Author Topic: SFAM - not my favorite DT album at all. Here's why...  (Read 9877 times)

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Offline Samsara

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SFAM - not my favorite DT album at all. Here's why...
« on: December 17, 2009, 10:19:26 AM »
Allowing some freedom of expression, without blatant bashing is important. So I'll take up the mantle of being somewhat critical of an album most DT fans think is the best thing since sliced bread...an opinion I very much disagree with.  :)

For me, Scenes from a Memory has its moments. But like many songs that they did following this record, it was really derivative of other things. For example, the structure. The first thing I hear is: spoken intro, instrumental, third song up-tempo to get the pace going. Hello, Operation: Mindcrime. I'm not a concept album expert, but obviously certain things were directly taken from albums the band admired, and I believe they even said so at the time, saying they brought concept records they liked into the studio with them to use as models.

Um...ok. I really don't think Pink Floyd sat down and said "hey, lets take these five records and make a concept record using these as templates." Same thing with Queen, Iron Maiden, Queensryche, Judas Priest, The Who, anyone else that did concepts.

Does it work? Sure, the album, like I said earlier, has its moments. Overture, Strange Deja Vu, Home, The Spirit Carries On, some darn good songs. It's not a BAD album by any stretch. The concept isn't exactly riveting. It's a little run-of-the-mill. But is SFAM DT's pinnacle work? Not in my opinion it isn't. It's a concept record that showcases the musical talent of the band, with its weakest point being its reliance on the structure and flow of other concept albums, and an overall average storyline, at best.

I'm not slagging the band at all. I enjoy SFAM. But the gushing love the record receives is sorta beyond me. Frankly, I thought Six Degrees (the whole song, lyrically and story-wise) was a lot more stimulating (considering that could be its own album with a little more to it) from a conceptual perspective.

So, SFAM fans. Tell me why you love the album so much and hopefully a CONSTRUCTIVE discussion can take place. Consider this thread to be an exercise to show that criticism can lead to productive (even if the disagreement remains, and it will) commentary.

Begin.  :)

Offline bosk1

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Re: SFAM - not my favorite DT album at all. Here's why...
« Reply #1 on: December 17, 2009, 10:40:21 AM »
Not my favorite album, or even my favorite DT album, but it still gets very high marks from me for being a terrific album in just about every respect. 

Great story, with interesting characters and a plot twist that is both well-executed and unexpected.  Great structure and flow.  Great overall mucisianship.  If anything, the album only suffers a bit solely from the standpoint of having some weak individual songs.  Yes, there are some great ones.  But there are plenty that aren't great.  But despite that, as a concept album it works because those weaker songs fill an important role in the structure of the album.  Thus, the album as a whole, is much better than the sum of its individual parts.

As far as being derivative of Mindcrime, I don't much see it.  Yes, there are some superficial similarities.  But they don't take away from the album's overall quality one bit in this fan's opinion.  And they aren't nearly as similar as many would suggest. Intro->instrumental->up-tempo song?  Yes.  But that's about where the similarity ends.

SFAM opening:
1.  Intro song that has a spoken word part and then a mellow ballady song that sets up the storyline and some of the musical themes.
2.  Instrumental that is an overture and more fully sets out the musical themes for the entire album.
3.  Up-tempo song that really kicks off the story.

OM:
1.  Intro that is not a song and is some samples and spoken-word dialog.
2.  Instrumental that is not an overture and doesn't really set up any major musical themes, but gets reprised at the very end of the album as a nice way to bookend the story.
3.  Up-tempo song that really kicks off the story.

