Images and Words may be the second Dream Theater album after 1989’s When Dream and Day Unite, but by many fans (including me), it is thought of as a kind of debut. It is the first album featuring vocalist James LaBrie, who took over from Charles Dominici in 1991, and it is definitely a leaps and bounds development from the actual debut when it comes to both catchiness of tunes, technicality in the songwriting and the lyrics.
Often considered their best work today, I have yet to decide over this one and almost every other DT album, in particular 2002’s Six Degrees of Inner Turbulence. Still, Images and Words is an incredible album, especially considering it being only the second album by a band whose debut was so poorly received. The track ”Pull Me Under”, the bands one and only big radio single, may be weak in comparison to many other tracks, but it is a good leading, introductory track. The album is highlit by the close to ten minute epic ”Metropolis, Pt. 1: The Miracle and the Sleeper”, an incredible technical, epic and catchy melody still seen as their best by many fans, and constantly played as the final encore on concerts. And while the other epic on the album, ”Learning to Live”, isn’t quite on pair it still works very well.
The album’s two ballads are some of Dream Theater’s best. The now replaced keyboardist Kevin Moore wrote the lyrics to both ”Surrounded” and ”Wait for Sleep”, and also composed the latter, one of DT’s shortest tracks at 2:32. Wait for Sleep works beautifully in creating a sad and still creative keyboard-piano atmosphere alongside LaBrie’s mournful vocals, and it is often (quite rightfully) credited as a Kevin Moore song, and not Dream Theater.
The album is also cornered by several songs that could rightfully be described as pop rock at best, with interesting DT instrumentality moments thrown into the mist – examples include ”Another Day” and ”Take the Time” especially. Dream Theater stepped away from this direction of semi-metal in later years, focusing more and more on the longer, technical songs with heavier guitar riffing, especially notable in 2003’s Train of Thought and 2009’s Black Clouds and Silver Linings. While I have nothing against the more melodic tracks, I always tend to prefer the heavier and more technical stuff, which probably also is the reason I wouldn’t call Images and Words my favorite Dream Theater album, even though it is indeed a massive success, especially for such a young band at this time.