This should have been a walkover victory, man! When my favorite band of all time play a selection of their greatest tracks combined with 1999s conceptual masterpiece “Metropolis Part 2 – Scenes From a Memory” in its entirety the review pretty much should write itself. Cue your entrepid reviewer reaching for the synonym dictionary and looking up new ways to write awesome without sounding absolutely demented.
This time around however, that does not happen.
It has nothing to do with me hating live albums, because I really don´t. It has nothing to do with the performances per se. Hell, Dream Theater on a sh*tty day beats 97 percent of all the others out there. It has nothing to do with singer James LaBrie struggling here and there vocally so some of his vocals has been corrected in post-production. Hell, can Madonna do it and convince exactly no one, so can JLB. He is still my hero and always will be and he sounds really good here, especially on the “SFaM”-part of this 3 CD set.
DT has never been a “vibe”-band at all but I can not for the life of me escape that constant, nagging word that keeps popping up in my sad excuse for a brain throughout these 140 minute is: static. And as I don´t wanna get hatemail from fans of Mike Mangini, let me just say that I do think he is the right drummer for DT at this moment in time and that I´ve been nothing but supportive since his arrival back in 2010. The guy´s freakin´ phenomenal and seems to be a really cool dude as well.
The thing is that with music this complex being performed by virtuosos at the top of their game there must be somewhere where the songs themselves are allowed to breathe and on these discs it gets a bit static and lifeless. And on many occasions on this album they nail their different parts in such perfect time that the air is squeezed out of them and it dehumanizes them. The production and all over sound is a bit too compressed as well.
On a lighter note, as I´m a sucker for an epic or five, the inclusion of behemoths “A Nightmare to Remember” (Labries growly shriek at 11.35 is so cool!) and “In The Presence of Enemies Pt I” makes me a happy Marty and they are performed well, if again, a bit stale. The rest of the songs are taken from the band´s newest album “Distance over Time” and stand up well in the competition, the immensely beautiful “Barstool Warrior” being my pick of the bunch.
So why only 6.5 out of 10?
Well, listen to this and then put on “Live at The Marquee” from 1993. The band was playing as if their lives depended on it, every second of every song is vibrant with excitement, raring to go on a musical journey. In comparison the DT of 2020 sound content, safe and confident. Nothing wrong with that but I so prefer the latter.
Artist: Dream Theater
Title: Distant Memories
Label: Inside Out Records
Date of release: 27th of November
Time: 140 minutes
Standout track: Barstool Warrior, A Nightmare to Remember, Finally Free