Deep Music Criticism #13 – Dream Theater’s Scenes from a Memory

In my quest to comprehend and appreciate the prog-metal warhorse of a band Dream Theater, I’ve been listening to their classic concept album Scenes from a Memory – also known by its more verbose title: Metropolis Pt. 2: Scenes from a Memory.

So far…meh. But read on.

There was a time in my life when I was a bit enthralled with concept albums. Rush’s 2112 was and still is endearing and brings back memories to when I first awakened to adventurous rock music. Queensrÿche’s Operation: Mindcrime was a smaller obsession a bit later. In a sense, every well-programmed and sequenced album of music should carry a concept and theme from start to finish, whether that be mood, musical element (like tempo, tonality), or whatever. But for an album to truly qualify as “concept”, there has to be a programmatic story – usually sung as lyrics, ala opera.

Unfortunately, in “Scenes” Dream Theater yet again sounds to me like extended fits of shredding and riffage, all strung together in rigid sections and sub-sections that have absolutely zero transition from one to the next. Its the kind of stuff any skilled performer comes up when noodling on their instrument for 30 seconds. This band simply does that noodling…ahem…composition together as a team, playing in unison or coordinated counterpoint, and they call each 5-10 minute span of time doing this a “prog-metal song”.

Cheesy similac synthesized versions of truly classic keyboards (hammond organ, Steinway grand) is another one of the annoying timbral problems I have with the band – and with Scenes from a Memory in particular. For example: track #6 Scene Four – Beyond This Life has the most horrid-sounding fake brass keyboard solo midway through. Its a shame too – the melodic line and accompanying guitar/bass ostinato is actually very slick and unexpected – very chromatic, with extended jazz chords. Jordan Rudess plays a nice “outside” solo. Its just that horrible synth sound kind of ruins it. The guitar+synth marimba solo that ends this section, on the other hand, is awesome and is straight out of the Frank Zappa playbook. Take a listen:

Don’t mistake me for a Dream Theater Hater – I’ve positively reviewed their song Forsaken on this blog. In bits and pieces, I do indeed get a thrill out of a Dream Theater song, but I think their genesis at Berklee College as a true “musician’s band” – or eclectic virtuoso’s jam band – forever dooms most of their efforts to a somewhat sterile kind of exercise or work-out music:

  • Every song has to feature a John Petrucci shred section
  • Every song has to feature a Jordan Rudess classical interlude section
  • Every song has to feature a polyrhythmic spasm from Mike Portnoy (or whoever took over for him)

Unfortunately for me, Scenes from a Memory has fewer of the thrilling moments and too many of the formulaic stretches to make it a fun listen more than once or twice.

Here’s the podcast version of this article:

Here’s the video cast version:

  • John Petrucci

    That’s a shame. I’ve always thought so highly of your work.

    • bensommer

      OMG not THE John Petrucci – I take it all back!!! Puhleeeez forgive me!!

      🙂

  • ric

    This is the first article I read on this site. So far… meh. lol

    Opinions are opinions. For me, this is a masterpiece.