Part 1 of a 2 part series.
Awake has stood the test of time. In 1994 it was considered a commercial failure by the record label, in comparison to Images and Words. In 2014, it is still my favourite Dream Theater album. It is a lot of people’s favourite Dream Theater album, for its songs, complexity and aggression. It was also the final album to feature keyboardist and cofounder Kevin Moore. Moore had become increasingly more interested in samples, and you can hear that all over Awake. It is all the stronger for it.
Awake feels like a natural progression from Images and Words. Sonically it’s similar, and there’s no mistaking that it’s the same band. Awake is infinitely more complex, less commercial, and more ambitious. Clocking in at 75 minutes (a very fast 75 minutes), Awake was more epic than anything Dream Theater had attempted in the past. It was also heavier. James LaBrie’s vocals are more aggressive in delivery, and the album as a whole is more pedal-to-the-metal.
While Awake is not a concept album, it does have recurring lyrical and musical themes. The melody from “Space-Dye Vest” (written solely by Moore) appears elsewhere on the album, and there are a few multi-song suites as well. You’d be forgiven for thinking it’s a concept album. In fact Awake holds together much better than some lesser concept albums by other artists.
Challenging, heavy arrangements include the opening “6:00” which introduced Kevin Moore’s propensity for samples. I don’t know if the dialogue on the album is movie dialogue, or original material recorded for the album. Regardless, it’s effective and the dialogue complements the song. “The Mirror” and “Scarred” are also challenging, but rewarding to listen to.
There are more melodic songs, nothing as immediate as Images and Words, but still excellent: “Caught In A Web”, “Innocence Faded”, “The Silent Man” and “Lifting Shadows Off A Dream” are all personal favourites. “Caught In A Web” was selected as the second single, but failed to make an impact.
One of the strongest, and certainly the angriest song, is “Lie” which was the first single. I remember seeing the video on a program called “The Box”. I was shocked that Dream Theater had gone for such a heavy first single, but I was impressed nonetheless. “Lie” remains one of my favourite DT songs of all time. It was built from the groove up, and lyrically it’s angry as hell!
This is the edit version from the single
The best song on the album is Moore’s “Space-Dye Vest”. I don’t know what a space-dye vest is, but the title works with the song. Based on piano, samples, and a haunting vocal melody, this is the most unique Dream Theater song that I can think of. I think I can safely say that this one song is my favourite, even over “Lie”. The band revealed that they would not have put it on the album had they known Moore would leave later that year. The song was his baby, the others had no hands in its writing.
I’m not sure I would recommend Awake as the first Dream Theater album for somebody to try, but it should be tried by anyone curious about this band. It has had a huge impact on me, and I hope it can do the same for you.
Tomorrow, a look at the single “Lie” and its B-sides…