I actually don't have a problem with the synths for the most part. My problem with Awake is that most of the songs are just awkward as fuck to listen to. All the vocal melodies sound out of place, the riffs are awkward, and nothing on the album seems to mesh with anything else. It's probably my least favorite DT album overall.
That's definitely my issue with Scarred - and a little
with Voices, which has the proportionally longest third act in Dream Theater history, but I don't get much of that on the whole. I think, for me, my only issue is that I find it a slightly "worthy" album, if that makes sense? It's quite claustrophobic, very refined and grandiose without any real sense of fun - there's no excitement, sense of exhilaration. Even Erotomania, which I've always quite liked, I only really "got" when I saw it live, in a room full of people jumping to the beat, chanting, the riffs sprawling out of the guitar like living beings.
My least favourite Dream Theater songs are the ones, generally, that are more earnest. I find it a little... well, a little tedious, to be honest. Even the average songs on their later albums are good, clean fun - Forsaken, Panic Attack, A Rite of Passage; all you need do is crank up the volume and you're already having a good time. Great riffs, great melodies, great little packets of energy. The more average songs on their earlier albums - Lifting Shadows off a Dream, The Ones Who Help to Set the Sun, Innocence Faded... they're all so dry.
That's the word I've been searching for for the entire post, actually. It's why I get almost nothing out of a song like Lines in the Sand (shame on me) but could happily listen to an entire album of Just Let Me Breathes. Why Voices is far and away my least favourite part of A Mind Beside Itself - the other two movements are absolute gems. Why Octavarium beats Six Degrees beats A Change of Seasons. Why I'd rather spend 9:30 listening to Misunderstood than Metropolis, every single time.
I recently worked out which songs would be in my top fifty - not to post it, (not least because the new album would be out by the time it was my turn and I'd have to do it again anyway,) but because I was interested in how I'd go about choosing them. And I took note everything - I've got a big text document where I logged every idle thought as I whittled the songs away. Never realised quite how unconventional it'd turn out to be. If that document ever leaked - well, I'd be chased out of here with pitchforks. Probably pitchforks with feces on the prongs, just for luck. To offer a glimpse - The Answer Lies Within made the cut, and Voices very emphatically didn't.
Dear me. This sounds like I hate their back catalogue. I don't, far from it. I'd only managed to cut eighteen songs before I was staring at the screen going "these are all
brilliant, I can't possibly file this down to just fifty." The only song in this post I'd consider bad by any stretch of the imagination is The Ones Who Help to Set the Sun. It's all good. Awake's just... less good than many of the others. Also better than a fair handful. Rather more average album than most - plenty of very good songs, very few truly great ones - but it's a pleasant listen. Nice moment in DT history.