A Dramatic Turn of Events
By Martin Popoff
Like clockwork, Dream Theater builds and delivers a massive construct, and scribes struggle with new things to say, as would presumably Mike Portnoy, his vague dissatisfaction being confirmed. Of course, there’s a dramatic turn, in the departure of Portnoy — he of the rare drummer-leader breed — to be replaced by bubbly, agreeable, gee-whiz wiz Mike Mangini. Did you think it would really make any difference? No, it doesn’t.
With “A Dramatic Turn Of Events” featuring so many overpowering, energy-showered performances, he is just a superman where there already was one, whacking the underside of a long-ago raised bar. One abstract I might venture: This is a proggier Dream Theater than usual (both in the heavy and the old-school prog “rock” bits) — a little more textured, subtly, by Mangini and by Jordan Rudess, with James LaBrie underscoring the creeping delicacy of it by singing like a church boy — no growls. And prog, of course, is characterized by rapid change. Life changes loosely is the theme of this album of impassioned, real-world lyrics, as evidenced on piano ballad respite “Far From Heaven” and the superior, orchestrated “Beneath The Surface,” arguably the band’s best ballad. (Rudess seals that deal with his eccentric and therefore very human “Tormato” solo).
But then I question the mid-rangey-ness of the production, most of the disappointment being in Mangini’s toms, snare, bass drum … that don’t leave much. Maybe that was the idea, but the muscular expense of, say, “Six Degrees” or “Train Of Thought” … that weirdly ain’t here, replaced by a frantic race to the middle, I guess, metal ego put aside for the origami of prog politeness. Final thought: I think with Portnoy gone, LaBrie has come to the fore. “A Dramatic Turn Of Events” sounds like the best of LaBrie solo, bombarded with rocket attacks from Liquid Tension Experiment. In other words, it’s touching but intriguingly loose, messy, even chaotic — or at least not so discussed or planned — just like the lyrics might get across to you about life itself.