Yeah, I see some similarities.  But what see more is just two different things that work well in the context of their respective albums that have some major differences as well.  Really, we just have two great concept albums that don't really need to be compared.  Did DT use OM as a major influence?  Sure.  Does that somehow detract from how good an album SFAM is?  Not to me.  I would much rather enjoy it for how good it is, and embrace the fact that DT are very open about their musical influences and are able to weave them into their own music so well to take those influences to a different level.
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Offline mizzl

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Re: SFAM - not my favorite DT album at all. Here's why...
« Reply #2 on: December 17, 2009, 10:41:22 AM »
I agree with you on the concept. It's half-baked, unoriginal and dumb.
But the music... The music!  :metal :metal :metal

Offline Dublagent66

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Re: SFAM - not my favorite DT album at all. Here's why...
« Reply #3 on: December 17, 2009, 10:43:10 AM »
Good post Sam.  You're right about SFAM not being DT's pinnacle work, but I think it was definitely pivotal (obviously).  I think people tend to get stuck on it if they liked it a lot at first and it's hard to get out of that rut.  It happened to me and I didn't like SDOIT at all, but now I think SDOIT surpasses SFAM at least compositionally, but then again, they are two very different albums and it basically comes down to preference.
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Offline Samsara

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Re: SFAM - not my favorite DT album at all. Here's why...
« Reply #4 on: December 17, 2009, 10:43:53 AM »
Don't get worked up over the Mindcrime reference, bosk1. I brought it up because it was the first three songs having a similar structure and flow (actually, almost identical structure and flow). But that was it. Move past it to the overall point that example was making.  :)

Offline bosk1

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Re: SFAM - not my favorite DT album at all. Here's why...
« Reply #5 on: December 17, 2009, 10:52:18 AM »
Don't get worked up over the Mindcrime reference, bosk1. I brought it up because it was the first three songs having a similar structure and flow (actually, almost identical structure and flow). But that was it. Move past it to the overall point that example was making.  :)

Oh, I'm not worked up.  I see your point.  I just don't completely buy it as a very good comparison.  Hey, I at least give you credit for being able to make a good argument about it as opposed to Kelly G.'s, "Oh no!  They're just ripping off Mindcrime!  The main character's name is Nicolas!  How unoriginal!  They can't possibly be a good band with original ideas of their own!"  *we need a smiley that simultaneously shakes its head, rolls its eyes, and laughs*
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Offline MykeHavoc

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Re: SFAM - not my favorite DT album at all. Here's why...
« Reply #6 on: December 17, 2009, 10:58:44 AM »
I can understand criticism as it isn't a perfect piece, and the individual songs don't really work to me. But I listen to this album a few times a week in its entirety and I never get sick of it. I love the experience of it; the journey one takes when listening. I'd put it in the top tier of concept albums, not necessarily for being the best story being told or anything but simply because I love it as a whole and it falls into the category. Yes, the similarities are glaring in certain spots to Mindcrime, which I also love (which well might be my favorite concept album), but I always saw them as more complimentary. I've accepted that DT wear their influences on their sleeves. I can either accept it and move on or simply sit there and nitpick until it hinders my enjoyment. The similarities to other artists and songs has very rarely ever deterred me from listening to the band's music and appreciating it for what it is (...I think the most has been a slight aggravation at how "Tool-ish" The Great Debate is).

Offline Perpetual Change

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Re: SFAM - not my favorite DT album at all. Here's why...
« Reply #7 on: December 17, 2009, 11:14:04 AM »
DT wanted to make a "classic" concept record similar to the concept albums of the bands you mentioned.  It's not really derivative in terms of structure because that's not what the band wanted to do.  More experimental prog bands-- that is, prog bands that aren't as much as a homage to classic prog and metal as DT-- tend to do very different things when they set out to make what they consider concept albums, focusing less on a straightforward narrative and more on a postmodern approach.  dredg's El Cielo and BtBaM's Colors are much more "unique" in their approach than Scenes.

DT have never been as experimental or "true" progressive as a lot of the modern prog bands as much as they've just been one of the most successful at bridging heavy metal with 70s prog.  I like Scenes for what it is.  It's not the most original idea ever, but it's a damn good record.  I don't blame them for not really doing anything new with it; Dream Theater seem to be more about updating ideas "proven over time" than taking big creative risks, anyway.

