The popularity of long-winded, experimental progressive rock albums – which seldom yield easy three-minute pop radio singles – has taken a drastic decline over the past 20 years. Nevertheless, during that period, Dream Theater has continued to carry the banner of rock innovation, sometimes turning out songs that last more than 40 minutes!
Score documents the final performance of their 20 th Anniversary World Tour, recorded live on April 1, 2006 in New York. If you watch VH-1 Classic, you may have seen some of these performances; over the past week the channel has been running a 1-hour excerpt of the companion DVD documenting the tour.
Two of the discs in the three-CD Score set were recorded with the addition of “The Octavarium Orchestra,” which allows the band to expand and explore some of the themes from their past albums with a broader instrumental arsenal. For example, “The Spirit Carries On,” one of their most inspiring rock anthems (from the 1999 CD Metropolis Part II: Scenes from a Memory) opens with over seven minutes of orchestral exploration before launching into the familiar map of the song. The effect is cinematic – which is appropriate, since the track comes from a concept album about a murder mystery.
The addition of the orchestra is a natural move for this hard rock band, which has always offered classical textures tucked within its guitar-dominated music. The strings don't dull the bite of John Petrucci's guitar solos, and thanks in part to the work of keyboardist and lap steel guitarist Jordan Rudess, the band's songs occasionally reference the sound of “old school” progressive rock bands ranging from Styx and Kansas to Pink Floyd and Renaissance. This is a band with amazing chops, and James LaBrie's dramatic, metal-schooled vocals are the perfect complement to the complex musical mayhem that the band invents behind him.
In addition to “The Spirit Carries On,” Score features the performance of the entire 40+ minute album side Six Degrees of Inner Turbulence from the 2002 CD of the same name, a 10-minute orchestral backed version of “Metropolis” and “Under a Glass Moon” (both from 1992's Images and Words CD) and a handful of songs (including the 26-minute title track) from their last studio CD, 2005's Octavarium.
Score is a tour de force from an amazing, underappreciated rock band. For more information, check their web site at www.dreamtheater.net.
And the Glass Handed Kites
Another in the current small, but innovative crop of progressive rock acts is Mew. Hailing from Copenhagen, Denmark, the band has just hit America with its fourth CD, And the Glass Handed Kites, and you can guess from the incomprehensibility of the title that this is a band with a surreal attack on music. With instrumental work that occasionally brings to mind Radiohead or Muse, or the shoegazing drives of bands like My Bloody Valentine, it's singer Jonas Bjerre that truly takes this band into an arena of its own.
Unlike the more rock-ready vocalists of those bands, Bjerre sings mostly in a high, smooth register that's not as shrill as Yes' Jon Anderson, but does hearken back to the dreamier sides of Yes and early Genesis. It's an androgynous, heavenly voice that instantly invites the listener into the dreamy, keyboard-rich rock explorations of his band.
In “Zookeeper's Boy” Mew spins a particularly rich, ambient tapestry that calls to mind classic early Genesis sides and finds the layered vocals in the chorus sounding almost like a choir of hopeful children. It's a hauntingly beautiful dreamscape, and just one of 14 technicolor tracks on And the Glass Handed Kites.
Listening to Mew is like entering the sci-fi soundtrack to another planet…mysterious and sumptuous, ethereal yet edgy. Don't miss this unusual, amazing album. For more information, check their web site at www.mewsite.com.