We hear enough about studios and record labels to infer that they're generally annoying. In Dream Theater's case (circa 1997), it's particularly baffling. Failing to so much as mimic Images and Words' radio success was apparently all that mattered when Awake came out. And as we all know, metal songs are guaranteed radio hits (cue sarcasm). So the pressure was, once again, on. Only this time Dream Theater's record label wanted something specifically meant to pollute American radio stations. Apparently they failed to notice that said band released a 23-minute epic two years prior.
The end result of Dream Theater being shoved in and confined was Falling Into Infinity, an album that's been bestowed with as much praise as James LaBrie's vocals. The comparison isn't arbitrary, either, as Falling Into Infinity was the first LP LaBrie did after his food poisoning incident. A lead singer with ruptured vocal chords, record label pressuring accessibility from a progressive metal band…you do the math.
Though the Dream Theater fan(boy) in me would give Falling Into Infinity a pass, given its background, listeners will ultimately take the album as is. And as it stands, Falling Into Infinity is a drab assortment. What's interesting is that while the album is the opposite of beguiling, you can hear a true Dream Theater album struggling to get out. Power ballads like "Hollow Years" and "Take Away My Pain" might not necessarily scream "put me on Train of Thought," but just from opener "New Millennium" you can tell the band were held back. And it's not like control inherently prevents Dream Theater from providing quality music--Awake was proof that they can benefit from it, but here the restraint is overbearing. The best example(s) of this come from Falling Into Infinity's two epics. 90% of the time Dream Theater epics are the ultimate form of audible comfort food; "Lines in the Sand" and "Trial of Tears" are in the other 10%. Calling either of these tracks "bad" would be an overstatement, but both are guilty of being utterly forgettable. Save Doug Pinnick's backing vocals on "Lines in the Sand," each is listenable, but unlike Dream Theater's other epics, neither will stick with you.
This kind of predicament is what comes to plague and, ultimately, define Falling Into Infinity. Whenever there's a moment or entire song that seems like it might normally work, something gets in the way. Oftentimes the shoddy production and ill direction are to blame. Remember how When Dream and Day Unite suffered due to lackluster production (among other things)? Similar situation here. Except where the band's debut was true to itself, within its confines, Falling Into Infinity buckles under the conflict of the band's aspirations and their record label's impositions. The result is a musical mess that doesn't sound half as interesting as it should.
Question of the Day: What do you consider some of the worst follow-ups to masterpieces (albums)?