« Last Edit: December 17, 2009, 11:32:29 AM by Perpetual Change »

Offline Jamesman42

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Re: SFAM - not my favorite DT album at all. Here's why...
« Reply #8 on: December 17, 2009, 11:41:11 AM »
*we need a smiley that simultaneously shakes its head, rolls its eyes, and laughs*

:jamaritard:

But yeah, I agree with Samsara, basically. It's an average album, for me. It has some stellar moments, no doubt, but as a whole, and some songs. . .it doesn't click well. Yet, The Spirit Carries On is a top 15 song for me.

Offline jcmistat

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Re: SFAM - not my favorite DT album at all. Here's why...
« Reply #9 on: December 17, 2009, 01:42:54 PM »
The song's are pretty meh when you listen to them on their own. Its way better to listen to the whole thing from start to finish which is why it ranks #4 album for me. Overture 1928 is an exception though and Fatal Tragedy.

Offline Sir GuitarCozmo

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Re: SFAM - not my favorite DT album at all. Here's why...
« Reply #10 on: December 17, 2009, 01:53:40 PM »
*wall of text*

Let me stop you right there.  I have no clue where you're coming from.  Sliced bread sucks, dude.

Offline Darkes7

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Re: SFAM - not my favorite DT album at all. Here's why...
« Reply #11 on: December 17, 2009, 02:19:29 PM »
I'm absolutely no expert on classic progressive concept albums, as I don't have enough experience in classic prog to be able to say anything about it, so I'll pass, but bosk's post sounds perfectly reasonable.

But I definitely want to explain my worship (my all-time favourite album since I've discovered it) for SFAM, and a few different reasons for it. Actually I also wrote a pretty long post in the "bashing" thread yesterday asking for more details and stuff only to find out 8 posts appeared in the meantime and the thread got locked :P

First is the concept. I agree that it's not anything revolutionary. I agree the separated storylines are very simple and far from original. But it's the way they use all the time chaos and how it's all illustrated by the music that makes it amazing. It's full of hidden lyrical references everywhere, links between the '28 and '99 characters, and what seems pretty simple turns out to be very complex in reality - I remember it took me around two months to fully understand the whole story, and I know I wasn't the only one. It's not just "here's a normal story" type of concept, it manages to make a pretty simple storyline a really big, interesting concept that takes a lot of listening and thinking in order to be fully appreciated. Also, I really like the characters - Nicholas feels truly real, we're following him and his thoughts and emotions, while the past characters feel distant indeed. It might not be the deepest psychological concept around, but... well.

Second I would like to mention something I see in this thread and what I'd seen lots of times before - "the songs on SFAM are good when listening to the whole album but average when listened separately". I absolutely cannot agree with this in any way. Although actually a single "unit" on the album is a scene rather than a song (as it usually really doesn't work if a scene is made of two tracks and you listen to only one), every of these scenes has something great and unique about them. Regression is one of my favourite, if not favourite, album intro ever. The way it gets the listener into the atmosphere and manages to really work truly relaxing is something unique, I don't know any album working like that (Terry Brown's voice on the album is one of the most amazing things about it). Each and every single one of the others has a purpose on the album AND is a very well-written, strong song in itself. An album that's excellent when listened to in entirety is great - an album made of excellent songs that are even better when listening to the album is even better. And it is SFAM.

You've probably found out already I consider Home my all-time Dream Theater favourite song and one of my favourites overall. Finally Free and Fatal Tragedy are also two amazing songs, with some very remarkable parts and finding the balance perfectly. The only song I can say is weaker in itself is The Dance of Eternity, but it definitely works in context on the album and especially when listening to the whole Scene Seven with One Last Time as part two. I could write more about each song on the album, but now is not the right moment I guess. But if you're interested - no problem.

