A super interesting article written by Thiago Campos, so detailed that I would never have imagined those buried similarities.
A Dramatic Turn of Events: “Images & Words” revisited?
Dream Theater’s highly anticipated new album is a week shy of hitting the shelves, and already the glowing reviews are pouring in from journalists, DJs, music bloggers, authors from around the world. “A Dramatic Turn of Events” is their first release featuring new drummer Mike Mangini, and one with the huge task of proving to the fans that the band is alive and well after Mike Portnoy’s departure.
I have heard the album, and will say I thought it was very good overall! Considering I admittedly did not like Black Clouds & Silver Linings all that much, and how weird it is to think of a Dream Theater without Portnoy (Just because I love the man’s drumming, and thought it to be a big part of why I love this band. I’m very aware of how competent everyone in the band is), this new album was a relief for me, and I’m enjoying it a lot! Having said that, this post is not about me reviewing the album, at least not in the traditional way reviews are expected to be presented in. I am here to talk to you about the similarities between “A Dramatic Turn of Events’ and Dream Theater’s own 1992 release, “Images and Words”, a matter that hasn’t been touched by any review I’ve read so far.
Okay, maybe “similarities” isn’t quite enough to describe the relationship between the 2 albums I’m about to present to you, but let that be the word for now.
As some of you know, I am the guitarist/producer/mixer/editor of the “VRA! Split-Screen Covers”, an online collaborative project, where we record cover performances and post them on Youtube. So far we have covered 5 Dream Theater songs. Between this project, covering a few of John Petrucci’s solos, playing DT’s music with my own band for fun at times, and generally being a DT fan for over 12 years, I think it’s safe to say that I know my Dream Theater well by now. Btw, I’m also the guitarist in "Bad Salad” (we’re about to hit the studio to record our debut - http://www.facebook.com/BadSalad ), an architect, an amazing boyfriend and awesome soccer player, and generally a nice modest guy. :) … So before anyone wants to be funny about it, no, I don’t just hang around “DTing” all day.
Our latest Split-Screen Cover was of “On the Backs of Angels”, the only single off “A Dramatic Turn of Events” that was officially put out early in its entirety. Roadrunner Records released the song on their Youtube channel on June 28th, and we had our cover up by July 10th.
While I was learning how to play the song and memorizing the arrangements I noticed similarities between it and “Pull me Under”, but didn’t get too crazy over it since the time was short and I had so much to do to get the collab up (guitar playing is actually the least of my worries when I’m producing a collab like this).
When I finally heard the rest of the album, and got over the initial excitement of how awesome it was, I began spotting more similarities… “Wow, this sounds like that part on Under a Glass Moon”, “This verse develops just like that verse in Learning to Live”… The more I heard it the more “Images and Words” nuggets I found. This wasn’t just a coincidence, I was finding references to almost every song of “Images and Words” on the new album, so I decided to A/B the albums and make notes. I came to the wonderfully shocking conclusion that the entire album (or almost, I'm positive on at least 6 songs) was written based off of the charts of Images & Words songs. I know this might come across as an absurd accusation to many of you, but I wouldn’t be coming out in public with this information if I hadn’t done my homework, and if I wasn’t confident this approach to writing the new album was a conscious/intentional decision, maybe even humorous, by the band.
When I say the songs were written-off-the-charts I mean arrangement-wise, their structures, sometimes even orchestrations and nuances that make the parts what they are, and their roles within the songs. This doesn't mean they will sound alike at all, because within a given guideline for arrangement you could write virtually an infinite amount of different songs, and mainstream/pop has been doing so for decades to back me up on this statement. :)
Some of these songs are so equal in terms of arrangements that I’m surprised more people didn’t catch on to this nugget yet. Others just follow a rougher guideline (or so it seems to me at this point). Here are the matches I was able to make:
On the Backs of Angels – Pull me Under
Lost Not Forgotten – Under a Glass Moon
This is the Life – Another Day
Far from Heaven / Breaking All Illusions – Wait for Sleep / Learning to Live
Outcry – Metropolis Part 1
Bridges in the Sky – **Take the Time**
Build Me Up, Break Me Down – **Surrounded**
**Now, these last 2 matches, “Bridges in the Sky” and “Build me Up, Break me Down” were the 2 I found that followed a rougher guideline. If it weren’t for the precise pairing of the other songs on the album I might not even associate these with “Take the Time” and “Surrounded”. As it is I had to interpret how they would interpret the charts for these songs, if that makes any sense, and maybe even understand their roles on the album. For example, Surrounded was a very keyboard-driven song, and “Build Me Up, Break me Down” is too, just in a more modern way. Anyway, these 2 definitely require some more researching to allow me to come to plausible conclusions, for now I'm just suspecting the matches.
All other songs though are VERY easy to A/B (I've done them all), and you might have some fun in doing so yourself. I will go through a couple of them below however, just so you know what I mean.
