Sonicbond Publishing [Publication date 17.07.20]
This volume reveals the strengths and weaknesses of the series’ premise.
Jordan Blum’s careful expose of all the albums reveals how indebted he is to other writers, websites and magazines. And, let’s be honest, Wikipedia. In fairness he acknowledges this. But, inconsistently for “On track…”, this book does include a bibliography.
The next step would be to annotate all the quotations in the narrative that refer to these sources. I keep banging on about the lack of an index but it’s another weakness and would make these a more useful, and even reference work.
The photo section is also a bit hit and miss. Blum’s volume includes original band shots that have evidently been cribbed from fans but many of these books include video grabs and stock album photography. This does keep rights costs down but is a bit lazy nevertheless.
So, ok, there’s a lack of overall consistency in presentation but as with any series that also can apply to the quality of the writers themselves. But they all know their stuff.
Blum does a good job of synthesis charting Dream Theater from their beginnings as Majesty, the various line-up changes, and their progress as pioneers and then titans of progressive metal a title they’ve pretty much maintained over three decades.
Apart from the niggles outlined above, there are a few anomalies in the text where Blum expects you to know who or what he is talking about. For example if you jump straight into the narrative for the first album he refers to “Collins”, DT nerds will know who he refers to but others will have to turn back several pages to find out.
Similarly, later on (Metropolis Pt.2: Scenes From A Memory) he mentions “As Wilson writes …” It’s not clear who this Wilson is unless you’ve followed the complete text. Given that the various sections reflect each album, and it is a book for dipping into (especially by the less die-hard), this is another anomaly even if pedantic. Wilson by the way is Rich Wilson who has written the authorised band biography (2013) which no doubt Blum consulted at length.
Back in 1995 Dream Theater produced an album of essentially cover versions – “A Change Of Seasons”. They called it an EP although it ran to nearly 60 minutes. They’d dropped in to Ronnie Scotts Jazz Club in London and played a selection of covers. But what happened to those songs performed on the night with various luminaries including members of Marillion? Blum doesn’t expand on this, although a bootleg emerged in the 1990s.
Over the years James LaBrie has been suffering off and on with vocal issues and this might be traced back to 1994 before a Japanese tour when he was told by his doctor to rest his voice for up to a year. The tour went on. Blum follows the various band changes up to the time of Portnoy’s departure and helpfully (?) includes his own “dream” playlist and album ranking.
It might have been useful – again for completism – to include reference to the band’s solo output even in abbreviated form. Whilst Petrucci has only released one solo album to date (with a second on the way), James LaBrie has a few, Jordan Rudess has made many. And then you may want to include Sherinian and Portnoy. So probably a project for another day.
In summary a casual read to kindle interest or reinforce your own view of the band or specific album or, alternatively, have you clenching your teeth in disagreement. ***1/2
Review by David Randall
David Randall presents a weekly show on Get Ready to ROCK! Radio, Sundays at 22:00 BST (GMT+1, repeated on Mondays and Fridays), when he invites listeners to ‘Assume The Position’. This show was first broadcast on 20 September 2020.
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