Third, I was talking about balance a moment ago. And this is the main, most important and key reason why this is my favourite album ever. It contains absolutely everything that I love the most in DT's music in the perfect proportions, and there is also a reason why they're one of my all-time favourite bands. You might have heard this already, but the balance is perfect in every way:
- dark and light - for example, Home is certainly the former, Through Her Eyes is the latter. Sometimes the two contrast, sometimes complement each other during one song. It's just real, without an obvious attempt to write an album of this style or the other - it's just a band doing what's natural. And I really feel it when listening, going through a whole variety of different moods, but never feeling the transition is too strong. That's how it is in reality. And how it should be.
- heavy and light - there are some of the heaviest DT moments until 1999 (well, some of the later songs, e.g. The Glass Prison or A Nightmare to Remember and the whole Train of Thought changed things a bit) on the album when it's right, and there are some of the calmest to date. They're using it with perfect finesse and experience on SFAM, and it never feels like some part is unnecessarily "br00tal" or "boring", and also it doesn't happen that something feels out of place - and I'm pretty sensitive about this.
- technical and melodic - right, this is probably the most important. People, even around here, accuse DT of going into "technical wankery" on the latest albums. Whatever the case, it without doubt doesn't happen on SFAM. The only song with a long instrumental part is Beyond This Life, but that's how it supposed to be, and though it takes time to get used to, it has its place there. All the others are composed perfectly into the songs, and truly stand out - every single one of the instrumental sections is really great and shows the skills of the band, but never falls into "overkill". Also, there are many beautiful and emotional moments on the album, but then there's also lots of excellent technical instrumental work giving it a lot of musical depth. It contains both some of the best performances of each band member, and some of the most emotional and atmospheric moments in their discography.


That's it I think, at least what's the most important. This album has, and always will have, a special place in my heart. And I'm certain I'll listen to it even if I seriously change my musical tastes for some reason. It has everything I ever need in music - strength and heaviness, melody and beauty, complexity and technicality, depth and lyrics, and most importantly - ATMOSPHERE. Whenever I return to it and listen for another week or two (I don't think I'll ever approach the original "listening time", which was around two full months), I drown in it completely, forgetting anything else exists.

And that's how it should be.

Offline Samsara

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Re: SFAM - not my favorite DT album at all. Here's why...
« Reply #12 on: December 17, 2009, 02:33:04 PM »
*wall of text*

Let me stop you right there.  I have no clue where you're coming from.  Sliced bread sucks, dude.

 :rollin

Winnah!  :)

Darkes7 - good post. I agree about listening to the individual songs. I actually like a good chunk of it individually. But overall, great post and explanation. in regard to musical wankery, it is there. It really is the beginning of that whole slant from DT.


Offline Darkes7

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Re: SFAM - not my favorite DT album at all. Here's why...
« Reply #13 on: December 17, 2009, 02:50:15 PM »
Well, thanks ;) but I can't see the "wankery" anywhere in DT. Even though there are some songs on the other albums when I feel it's a bit too much but I can forgive it, I don't see any point where it crosses the line on Scenes from a Memory. Beyond This Life is the most extensive and weird, but with the whole mood of the song it works perfectly. The others are all short enough not to get boring, but long enough to really stand out.

Offline Perpetual Change

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Re: SFAM - not my favorite DT album at all. Here's why...
« Reply #14 on: December 17, 2009, 02:54:52 PM »
Agreed.  DT get criticized way too much for "wank," and I don't see it.  They're just good.  Sure, they show case, but I've never thought the soloing to be at "wank" levels.

Of course, there's always people who are going to consider things "wank" just because they're solos and not particularly melodic.

