Six Degrees of Inner Turbulence
The music of Dream Theater — a prog-metal blend of Styx drama and ELP grandeur — generates little gray area when it comes to appeal. Listeners either love the band passionately or hate them. (God knows I’ve had my issues with them, having walked out on one of their shows three years ago when the Sigfried & Roy aspects of the Las Vegas-style Rock Extravaganza got out of hand. That is to say, I was bored). The band’s sixth album, an ambitious double CD entitled Six Degrees of Inner Turbulence, is unlikely to alter that dichotomy. But here’s the thing, with Dream Theater, you know what you’re getting when you sign on: musical virtuosity and technical perfection. Here’s an example of what I’m talking about: You’ve got vocalist James LaBries’s narrative command of each a song; drummer Mike Portnoy’s effortless ability to demonstrate as many double-bass-triplet-rudiment-fills as possible from the top of a song to the bottom; guitarist John Petrucci’s astoundingly fluid, classically influenced playing; Jordan Ruddess’ swelling layers of Rick Wakeman-esque keyboards; and bassist John Myung, who, like John Entwistle, lays down a solid groove and says out of everyone’s way. One can hardly fail to be impressed with any of that.
The five songs comprising disc one have all of the above in spades, with “The Glass Prison” (lose yourself in the Rush influence) and “Misunderstood” (a flawless display of excellent song writing) ranking among the best songs in Dream Theater’s catalog. If you grew up on or have simply come to love the music of Yes, Peter Gabriel’s Genesis, Queen, Led Zeppelin, and Rush, Six Degrees of Inner Turbulence will make you lose your mind on the first disc alone. There’s maybe one misstep along the way, and that arrives via the thirteen-minute-plus epic mini-opera that argues over the ethics of stem cell research (yes, I just typed that), entitled “The Great Debate.” It’s an interesting and even admirable idea to be so topically aware, but — while it’s a solid song — I doubt many rock fans want to hear a song crammed with CNN-culled sound bites. It’s way too political, and it doesn’t belong on a rock record.
Halfway through the musical sojourn, Six Degrees of Inner Turbulence already sounds like a best-loved favorite. It is on disc two’s all-encompassing title track, however, that the group really brings it on home. Less a “song” than an eight part spiritual pilgrimage of the highest order, “Six Degrees of Inner Turbulence” is a gorgeous conceptual masterpiece exploring the many facets of mental illness. Of course, this theme has been done to death, but before you run screaming, understand that Dream Theater have found a fresh way to spin shining new cloth from this well worn topic. Despite the seriousness of the subject material, lyrics are poetically matter-of-fact, but never morose or too heavy handed. Musically, influences as disparate as Pink Floyd, Metallica, and Yes creep in and, I kid you not, lend an uplifting feel to the work as a whole. This is a great album, but for true fans of Dream Theater, it is “Six Degrees of Inner Turbulence” that will separate the zealots from the mere enthusiasts.
Elektra Records: http://www.elektra.com