A look at Dream Theater's 'A Dramatic Turn of Events.'
An apt title, though the reason why it is apt is apparently not why it was chosen. Dream Theater’s newest album came out recently, and I picked it up (there’s a lot of good albums coming out around now, with Opeth and Mastodon’s latest opuses being on my wanted list as well). I managed to get the collector’s edition, because, once again, my local HMV refused to stock anything else. So I get an extra 60 minute discography (remember the whole ‘search for a new drummer’ thing they posted on Youtube?) and, I think, instrumentals of the tracks. Truth be told, I haven’t spent much time with the second disc, so I’m still not sure as to its contents, but that isn’t what matters now.
I’ll avoid discussing the whole almost-eponymous situation regarding the departure of Mike Portnoy and the introduction of new drummer Mike Mangini. There’s been plenty of coverage of that, and anything I say would just be a rehashing. Simply put, this post will focus on the music itself.
The album definitely opens on a strong note, in particular 'On The Backs Of Angels, which is a very good song. It’s classic Dream Theater, taking all that’s good with previous songs and extending it. It’s the same with every song – classic Dream Theater. And can it really be a bad thing if a brilliant band continue to do what makes them so good?
Well… yes. There’s little to make this album stand out. Their best albums had Dream Theater making changes to their sound both subtle and overt, and, when it worked, it made them stand out – it was these little flairs which made these albums so great. ‘A Dramatic Turn of Events’ lacks this uniqueness. This is, perhaps, the sound of a band who has found a comfortable place and begun to grow complacent, a band who has grown afraid of risk-taking. This is a bad thing in pretty much any situation, but it is an atrocity in progressive music which is focused on doing something new, on change, on progressing – it’s there in the fucking title!
In truth, I expected this. The band chose the safe route with Mangini – he’s a good drummer, yes, but my fear is, and has always been that his style is too close to Portnoy’s. It’s hard to blame them, really – if they’d changed, fans would have been furious, claiming the new drummer has ruined the band or other such inane statements. So, in the end, they played it safe.
Don’t get me wrong. I like this album – it’s a good listen. Genuinely, it’s fun. But, apart from ‘…Angels’ and ‘Lost Not Forgotten’ (a delightful song), there is nothing that stands out. It’s good, but nothing outstanding, and, for that, it pales in comparison to previous albums. And that’s damning for a band that is the pioneer of a genre that, at a base level at least, frowns on complacency. Dream Theater have become what so many other ‘Prog’ bands have become – competent, indeed, excellent, musicians, who copy the genre leaders. In this case, they’re copying their own formula, and avoiding innovation in the process. I’m definitely going to listen to this album some more, but I don’t see it lasting as long as other albums. It lacks that little… spark of genius that makes a classic.