Offline Darkes7

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Re: SFAM - not my favorite DT album at all. Here's why...
« Reply #15 on: December 17, 2009, 03:02:13 PM »
Actually it was supposed to be "anywhere on SFAM" but this also works. :lol

Offline rumborak

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Re: SFAM - not my favorite DT album at all. Here's why...
« Reply #16 on: December 17, 2009, 03:03:13 PM »
BTW, the comment of "SFAM wasn't their pinnacle, 6DOIT was", I would say both together were. I think that time span from '99 to '02 was what one might call Dream Theater's "heyday".

rumborak
« Last Edit: December 17, 2009, 03:08:36 PM by rumborak »
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Offline bosk1

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Re: SFAM - not my favorite DT album at all. Here's why...
« Reply #17 on: December 17, 2009, 03:19:26 PM »
BTW, the comment of "SFAM wasn't their pinnacle, 6DOIT was", I would say both together were. I think that time span from '99 to '02 was what one might call Dream Theater's "heyday".

rumborak


At the very least, it's a heck of a two-album run that is hard to match. 
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Offline rumborak

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Re: SFAM - not my favorite DT album at all. Here's why...
« Reply #18 on: December 17, 2009, 04:26:22 PM »
Absolutely. Given my well-known views about their recent output, they would have to get a "second wind" to ever top those two albums.

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Offline Perpetual Change

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Re: SFAM - not my favorite DT album at all. Here's why...
« Reply #19 on: December 17, 2009, 04:36:28 PM »
That was there 2nd wind.  Images and Words and Awake was the first.  If BC&SL has a follow up just as good, I'd consider that to be the third.

Offline pogoowner

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Re: SFAM - not my favorite DT album at all. Here's why...
« Reply #20 on: December 17, 2009, 04:38:53 PM »
That was there 2nd wind.  Images and Words and Awake was the first.  If BC&SL has a follow up just as good, I'd consider that to be the third.
I agree with the bolded. I don't think BC&SL is good enough to signify any sort of wind, though.

Offline Perpetual Change

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Re: SFAM - not my favorite DT album at all. Here's why...
« Reply #21 on: December 17, 2009, 04:42:29 PM »
BC&SL was a huge success for DT, both in terms of sales and fan reaction.  Definitely moreso than the last 3 albums.

Offline jcmistat

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Re: SFAM - not my favorite DT album at all. Here's why...
« Reply #22 on: December 17, 2009, 06:20:39 PM »
I am trying to rate all the DT songs one by one. Do you think its fair to rate Six Degrees of Inner Turbulence as one song and rate Scenes From a Memory all individually? I know 6DoIT is actually one song but for the sake of making it a album its better to split it.

Offline cookienut

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Re: SFAM - not my favorite DT album at all. Here's why...
« Reply #23 on: December 17, 2009, 06:22:58 PM »
Scenes is the best them

Offline bosk1

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Re: SFAM - not my favorite DT album at all. Here's why...
« Reply #24 on: December 17, 2009, 06:27:19 PM »
Do you think its fair to rate Six Degrees of Inner Turbulence as one song and rate Scenes From a Memory all individually?

Of course.
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Offline progmonster

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Re: SFAM - not my favorite DT album at all. Here's why...
« Reply #25 on: December 17, 2009, 06:28:35 PM »
Scenes is the best them

You took word out of my mouth

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Offline Darkes7

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Re: SFAM - not my favorite DT album at all. Here's why...
« Reply #26 on: December 17, 2009, 06:29:07 PM »
Like I said I'd recommend counting scenes instead of separated songs (e.g. Through My Words stands no chance that way). But that's just my idea.

Offline j

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Re: SFAM - not my favorite DT album at all. Here's why...
« Reply #27 on: December 17, 2009, 10:10:37 PM »
I agree with most of the OP.  SFAM is good, but DT have done far better both prior and since.  It may have been a "pinnacle" for the band in terms of intra-band relations, artistic freedom, being able to "start fresh", etc, but I don't consider it anywhere near the discussion of their "musical peak".

