I am not a huge DREAM THEATER fan by any means. Their brand of self-indulgent Prog certainly does have its moments, however scattered they may be, but their albums don’t really see regular rotation in my player. That being said, I will concede that “Images And Words” is a great effort and while many see “Falling Into Infinity” as their worst effort I actually found myself liking this album a lot more than I thought I would.
The cover art alone looks very indie - their familiar logo is nowhere to be found – and for some reason I expected this album to be very much in the vein of RUSH’s heavily synth-driven 80s works. Not true though, as “Falling Into Infinity” sees the band in a very pensive mood, the music being much more linear and stripped-down than what many have rightfully come to expect. Not being too fond of overly pompous song writing I latched onto this album exactly because of this album’s more straightforward nature and I must say the songs breathe much easier without the weight of a gazillion solos and tempo changes every few seconds, with LaBrie in particular delivering a solid performance. The single “You Not Me” is a great mid-paced song (structurally reminiscent of their big hit “Pull Me Under”) with LaBrie delivering an impassioned performance, especially during the bridge parts. Both “Peruvian Skies” and “Hollow Years” are more introspective ballad-like numbers with strong choruses soothing piano/keyboard work, with the former standing out with its heavy riff-centred ending that contrasts well with the calm first half, while the latter features yet another emotionally charged vocal performance (the “Carry Me To The Shoreline...” chorus is excellent). Things take a turn for the heavier with “Burning My Soul” but the repetitive chorus is a slight letdown while “Lines In The Sand” (good jazzy break here) is a bit more progressive and fast paced, as are the next few songs, before two more demure numbers in “Anna Lee” and “Trail Of Tears” close out the album in decent style. The fact that the relatively simplistic “Trail Of Tears” managed to hold my attention despite its 13+ minute duration is indicative of this album’s subtle strengths.
Overall this album is no match for “Images...” and it is nowhere near as progressive and dark as “Six Degrees Of Inner Turbulence” and especially “Train Of Thought”, but if you like a more grounded DREAM THEATER (a la “Octavarium”) then you’ll find much to appreciate on this album. The sound is crisp and everyone checked their egos at the door (especially Petrucci) – no long-winded solos to be found here – and the result is one of their stronger and more focused works to date. Derek Sherinian is no Kevin James IMO but his contribution on the keys is spot on and a lot better than the wank-fests Jordan Rudess has become infamous for on later albums. Forget the naysayers - this album is a solid slab of Progressive Metal that is actually surprisingly listenable.
(Online March 10, 2009)