I don't know why Falling into Infinity gets so much flak from its own fanbase. People consider it Dream Theater's so-called attempt at breaking in the mainstream, which I still refuse to accept, since the music that forms FII is still very solid from start to finish. That said, the album does have an overall softer feel to it, but it's nothing like a sell-out release you'd think of. Also, I don't think so many people would hate it if Portnoy hadn't spoken his mind about this record not being one of his favourites. I guess the main problem stems from the fact that FII was Dream Theater's first album without Kevin Moore on keyboards, and secondly, not right up to par with I&W and Awake. Therefore, the Kevin Moore-era fans never really embraced DT's new-found musical direction, whose aim was to create something new rather than copy-catting the Moore period.
FII differs from its predecessors in several aspects. Firstly, there is Kevin Shirley helping the band out with the production. Secondly the songs on FII, unlike the previous releases, were recorded one at a time. This means, as opposed to every member coming in the studio and laying down his parts for the entire album and then being done, everyone had to come in and do the recording of a single song only. The end result was that each song had its own traits, certainly allowing the change of mood of each member to shine through. Perhaps this is one of the factos why FII is still one of DT's most diverse releases -- at least sonically. There is the typical Dream Theater song, "New Millennium", just with a more modern production, that features great bass playing from Myung and a somewhat more emphasized keyboard approach. Then there is the more pop-structured "You Not Me", which is perhaps what angered so many fans, but I like it. I think the catchy chorus serves its purpose quite well and mashes nicely with the funky guitar riff. This album has a very unique tone to it if you can get into it.
My immediate favourites off of FII are the Pink Floyd-ish "Peruvian Skies" inspired by an article John Petrucci read about an abused girl in Peru, hence the title. After the Floydian influence wears off, the song builds up into a very melodic and emotionally charged guitar solo that sends shivers down my spine. Derek's keyboard solo follows immediately, only less melodic and more straightforward. "Lines in the Sand" and the last track, "Trial of Tears", span over 25 minutes when put together, and are the album's most progressive pieces. Doug Pinnick of King's X also sings some back-ups on "Lines in the Sand" which is a very dense song. It is an attack on organized religion and explores feelings of isolation once the person realizes the religious zealots' hypocrisy. Mike Portnoy keeps a fantastic groove to this song, before giving way to Petrucci's amazing guitar solo. Anyone who dislikes John Petrucci's playing should hear this wonderfully amazing guitar run before passing judgement. It's a soaring solo that descends all over the song like a thunder with so many textures to it. "Trial of Tears" is broken down into three subtitles "i. It's Raining", "ii. Deep in Heaven", and "iii. The Wasteland" -- the song finds DT in their element. They go from soft, gentle passages to soul-crushing melodic moments and various odd-metered rhythm patterns.
The album contains some amazing ballads, which to my surprise are overlooked by many DT fans, but I think they are very well written songs with strong lyrical messages. Take the piano-based "Anna Lee" as an example: James Labrie invented this character after he was deeply moved by child abuse and incest; "Take Away My Pain" is a song dealing with the loss of a loved one (John Petrucci's late father who died of cancer in this case); while "Hollow Years" is a slow acoustic number portraying someone who leaves his loved ones behind. The repeated lines ("Once the stone/ You're crawling under") are quite possibly the most emotional lyrics Labrie sings on this album.
"Burning My Soul" and "Hell's Kitchen" were originally intended to be one long song, but then the band decided to lift off the instrumental section from the former and create an all instrumental track ("Hell's Kitchen" as it is), which got its name from the neighbourhood in NYC where this album was recorded. Give Petrucci's fretwork on this song a close listen, it may leave you speechless! As this review tries to express, FII is a quite solid album, with thoughtful lyrics, different but good production, and less complex but immensely amazing musicianship. It's not DT's finest moment, but it certainly holds a special place in their back catalog.
- New Millennium
- You Not Me
- Peruvian Skies
- Hollow Years
- Burning My Soul
- Hell's Kitchen
- Lines in the Sand
- Take Away My Pain
- Just Let Me Breathe
- Anna Lee
- Trial of Tears: It's Raining/Deep in Heaven/The Wasteland