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Falling into Infinity is, despite what you might have heard, one of the best things Dream Theater ever produced, as well as one of the most purely enjoyable releases in the band’s catalog. The album has some obvious drawbacks, but for the most part is entirely excellent and sporadically masterful.
The only bad songs on the record are ‘You Not Me”, “Burning My Soul” and “Take Away My Pain”. Each track was significantly altered from its original incarnation because of pressure from the band’s management and because of famed producer Kevin Shirley, the most egregious example of which is “You Not Me”, which was re-shaped by songwriter Desmond Child (much to the dismay of Mike Portnoy) and the result is embarrassing. It’s the most out-of-place track on the album and the hate bestowed upon it by the band’s fanbase is (unlike the hate bestowed on the album as a whole) well-deserved.
There were more than a half-dozen songs left off the album’s final cut that, had any of them been substituted for the three aforementioned weak links, would’ve catapulted Falling into Infinity through the stratosphere and placed it firmly ahead of every other Dream Theater output as the band’s best work ever. This possibility makes it frustrating to listen to the record because it could’ve been so much better than its final product.
And that’s not to say Falling into Infinity isn’t a good album, it just feels like it’s missing something. The acoustic ballad “Hollow Years” and the rocker “Just Let Me Breathe” come to mind, two tracks that I enjoy listening to but are missing an edge. The former sounds catchy but James LaBrie doesn’t suit the song as well as you’d think, and the latter sounds a tad forced.
Derek Sherinian, in his first and only studio performance with the band, is a stand-out. He rarely strays from the backdrops (although he does so more than Kevin Moore did) and always knows his place in each song. His greatest accomplishment here is the invaluable assistance he lent in composing “Lines in the Sand”, “Anna Lee” and “Trial of Tears”, all three of which are Dream Theater high-points.
“Trial of Tears”, in particular, is the band’s crowning achievement. It’s so different from anything else they’ve ever done that one wonders how it is a Dream Theater song and yet, at the same time, it epitomizes all that is great about the band and then some. How could a group so well-known for creating chaotic technical masterworks as “Metropolis” and “A Change of Seasons” have crafted such a slow-paced, restrained composition? How could a band so well-known for putting emphasis on soloing over songwriting create such a flawlessly paced tune that showcases soloing in such a way you never knew it was there, as if it was part of the vocal melodies and the verses and not only a break in itself? It puzzles me how perfectly every facet of the song’s construction is attuned, from John Myung’s most imaginative lyrics ever to James LaBrie’s streamlined vocal melodies to John Petrucci’s wondrous guitar solo (which steals some of itself from UK’s “In the Dead of Night”).
“New Millennium”, “Hell’s Kitchen” and “Peruvian Skies” warrant mention. Each song is a king of its kind, the first being one of the best openers in the Dream Theater cannon, the second being the band’s best instrumental and the third being one of their best compositions ever. I’d go so far as to argue that “Peruvian Skies”, combined with “Lines in the Sand” and “Trial of Tears”, forms the best three track attack in the band’s discography.
Nothing that Dream Theater has done post-1997, except for Six Degrees of Inner Turbulence, has rivaled what they accomplished with Falling into Infinity. Listen to the record with a neutral mindset and enter the proceedings without preconceived notions and you’ll discover an album that is as rewarding to listen to as any other Dream Theater effort. The record is excellent and digestible in all fashions, and is fun and relating the way you’d want it to be.
© Kevin Martell (TheOutlawXanadu)