It’s the music that makes Learning To Live a classic.
If I had to recommend one song to a new Dream Theater fan that typified the progressive rock leanings of the band, then that song would be Learning To Live. Learning To Live was released on the 1992, Images and Words album. The song is that good, that Dream Theater even rewrote it and called it Breaking All Illusions. That version was released on A Dramatic Turn of Events in 2011.
The Kevin Moore keyboard intro kicks things off with a wicked 15/8 time signature. This same passage re-appears and this time it is played over alternating time signatures, starting off with 14/8 for 2 bars, then 13/8 for one bar and back to 14/8 for another bar. Then it goes back to 13/8, 14/8, 13/8, 7/8.
In between you get a very metal like passage in the vein of Immigrant Song from Led Zeppelin, that moves between 7/4,6/4,4/4 and 5/8 time signatures over F#m, C#m and Em root notes. It doesn’t sound forced. It is very fluent like.
The verse is unbelievable. Myung holds it all together with an unbelievable groove over a 7/4 and 6/4 time signature, that is supplemented by Kevin Moore’s choir like voicing’s outlining the Em9, Cmaj9, Amadd9 and Em9 chords. Myung paraphrases the novel Atlas Shrugged from Ayn Rand.
There was no time for pain, no energy for anger
The sightlessness of hatred slips away
Walking through winter streets alone, He stops and take a breath
With confidence and self-control
I look at the world and see no understanding
I’m waiting to find some sense of strength
I’m begging you from the bottom of my heart to show me understanding
Petrucci and Portnoy build the song nicely into the chorus. Petrucci begins with normal volume swells, while Portnoy locks in with Myung. As Petrucci’s guitar gets busier with harmonics, chords and arpeggios, Portnoy’s drumming becomes busier.
The second verse has an unbelievable progressive groove that keeps within the 7/4 and 6/4 time signature of the first verse. This time it’s all power chords and its heavy as hell. Chugging along on an E5 power cord, Petrucci enhances the riffs by chucking in B5, Bflat5 and F power chords, utilising the devil triton to maximum effect.
The 90s bring new questions
New solutions to be found
I fell in love to be let down
Then when you think they are going to go into the Chorus again, they go into a bridge part with a simple 4/4 groove and then the instrumental break starts. Petrucci is now playing what Moore played in the intro.
The flamenco passage at 5.30 kicks things off. From 6.30 it gets progressive and then the woo ohh ohhs kick in and Petrucci takes over at 7.10 in one of the most heartfelt solos Petrucci has laid to tape. Those bends remind me of Dave Gilmour in Comfortably Numb.
The whole Wait For Sleep segment that begins at 7.30 and ends at 9.35 includes brilliant jazz bluesy solos from both Moore and Petrucci and the main piano riff from Wait For Sleep. It then segues back in to the Chorus.
The way that your heart beats
Makes all the difference in learning to live
Just when you think the song is over, the outro kicks in, again led by an unbelievably groovy and very funky Myung bass line. Then Petrucci joins in with the Natural Harmonics and then the monk style voices take over. As a listener I just sit back with the head phones and allow myself to be taken away. A brilliant song and a brilliant piece of work.
Mike Portnoy has gone on record saying how much he hated working with the producer David Prater and the use of drum midi triggers. Portnoy feared that the triggers would make the album sound dated and seen as another generic hard rock album.
One thing is certain. The album still sounds fresh and current in 2013 as it did back in 1992. As Rush’s 2112 laid the groundwork for what was to come for Rush, Images and Words did the same for Dream Theater.