BTW, “Beneath the Surface” was a song John Petrucci wrote at home on his own and presented to the band AFTER the album was done. They mentioned this on an interview, that he thought this song would fit very nicely to cool down the album at the end, so the band agreed and worked on it. This is why there are 9 songs instead of just 8.
When you compare the songs you’ll notice sometimes it’s a bit hard to spot where one section ends and another one begins if you are expecting them to be of the same length. Don’t think of it this way. In general, the sections are longer on “A Dramatic Turn of Events”. It’s as if DT redid Images and Words with an “over the top” mindset. The solos are longer, and the unisons/harmonies are longer and crazier. Keep that in mind and you’ll stay on track while comparing the pairs.
THIS IS THE LIFE – ANOTHER DAY:
- Intro clean/acoustic guitar 2x
- Full band + thematic guitar solo 1x
- *Cool down*
- Verse 1: Piano + vocals
- Verse 1: Piano + vocals + guitar volume swells
- Chorus: drums slowly build up
- Thematic solo again, “quieter” (played by the Sax on “Another Day”, cleaner guitar + keys on “This is the Life”)
- Verse 2: (harmonically/melodically similar to verse 1, but over a groove throughout)
- Bridge (climb)
- Guitar solo (not exactly the “Theme”, but derived from it)
- Chorus (this time played at its “strongest”)
- Instrumental ending on the theme (once again with the guitar in place of Saxophone)
LOST NOT FORGOTTEN – UNDER A GLASS MOON:
**piano intro presenting the theme** (this is only present on “Lost not Forgotten” and actually attempts to throw you off. I personally believe this “chopin” moment was added after the song was done) - Edit #1 (09/15/11): [This "attempts to throw you off" was originally meant as a joke (can I attempt a few "funnies" on my own fb? thank you!). By "IT" I meant the "part" as an animated clever being, not as DT members trying to sneak it in maliciously to fool everybody. I had to edit in this bit because people are using this portion of my text to disqualify an otherwise objective analysis]
- Guitar + key plays the theme (guitar: Root + Octave, slides up and down the neck)
- Drums join in: Double Bass patterns (doubled by the bass guitar) + 4/4 snare feel
- Drums/Bass continue the pattern, guitars are harmonizing over the theme
- Guitar joins drums and bass on the “Pattern” they were doing (+unison riff to lead to the next part)
- Weird-ass guitar/key unison (diminished, full-tone type vibe) / drums & bass speed it up (double feel)
- Verse 1 Riff (4/4) *no vocals yet*
- Verse 1 Riff (4/4) + keys (serving the pad role) + Vocals
- Verse… (getting hotter to lead into the chorus)
- Chorus: Double-bass drums + /8 snare feel + intricate unison riffing in between chorus lines (fast bit at the end)
- Verse 1 riffing again (no vox)
- Verse 2 riff: guitar cools down, Bass guitar is supporting the rhythm more predominantly
- Bridge: Bass still holding it together, guitar doing higher single dotted 4th notes (keys supporting these notes)
- Chorus: (same style)… with the in-between vocal lines riffing and the “quickie” finishing it off
- break: Keys playing the whole weird break lines + guitar and bass just accenting a few notes (lots of pauses)
- Guitar joins keys on the lead lines, bass still holds the accents
- Guitar plays a power-chord type variation of this theme + bass: keys are now pad-style
- (band pauses just before the guitar solo)
- Guitar solo, over 3 different accompaniment/progressions/moods
- Instrumental bit “in-between solos”
- Keyboard solo (“airy/dreamy” ascending chords)
- Weird Full-Band Unison/Break (the type you need to count through until you memorize)
- Chorus (with slight vocal variations on the 2nd part) - no more in-between riffing like on the previous choruses
- “quickie” riff once again
- Main epic theme from the intro (Root + Octave guitar) + that double bass drum pattern with the bass guitar
- Closing riff
This should be enough to illustrate what I’m talking about. Hope you have some fun figuring this stuff out for yourself while listening to the other songs on the album. Here’s one more interesting fact to everything I just pointed out: John Myung wrote 1 lyrics for Images and Words, and it was “Learning to Live”, and he only wrote lyrics for “Breaking All Illusions” on the new album.
I have no idea why Dream Theater did this. Maybe because it was the album that “made them” in a time where it was a do or die for their careers, so it’s an inspiring model. Maybe because this represents a new beginning for them with Mike Mangini, as it was when James Labrie joined the band back then. Maybe to celebrate 20 years of the album that defined the Dream Theater sound? Maybe they just thought it would be a fun challenge to write unique songs over pre-established charts, much like a few fans did (myself included) when they held the Stream of Consciousness song-writing contest back in 2002-2003. Either way, I applaud them for having the balls to do it and for the overall quality the end result turned out to have. I know how hard it is to write a song based off of a pre-established arrangement and have it sound concise, genuine and inspired. The tendency is to have a fucked up Frankenstein instead of music, so props to DT for pulling it off.
Written by: Thiago Campos