but over the years it has fallen off for me. It’s a dark album, and I prefer DT’s sound to be more uplifting.
 

Spambot

Ancient Mariner
"The Alien" grew on me, although I expected it to be more "out of the box" with that kind of title (my immediate though is that Ruddes would steal the show, but he somehow constrained himself). On a negative note, it doesn't quite sound like a 9-minute song. It looked like a straightforward verse-chorus song, I have no idea how they made 9 minutes out of it.

"Invisible Monster" on the other hand... Umh... Let's just say that "Invisible Monster" makes AC/DC sound progressive.
 

TheMercenary

Ancient Mariner
My favorite DT album is 'Train Of Thoughts'. I don't appreciate so much what the band have done after that, exceptions are 'Octavarium' and 'Distance Over Time'. Now I'm listening to 'A View From The Top Of The World' and it sounds nice. I'll need more listenings to fully appreciate it, though. Moreover, I don't understand why 'Image And Words' is so appreciated by DT fans. It's a boring and cheesy record. After that, the albums are OK, especially 'Metropolis Part 2' and 'Six Degrees Of Inner Turbulence'.
 
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