Images and Words laid the groundwork for much of what we know Dream Theater to be today. Following on from 1989’s When Dream and Day Unite, a debut very much embedded in the 80s, Images and Words created the musical foundations for the rest of the decade as far as Dream Theater’s output is concerned. Anything more than a cursory listen to Dream Theater’s earlier albums, from 1992 – 1999, will reveal the band’s self-referentiality. The more deeply one listens, particularly to Images and Words, the greater the rewards.
Images and Words propelled Dream Theater into the 90s with the opening chords to Pull me Under, the song that was to become arguably the band’s most successful and iconic. Pull me Under made it onto Guitar Hero World Tour, the only Dream Theater song to be included in the franchise, and was in part the tongue-in-cheek namesake for the band’s greatest hits album, Greatest (s)Hit: Pull me Under and 21 Other Pretty Cool Songs. It was also the band’s first music video, and their only one to receive a fair chunk of airtime. This was despite – or perhaps because? – it was largely unplanned, with the band’s live footage filmed ad hoc and with vocalist James LaBrie wearing a Napalm Death shirt. The live footage stands alongside a rather odd dramatic rendition of the torment of a werewolf-like creature. The relationship to the lyrical content of Pull me Under is tangential at best. Keyboardist Kevin Moore wrote the song as an homage to Shakespeare’s Hamlet, with several lines closely paraphrasing the original text. Moore’s “Watch the sparrow falling, brings new meaning to it all, if not today nor yet tomorrow, then some other day,” is more than reminiscent of Shakespeare’s “There’s a special providence in the fall of a sparrow. If it be now, ’tis not to come. If it be not to come, it will be now. If it be not now, yet it will come.” Moore himself explains that, like Hamlet, one of the themes of Pull me Under is sudden death – which is why the track cuts off so abruptly at the end, following a direct quote from Hamlet: “Oh that this too, too solid flesh would melt.” I’m sure I’m not the only one who checked their CD for scratches after encountering that jarring moment for the first time.
Dream Theater’s Greatest (s)Hit offers another hint about Images and Words in the subtitles of its two discs, Dark and Light. Images and Words most certainly portrays both sides of the band. The dark side is in full force with Pull me Under, whereas the light is illustrated in songs like the intensely hopeful Take the Time. Released as the second video from the album, Take the Time is exultant and joyful in the face of life’s challenges, and in many ways epitomises the hope of the band coming into their own. It’s clear that the band themselves have reflected on the content of Images and Words as time went on, recontextualising the music and lyrical content to reflect their experience. Falling into Infinity’s Just let me Breathe is the cynical reflection of Take the Time, referring to it musically and lyrically. While Take the Time optimistically declares, “Close your eyes, you can find all you need in your mind,” Just let me Breathe refutes, “Just close your mind, you can find all you need with your eyes,” reflecting the disenchantment the band felt at their record company’s control over the album that eventually became Falling into Infinity. The experience led the band, via guitarist John Petrucci and drummer Mike Portnoy, to take over production of their albums, bringing us a full album of Images and Words references: Metropolis Pt. 2: Scenes from a Memory.
The song Metropolis Pt. 1: The Miracle and the Sleeper is arguably almost as recognisable as Pull me Under. According to Petrucci, the lyrics obliquely refer to the story of twin brothers Romulus and Remus, labelled in the song as the Miracle and the Sleeper. In the Roman myth, Remus is killed by Romulus. This is reflected in the album Metropolis Pt 2: Scenes from a Memory, in which the Miracle and the Sleeper are reimagined as the brothers Julian and Edward Baynes. Like Romulus, Edward kills Julian; though not over the right to found the city of Rome, but over the love of the unfaithful Victoria. Scenes from a Memory harks back to Metropolis musically in Overture 1928, Home and most notably, the instrumental The Dance of Eternity. A masterpiece in itself, The Dance of Eternity recreates the music of Metropolis with a much darker feel. Likewise, Home refers back to Metropolis lyrically, with lines such as “Victoria watches and thoughtfully smiles, she’s taking me to my home,” echoing “Metropolis watches and thoughtfully smiles, she’s taken you to your home.”
Dream Theater’s tendency towards the self-referential is also present within the Images and Words album itself. Though the lyrics are written by bassist John Myung and Kevin Moore respectively, Learning to Live picks up the gentle musical themes of Wait for Sleep and recreates them in a heavier setting. Such call-backs lend the album, and indeed Dream Theater’s entire catalogue, an internal cohesion that few bands can rival.
For the hardcore fan, the Images and Words demos contain further delights. While not debuting until the eponymous 1995 EP, A Change of Seasons was first recorded during the Images and Words sessions, featuring the very talented Chris Cintron. Cintron narrowly missed out on becoming Dream Theater’s vocalist, but was unable to commit to the band. Another hidden vocalist of Dream Theater’s history is Steve Stone, who recorded a demo of the non-album track To Live Forever, but was ejected from the band owing to his live performance.
Overall, Images and Words is an opus of the relatively short-lived LaBrie-Moore-Myung-Petrucci-Portnoy line-up. The only other album to feature these five is 1994’s Awake, a decidedly darker album. In fact, it may be said that no other album has quite captured the light side of Dream Theater like Images and Words – perhaps the hope and optimism of youth have fallen away since those days. Nevertheless, Images and Words continues to be an inspirational album 25 years on, and as a dedicated fan, I welcome the opportunity to celebrate this momentous anniversary with the Australian tour in September.
Tickets will be on sale here Friday 14 July, with VIP packages available!