Sound — 8
What immediately is obvious on Dream Theater's Greatest Hit (And 21 Other Pretty Cool Songs) is the rightful use of humor. That's right -- there's only one technical hit in the bunch. The progressive band has not attained fame by creating radio hits or following traditional methods, with the exception of the late hair metal track Pull Me Under. While most of tracks on Greatest Hit don't really sound like Pull Me Under, they still have a much more radio-friendly feel, making it a perfect Dream Theater 101 class for newbies. Drummer Mike Portnoy has divided the album into 2 main categories: the harder-edged tracks inspired by the likes of Judas Priest and Iron Maiden, and the gentler side reminiscent of U2 or Peter Gabriel. What is missing is the category that most likely comes to mind when you think of Dream Theater, namely the 10-minute long, epic songs that dabble in complex time signatures.
Disk 1 is titled The Dark Side and revolves around 11 tracks that have more of a rock-influenced sound. While the songs were selected for their accessible sound, they're still not completely lacking in the progressive element. The band wastes no time by putting it's one mainstream hit Pull Me Under as the first track on the CD, and it does show just how far the band has progressed as musicians. When you compare that track with Home or Root Of All Evil, the change is just amazing. Tracks like Home still have that creative, progressive touch, with amazing solos and time changes throughout. Then you have the introduction of The Test That Stumped Them All, which delivers plenty of high-speed solo insanity from guitarist John Petrucci and keyboardist Jordan Rudess. Other highlights include the moody, restrained Endless Sacrifice and the epic ballad Sacrificed Sons (which about halfway through definitely loses the ballad part of the equation).
Portnoy describes much of the material on disk 2, aka The Light Side, as having the more melodic aspect of the band and dynamic songwriting. It starts out with Another Day, a new remix of a track originally from 1992's Images And Words album. The opener is a pretty solid example of how the rest of disk 2 plays out -- yes, there is a mellower feel to it all, but that doesn't mean that the material is completely devoid of some really nice intricate guitar elements. The songs do tend to fit more in a mold of what you might hear on the radio than disk 1 does, and at times you long for one of those epic tracks to break it all up. The Silent Man is on the extreme side of that, with very little going in terms of the instrumentation, but it's still a beautiful song. In the end, disk 2 should likely appeal to an entirely different audience than traditional rock fans.
Lyrics — 9
You're getting a good scope of Dream Theater's songwriting on Greatest Hit, with the album spanning almost 15 years of material. There's always plenty said about the amazing musical abilities of Portnoy and the rest of the band, and the lyrics always do tend to get tossed into the background. The words are competently written, although they may not be quite as unique as the music itself. There's still an interesting range of topics, whether it's exploring human sin (The Root Of All Evil) or lending a friend emotional support (I Walk Beside You).
Overall Impression — 8
Dream Theater's Greatest Hit won't necessarily be the must-have album for the band's most dedicated fans, but it does show the diversity that we often forget. Melody is the main focus on Greatest Hit, but there are more than a few moments where we do get a taste of those brilliant technical solos. If this isn't your first Dream Theater experience, then it will be impossible not to want a little more out of the album. But you can't blame a band that has stayed under the radar (at least in terms of radio airplay) for wanting it's fan base to grow just a little more. And considering the amount of talent in this one band, I'd say they deserve it.