Dream Theater's Greatest Hit (....And 21 Other Pretty Cool Songs) collection is a strange animal indeed. Despite the band's amazingly longevity -- they cut their first demo in 1986 -- as a touring act and as a steadily selling concern in the product marketplace, they've had exactly one hit, sort of, in 1992's "Pull Me Under" from the album Images and Words. That they are still together and still a viable touring and recording enterprise is testament enough in these strange times. Apparently, though, that's not enough for them. Drummer Mike Portnoy and his bandmembers assembled this collection with a few twists that make for rather curious listening. Divided into two discs collecting 22 cuts, the first oddity is that the epic, intricate pro-pop metallic jams they are most closely associated with are almost entirely absent here. In their place, as Portnoy goes to great lengths to explain in his liner notes (which amount to more of an apologia than anything else), are a "dark side" disc reflecting the more riff-centric, metallic, guitar and double bass drum tunes that have been influenced by everyone from Black Sabbath and Judas Priest to Iron Maiden and Metallica. The other disc, is, predictably enough, the "light side." Here, the tunes reflect the more melodic, accessibly progressive aspect of the band that has been influenced by, "...U2, Pink Floyd, Journey, and Peter Gabriel." Whatever. What's worse, Portnoy somehow thinks that this set is for the uninitiated, and claims he sees it almost as a "TV commercial or a coming attraction for a film...something that will lure the viewers/listeners in and inspire them to dig deeper, eventually leading them to experience the 'full picture'..." Apparently, he hasn't been paying attention to what's been going on in a marketplace increasingly reliant on digital media.
As for the music itself, here's the rub: the only real thing to attract veteran fans are some 2007 remixes including "Pull Me Under" (they messed with their sole pop culture classic!!!!), "Take the Time," and "Another Day," and edits that include shortened versions of "Lie," "Home," "Misunderstood," and "Solitary Shell." There is also an alternate album mix of the track "Through Her Eyes." The cover sticker reflects this, but the actual track listing on the back of the package does not. Musically, if you are a Dream Theater fan and need to have everything, you already know these tracks, and have them in at least two versions -- live and studio -- anyway, and the remixes are nothing whatsoever to write home about. If you are a novice, you'd be better of picking up one of the band's truly classic recordings such as Images and Words, Change of Seasons, Six Degrees of Inner Turbulence, or Scenes from a Memory to hear their studio magic, on the one hand, or, Live Scenes from New York on the other. This double-disc makes little sense. Excess is one of the greatest things about Dream Theater: they are one of the best live bands on the planet and understand that big rock & roll is about the show as well as great musicianship, but sometimes, even grand excess is a little to o grand for its own good; this is just such a case.