Dream Theater - The Astonishing

Anyone who seriously considers themselves a critic, be it of music, fashion, high art, theatre (sic), cars, dishwashers, sex toys, whatever must push themselves into writing about something they consider to be a load of crap once in a while or risk falling into a far too comfortable luvvy-dovey relationship with the creators of the targets of their wordy fawning. Of course unlike Joe Public on Amazon, I can't and wouldn't want to get away with calling something "crap" and leaving it at that, a proper dissection is called for. Or so I reckon, anyway.

Earlier in the year the prog interwebs were stickily saturated by lengthy spurts of coverage of a new album by American ego-flexing exercise...sorry, band...Dream Theater. That wouldn't normally have bothered me a jot, but when it became clear that this strangely unlovable bunch had written a musical, my flagging interest got a tad perky. When you get to my age, you have to make the most of anything getting perky, so here goes...

You may guess from that opening salvo that Dream Theater do not not float my peculiar looking coracle, and you'd be dead right. This band to me have always been at best a triumph of technical flash over real content, and at worst dreary purveyors of artless unsubtle bombast.

As if that weren't enough, Dream Theater are often credited with inventing "prog metal", which swiftly became the first refuge of the musically stunted imagination in our particular brackish pop backwater. Yes, I know there is good prog metal out there, but most of it is about as interesting as watching a Manchester Utd football match - it's all dull recyling of the same old weary riffs and guitar sounds ad infinitum. And don't get me started on throat-shredders...

So, down to business. If there's one thing Dream Theater have never lacked it's self-belief. Calling an album The Astonishing shows no lack of confidence, but of course leaves it open to ridicule. The worst part of this self-inflicted torture is that I have to listen to the thing, as it is an interminable splurge that even fans seem to be saying is about a week too long. I do not expect any sympathy, of course.

After some opening space age ambience, the thing gets going with a typically bombastic  instrumental featuring lots of time signature changes and portentous playing, as a cheesy as can be, replete with a synthesised choir. Entitled Dystopian Overture, it is about as far removed from its titular implication as can be. "Tacky" does not begin to describe it. It sounds like what Andrew Lloyd Webber would come up with if asked to write "in the style of prog". This is a musical, so there is a story which so I'm told as I'm listening on Spotify and don't have the lyrics to hand, concerms a future where music has been outlawed, only to be saved by a Hollywood style "little guy" hero. Pete Townshend should sue.

The Gift Of Music is a sub-standard AOR rocker with dreadful lyrics and the drummer...Jeez, this guy sounds like he has about eight arms, none of them doing anything interesting. It's like listening to a speeded up jackhammer, and about as painful. The following The Answer is the first of several tub-thumping ballads, and the the trite lyrics continue: "Why am I afraid of facing the unknown?" enquires the singer. Is it because you are in a comfortable niche that hasn't moved forward - with a few notable exceptions - in two decades, perchance?

And so it goes on and on and on and on and on and on and on.... fuck this I've got better things to do, as no doubt you have too. I highly recommend this album to anyone who is afraid of the dark, lives with mummy, and types angry missives on the internet while wearing nothing but a pair of boxers, unchanged in a week.

To conclude on a more serious note, the sad thing is, and I'll admit I'm not helping here, is that this steaming pile of faux thespian nonsense will garner far more attention than the genuinely progressive music that is out there, and anyone unfamiliar with "prog" will listen to this bombastic excess and have all their worst prejudices confirmed. Now, go away and do something useful...

Yours Witheringly, Roger McNasty

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