A VIEW FROM THE TOP
OF THE WORLD
Sony Music International Japan
For the last few months, Dream Theatre have been releasing their series of Lost Not Forgotten albums, live recordings from their archives which in the absence of a new studio album, most welcome. It has been two years and eight months since Distance Over Time was released, an album that saw them dump the epic concept of2016’s The Astonishing - what many reviewers called their Tales From Topographic Oceans moment – in favour of a return to a more accessible set of songs. Distance Over Time not only re-established Dream Theatre as the band their fans preferred, it also won them many new ones.
I’ll dive into the audio first. A View From The Top Of The World is their second for Sony in Japan; it’s also their first to be mixed and mastered by Andy Sneap, a man who has established himself as one the best in the Metal business when it comes to polishing a recording and he has made a significant contribution to the sonics. The guitars are crisp and they bite, the keyboards float and tinkle, the bass punches and the drums crack through the middle with plenty of spatial toms and percussion. Is it heavier? Yes, a little bit but not so much as to change their genre from Prog-Metal to Metal-Prog. Rest assured fans, Mr Sneap has added much and taken away nothing.
Seven tracks, seventy minutes, the last twenty of those for the title track and also the last in the running order. Before we get there though, we have fifty minutes of pure Dream Theater and if you like the off-beat drums, the staccato guitars and odd-ball riffs, you are in for a treat because this album is loaded down with them. By the time you get to the last track, you are wondering what they can do but A View From The Top Of The World truly is epic in every way and perfectly paced. Personally, I think it’s their best song over ten minutes.
The release comes in several formats and Sony Japan have gone top town on this release with not only the usual translated lyrics and liner notes booklet a BSCD2 mastering coupled with a 5.1 Surround Mix on a separate disc which also includes the documentary titled ‘Digging For A Spark - A View From Inside DTHQ’ with Japanese subtitles. Get into Tower Records early for a free limited edition Clear File or other participating stores for jacket post card, both are which are lovely but even if you miss those, the music is still worth buying.
Summing up, on this release, Dream Theater have managed to follow up the highly praised Distance Over Time by combining that and their earlier work. Adding in Andy Sneap was a masterstroke and they have come up with an album which will not only secure their place in the Prog-Metal world but also give them unlimited roads to explore in the future.
Answering The Call
Awaken The Master
A View From The Top Of The World
STRAWBS - CD
Back in the 1970s, Dave Cousins and his fellow members of The Strawbs were well known amongst their peers as writing some of the best songs of that era. Impossible to categorise due to their remarkable ability to shift between genres using a blend of Prog, folk lyrics and Pop melodies, amongst everyone I knew, there were people who said they didn’t like Lindisfarne, some who loathed Genesis, others that despised David Cassidy and the Bay City Rollers but everyone loved The Strawbs– including my Mum and Dad. Fifty years on and listening to this album just once will have you quietly smiling to yourself; the magic is still there.
To date, The Strawbs have had thirty-three line-ups, the consistent being Cousins who formed the band back in 1964. The singer, main songwriter, guitarist and banjo player has seen some amazingly like-minded singers and songwriters pass through his band, many have had multiple tenures in the band so it’s not so much a revolving door as a ‘see you later – welcome back’ kind of band. Of the four others that make up this album, three have had spells in The Strawbs before; likewise, two of the four guests so what we have is a collection of musicians, familiar enough with each other to know how each works and given time to explore their own paths. The result is a gorgeous blend of old, new, respect and commitment to making a great set of songs and instrumentals, as great as can be.
The opener, Settlement, starts with a droning acoustic and Cousins’ gritty menacing voice spitting out an attack on politicians and their policies of the rich getting richer. It builds, booms, almost terrifies and leaves you with the blood starting to boil in your veins. Contrast that with then next track which is such a thing of beauty that were it not for the same vocalist, you wouldn’t believe it was the same band. Clouds seemingly drift by in an English summer garden as the lyrics muse on what are indeed, Strange Days although exactly what is strange is ambiguous; herein lies the craft of the master lyric writer.
And so it goes. Each track reveals a little bit more of the collective called The Strawbs, each track a mini-masterpiece lyrically and musically making a sublime canvas that can do something that is very rare in music these days and that is to stir different emotions. Taken on their own, the lyrics could be classed as poetry and make no mistake, there are more than just one poet within the band. John Ford’s collaboration with Cousins for Each Manner Of Man and Dave Lambert’s The Visit to give just two examples are every bit as worthy of praise for their lyrics as the music; Chas Cronk’s instrumental that closes the LP version is as complete as can be.
Back in the 1970s then, The Strawbs were at the top of their game. I have some news for you: they still are.
Each Manner of Man
We Are Everyone
Champion Jack (CD only)
Better Days (CD only)
Liberty (CD only)