Greatest Hit (...and 21 other pretty cool songs)
Review by Gary Hill
You know, a band with one real hit might be bitter. From the humorous title of this set, it seems like that’s not the case with Dream Theater. You have to give them some serious kudos for the title, no matter what you think of the band. Personally, I’ve always liked DT, all the way back to the debut album. Well, this set captures a lot of great tunes from the group, making it an excellent first choice for those who have no Dream Theater in their collection. They put in a lot of alternate versions here, though, meaning that it will be of interest to DT fanatics, as well.
This is a great set, but were I to find anything to complain about it would be the way the two discs are divided up. While on the one hand I applaud the “dark and light” division, it seems that the disc might have flowed better had the tracks been interspersed. As it is, I suppose you can decide what type of a ride you are in the mood for and do it that way. But if you want to listen end to end it feels a bit monolithic at times. Still that’s a minor quibble. This is a great set. Here’s a big congrats to Dream Theater on their one hit and looking forward to the next one. Once they have that we can get a true “Greatest Hits” release. Where I have already reviewed the track (as presented here) before I’ve just copied and pasted that review here for consistency.
|Track by Track Review
|Disc 1: (The Dark Side)|
|Pull Me Under (2007 Remix)|
This is it – the Dream Theater hit. We get a new remix of the cut. It seems to have an extended introduction at least by my recollection. Say what you want about this tune, but it’s hard-edged and perhaps a bit “single oriented,” but it’s also one great tune. Between the Metallica-like thrash moments, the more dramatic progressive rock sounds and the killer vocal performance - you can’t go wrong with this. It’s every bit as strong as the day it was released.
|Take The Time (2007 Remix)|
Here we get another new remix of a song from Images and Words. This cut has always been a great one and this new rendition seems pretty close to the original to me. I’ve always loved LaBrie’s vocal delivery on this track, but the music is killer, too. It’s another winner and a great addition to the set. The frantic fast paced jam on this is a killer as is the mellower, more evocative segment. All in all, this is a great track.
|Lie (Single Edit)|
Percussion brings this in and then it turns heavy. For those who say that Dream Theater is actually a prog metal band, this one is certainly ammunition. And, for the most part, if this were the only song in their catalog, I’d agree. Of course, while they may only have one “hit,” they’ve got a lot more songs. If they didn’t they wouldn’t be much of a band. I don’t hear any huge difference between the original “album” version and this edit.
This number is essentially a ballad, but contains some very metallic sections. In fact, it is quite reminiscent of Metallica in places, and the last sections of this song are very hard rocking moments.
|Home (Single Edit)|
Another killer cut, this has definite metallic elements. It’s also packed with Eastern musical tinges. I suppose it’s another that people could use for ammunition to lump the band in under the “heavy metal” banner. We get a killer frantic prog jam (based in those Eastern textures) and then they drop it down for a full on klezmer party that’s quite cool.
|Misunderstood (Single Edit)|
A pretty guitar oriented balladic approach makes the central core of this song. It’s a bit dark and moody. They power this up a bit as they carry on, but its stays clear of any traces of metal until around two minutes in. Then it bursts out into a crunchy version of itself, but I’d hesitate to call it metallic. They create layers of drama and elegance through added instrumentation. At about the three minute mark, they do turn things to rather metal based structures. Still, it’s twisted and feels closer to modern King Crimson than any heavy metal band. It shifts out from there into a powered up version of its earlier themes. That metallic King Crimson section ends this.
|The Test That Stumped Them All|
Firing off with frantic neo-prog riffing that borders on metal, this has a “million notes a minute” feel to it. They crunch things out towards more pure metal before the vocals enter. This one is probably equal parts heavy metal and progressive rock. It’s a killer tune, although definitely ammunition to the “Dream Theater is a metal band” devotees. The weird, Pentwater / Gentle Giant sort of journey mid track would be hard for those guys to rationalize, though.
|As I Am|
OK, OK, I admit it, this one has a lot in common with ultra heavy, plodding doom metal. They put some dark prog interludes in the midst of this here and there, though to break things up. The vocal delivery on this one is quite strong and overall this is one of my favorite tracks here. Of course, I should explain that while I’m a prog fanatic, Black Sabbath is also one of my favorites. This seems to do a nice job of incorporating both of those sounds – and we even get a bit of Alice In Chains here at times.
At almost eleven and a half minutes in length, this is an epic number. Pretty, yet dark and sad in texture, balladic motifs start things off here. They bring it gradually upward. It stays in the mellower tones for a while and then bursts out into more metallic ground with a fiery jam that’s both emotional and intense. They work through a more pure prog jam from there and then shift it back down to the ballad mode. This alternating pattern becomes the order of the day here. At around five minutes they fire out into a more pure metal segment, this frantic and heavy. Keyboards are introduced to this after a time to temper it and bring it more into a prog rock vein. Then it shifts almost into a metallic Emerson Lake and Palmer for a time. This gives way to a killer retro textured, but still quite heavy, jam. A series of changes and directional alterations take it here and there and they wander between prog and metal zones with apparent ease. The one thing that isn’t easy is keeping up with the changes because they come so fast. There is one cool section that has a neo-classical bent and reminds me a bit of “Flight of the Bumblebee.” Just don’t try to get a grip on this music because you might get thrown off quickly due to the rapid fire changes. It’s like trying to sit atop a bull as it twists and turns surging forward in an attempt to throw you through the air. They pull things back into the song proper a little past the nine minute mark so they can wind things up. What a ride this one has been!
|The Root Of All Evil|
This comes in frantically fast. It’s got a texture that calls to mind metal, but also somehow reminds me of some retro rock and roll. It works through like this for a while before dropping back for the verse. It’s still chunky and bass heavy, but more stripped down. “The Root of All Evil” is definitely another that has a lot of heavy metal in the mix. They move it out into this killer dramatic segment later that is purely brilliant. Of course, this eventually gives way to one of the most purely metallic sections on show here. It works through variations of these varying themes in a powerhouse jam. There is a cool fusion on steroids segment in this. This is one of my favorite pieces on the first disc.