And it's said too often, but I think it's at least partially applicable: prog fans get a boner for concept albums.  If nothing else, I think that causes some people to be more "lenient" with SFAM than they might be otherwise.

-J

Offline pogoowner

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Re: SFAM - not my favorite DT album at all. Here's why...
« Reply #28 on: December 17, 2009, 10:40:32 PM »
BC&SL was a huge success for DT, both in terms of sales and fan reaction.  Definitely moreso than the last 3 albums.
I was just speaking based on my personal view of the album. I agreed with you on the others, but I see BC&SL as one of their worst albums.

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Re: SFAM - not my favorite DT album at all. Here's why...
« Reply #29 on: December 17, 2009, 10:44:33 PM »
As I've said before, although I rank SFAM pretty highly (3rd or 4th) I can completely understand those who don't love it. As an album, I think it's one of their strongest from beginning to end, but for individual songs, nothing stands out at me as a top 10 song. 
As for the points in the original post, I don't consider comparisons like that really derivative. Probably an obvious influence in structure in forming a concept album, but musically the album just sounds like DT to me :tup

Anyway, Samsara, it's nice of you to start a respectful discussion on the topic.
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Offline Progmetty

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Re: SFAM - not my favorite DT album at all. Here's why...
« Reply #30 on: December 18, 2009, 12:02:20 AM »
Do you think its fair to rate Six Degrees of Inner Turbulence as one song and rate Scenes From a Memory all individually?

Nope, they're both a collection of songs on the same topic.
And I think the Metropolis plot is epic, I love the story and it's twists and journey!
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Offline jcmistat

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Re: SFAM - not my favorite DT album at all. Here's why...
« Reply #31 on: December 18, 2009, 01:23:40 AM »
Do you think its fair to rate Six Degrees of Inner Turbulence as one song and rate Scenes From a Memory all individually?

Nope, they're both a collection of songs on the same topic.
And I think the Metropolis plot is epic, I love the story and it's twists and journey!

Ok thanks, yeah as I was rating the songs I'm like it doesn't do to album justice they can't their really hold their own as individuals and its hard to rate them against even the lesser DT songs. I'm going to combine all of SFAM into one song and see where its ranks its for sure going to be up high.
« Last Edit: December 18, 2009, 01:31:13 AM by jcmistat »

Offline cookienut

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Re: SFAM - not my favorite DT album at all. Here's why...
« Reply #32 on: December 18, 2009, 02:29:04 AM »
All I know is that after my first listen through...my ears melted from the awesome.

The album is put together is such great precision. It flows like melted butter on bacon. Each song links to each other song in its own unique way. Either through replicated tones or very subtle note similarities. It come together as a very cohesive peice of music.

I remember the Adelaide concert in Jan 2008 where they played pretty much the first 4 songs of scenes...it was amazing. The riffs, lyrics, groove...the album has it all. It's my favorite DT album and almost my favorite album of all time...I don't have a favorite of all time as the changes constantly.

Offline robwebster

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Re: SFAM - not my favorite DT album at all. Here's why...
« Reply #33 on: December 18, 2009, 02:59:28 AM »
Sliced bread sucks, dude.
You must eat enormous sandwiches.

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Offline Darkes7

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Re: SFAM - not my favorite DT album at all. Here's why...
« Reply #34 on: December 18, 2009, 09:44:52 AM »
And it's said too often, but I think it's at least partially applicable: prog fans get a boner for concept albums.  If nothing else, I think that causes some people to be more "lenient" with SFAM than they might be otherwise.
I'd say it's something else. A concept can improve an album just as easily as it can bring it down. A forced concept can be a serious weakness when the songs don't work well this way, it also requires really great lyrics (rather than just writing a song and then thinking what it will be about) and deciding where to draw the line between "songs" and "big concept", and drawing it at the wrong point for a certain band can end up with a disaster.

But Scenes From a Memory is the perfect example of a concept album done flawlessly. And it greatly enhances an album that's perfect in itself.