A bluesy sort of approach, mellow and just a little twisted leads this off. The cut grows in mellow ways. For some reason this reminds me a bit of Alice Cooper. It becomes more lush in arrangement after a while, the oddness of the track dropping away for a time. When it moves on, though, that bit of a tweak is back and with a more powerful arrangement. It shifts out to a more melodic and potent prog rock sound for a while. This is beautiful and emotional. They bring in drama and bombastic elements as they carry it forward. You might hear traces of Pink Floyd’s The Wall here, but with a more traditional progressive rock edge. It moves out to a frantic, metallic jam after this. Then the whole cut is reformed in a metallic vision. They work through this musical theme presenting new and more inspired incarnations and we get some killer instrumental work. You’ll probably hear Rush on this at times, but there’s certainly plenty of other things going on as well. All in all it’s an extended and furious instrumental journey. It resolves out into triumphant sounding progressive rock that is so tasty it hurts. At around the six minute mark they move it back into metal territory for a new journey. These tones take them in new melodic directions and it is played up in a theatric pattern before they move it out into the next vocal portion. It works after a while into a more intensified occurrence of the earlier themes and they work through these revisited concepts on their path to conclusion. We get another frantic diversion around the eight and a half minute mark that takes us to the outro through a number of varying themes. We get a reprise of the metal sounds to finalize things. This is a killer!
|Disc 2: (The Light Side)|
|Another Day (2007 Remix)|
Here we get another new remix version. This has always been another of my favorite Dream Theater songs. It’s certainly one that the prog purists can come onboard a bit easier with. It’s generally balladic, but they power it up at times, too. This is both pretty and poignant depending on the section. You don’t get many Dream Theater songs with saxophone. This is one. The vocal performance and this has moments that purely soar. This song has always really done it for me and it still holds up just as well.
|To Live Forever|
A balladic arrangement begins this one is mellow and moody ways. It powers up a bit before it hits the one minute mark. This has a great progressive rock goes accessible rocker approach. It’s another strong tune.
|Lifting Shadows Off A Dream|
Harmonics begin this in a dramatic, if understated way. This never climbs extremely high in terms of hard rocking textures, but it gets emotionally powerful in terms of the arrangement. Overall, this is still really a ballad with a powered up approach. We get a little crunch later, but it doesn’t change the overall motif.
|The Silent Man|
This has always been a favorite of mine. It has a dramatic balladic approach. The vocal performance is emotional and strong. It’s over a minute in before they bring it up at all beyond the opening acoustic ballad motif. Even then, it’s through just an intensification of the main theme and musical concept. This grows later in a cool instrumental journey but still it doesn’t rise far beyond the level of a pretty balladic arrangement.
Another ballad, “Hollow Years” begins with a pretty and moody section containing some nice, jazzy acoustic guitar work. This tune contains a very pleasing acoustic guitar solo, and some very beautiful piano in the climax.
|Through Her Eyes (Alternate Album Mix)|
A soulful gospel like sound leads things off here, female vocals working with guitar and other elements to create the soundscape. After a time like this it shifts out to a rather balladic format to continue on. I love LaBrie’s vocals on this cut and this is one of the most mellow and emotional tracks here. They power it up a bit as they carry on, but again it’s just through a more intense arrangement than any alteration of the musical style.
|The Spirit Carries On|
A pretty piano based ballad, it’s almost two minutes in before any other instrumentation comes in. They turn this into more of a rocker as they move it forward, but it’s still a very beautiful and emotional number that is a highlight. We get some rather Pink Floyd like sounds at times here (think The Wall).
|Solitary Shell (Single Edit)|
A bouncing sort of acoustic guitar motif leads this off, folky and rather fun. As keyboards skirt across the top it feels a lot like Yes to me. The vocals bring in an entirely different sound, though. It’s another that they power up a bit, but still keep it rather in the ballad-styled texture. I hear more hints of Yes at times on this arrangement. It’s a good tune, but perhaps not one of the highlights.
|I Walk Beside You|
This one rocks out more than the other material on the second disc. I like this one alright, but it kind of pales compared to some of the other music on this set.
|The Answer Lies Within|
Here we get another beautiful balladic piece. This is evocative and powerful and one of the stronger pieces on CD 2. The orchestral arrangement, though, does threaten to go over the top at points.
The sounds of nature lead us in. Then we get a very twisted sounding keyboard melody. This gives way to an exceptional beautiful and powerful ballad. They shift this towards Beatlesesque weirdness recalling both a carnival and the keyboard sounds that first appeared after the nature sounds. This works through a bit longer this time and then gives way to a fuller arrangement of the verse / chorus section. We get a crunchy section that’s quite in keeping with a Pink Floyd sort of approach. It gives way, though to a return of balladic stylings and the twisted sounds eventually return to end this.
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