Sunday, November 29, 2015


Those who know me will know that of late, I've been irrepressibly bitten by the cycling bug. As insane as it sounds, I love waking up at ungodly hours and zooming through empty roads.

It's also a fantastic way to discover the city. Let's face it - you can only run so much, and you can only leave your senses at the behest of auto drivers for so long. Cycling turned out to be a fantastic way to discover the city, and myself and my trusty steed, Velociraptor, have seen some gorgeous sights - Khargar, Sanjay Gandhi National Park, Aarey Colony - heck, just up and down NH4.

Self and partner-in-crime at Worli Seaface.
Recently, National Geographic India came up with a fantastic initiative called Mission Explorer and asked me to be a part of it, giving me an Explorer Challenge. I jumped at the chance and said yes before I knew what the heck I was going to do. 

One thing I always wanted to do was visit the various forts in the city (that being Mumbai). There were many - all in various stages of dilapidation, and I wanted to just go check them out. I kept putting it off for some reason or the other - lack of company (many of the forts are located in less-than-touristy areas) and distance (the forts are inconveniently located all across the city which, I guess, makes strategic sense) being two. This seemed to be the best excuse to go ahead and finally knock this off my bucket list. 

Having coerced a friend, Sukrit, (a brilliant photographer and graphic designer, by the way) into tagging along (partially for company, partially because my social interaction skills in Marathi are quite abysmal), I set off.

And in order, here we go:

Worli Fort:

This fort is very interestingly located - on the very tip of Worli.

Those who use the Bandra-Worli Sealink can see it as they enter the Worli side. People are usually surprised to see there's a fort there, at all! It was built by the British in the 17th century as a lookout for pirates. The Archaeological Survey of India has restored it - but that hasn't stopped an interesting illegal construction from happening - a gym inside the fort. While that's a novel idea (and truth be told, it's helpful to the locals and the place isn't too dirty), I'm not sure the ASI looks upon that with a kindly eye.

In order to reach this place, you have to cross a few slums, on a very narrow street - you have to do exactly as Google Maps (or the friendly locals) tell you. While some might feel unnerved having tgo navigate through such dwellings, there really is nothing to be worried about - people just mind their own business (and stop to stare, of course - especially if you're riding a freakin' sexy bike).

Once you reach the fort and climb up, you're presented a fantastic view - of the sealink, of the Mahim Bay, and loads of fisherboats.

Worli Fort - surprisingly well-maintained, given its environs
Worli Fort provides a superb view - and next time you zoom down the sealink, look out for the Fort.
The other side gives you a view of the two Worlis - a village (mostly of fisherpeople) and the high-rises housing posh people and corporate offices.

Sewree Fort:

After this, we planned to visit Bombay Castle at Fort - the defensive land around this area is what gives the precinct its name. Unfortunately, this is housed inside defense land and outsiders are not allowed in (and like Suk said, the guys guarding the gates with guns didn't exactly look like a tourist information booth). So off we went, past the docks, to Sewree.

Built in 1680 by the British to keep a watch over Mumbai's harbors from Mughals and the Siddis, there has been a fair amount of maintenance work done by the Maharashtra government - a garden and museum are on the cards. Currently, though, it still serves as a breeding ground for unchecked graffiti (mostly harmless proclamations of who visited and who loves whom). When we visited, the inside of the Fort was being used by a bunch of local kids for - what else - cricket. Behind the fort, there is a Muslim dargah, and by its side, there are some government official flats.

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The approach to the fort. The cleaning lady was wondering what two grown men in spandex shorts were doing there.
Despite the vandalism, the fort is in pretty good shape.
Yet another makeshift 22 yards!
I wouldn't call this a stunning view, but it has potential.
The fort is a little walk away from the Flamingo watchpoint - where, during the right season, you'll see lots of the said birds. Currently, it's a ship repair yard and a parking area for loads of trucks.

Sion Fort:

Again, built by the British in the 17th century, this was more accessible than the earlier forts - being less than a km away from the Sion station. It was built overlooking the Portugese-controlled Salcette Island.

The fort is not open 24*7 (we went during the 4-6 PM slot) and has a very nice garden (well, in relative terms). From the top here, you can see the two icons of Wadala - lots of industrial plants and the red IMAX dome. Outside the fort, there is a defunct industrial plant (prime real estate, if you ask me).

The place is popular among locals who enjoy a good morning or evening walk along the garden.

Steps leading to the garden

Our steeds outside Sion Fort

Mahim Fort:

While I'd have loved to be excited about Mahim Fort, it's a sad sign and a microcosm of what-could-have-been in Mumbai: On a dirty 'beach' (Bandra), total neglect, encroachment and illegal slums, and filth everywhere.

While the origins of the Fort are unclear, it went from Portugese to Gujrati hands (by force) and from Gujrati to English hands (by dowry, as part of Mahim island itself!). A 1772 war saw lots of cannonballs being fired, one of which damaged Mt. Mary's Basilica. Though it's a Grade 1 heritage monument and there have been talks of developing the fort since 2008, nothing much has been done. In fact, when we tried to get closer to the fort, a few locals advised us not to, and told us to just see it from the outside.

Sad for us, but left us thinking that a few people have a killer address: 1st floor, Mahim Fort.

This could have potentially been a stunning visitor attraction - it's quite massive, commands a great view
and is in a central location.
Bandra Fort: 

By this time, we were both a little exhausted, but were determined to see the last fort. So we cheated a little - we parked our bikes, and took a rick to Bandra Fort - easily the most popular of the city's Forts. And that is in no small part because it's the best maintained.

Built by the Portugese in 1640, its full name is Castella de Aguada (Fort of the Waterfront). It's got a terrific location - right behind the Taj Land's End Hotel, past the very popular Bandra Bandstand (home of film stars, open-air musicians and many, many people in love). Add a great garden and an open-air amphitheater to the mix, and it's easy to see why this is a hugely popular place, despite the relatively long commute.

As with Worli Fort (but from the other side), it commands a terrific view of the Sealink, and fishing boats. The amphitheater has a special place in my heart - I've seen some magnificent concerts there as the sun went down, with the sound of waves and the cool wind. Indian Ocean's free open-air show in 2010 remains one of the best music events I've been to.

The fort itself has some stairs (some steep ones, mind!) which offer a fair amount of exploration.
On one side, you can see the rocks and its various temporary inhabitants... 

And on the other, you can stare at the architectural marvel that is the BWSL.

And of course, the amphi and garden provide for a great getaway for couples.
We took the rick back to where we parked our bikes and headed back home.
Phew, it was a pretty long and awesome ride!

The whole ride was a shade over 88 km. Here was the route map (ignore that small GPS error, where you see a straight line)

And if you're interested in the details of the ride, here is the link to the Strava log.

I wanted to see some more forts: Rewa Fort at Dharavi and Vasai Fort being two others - but there's only so much pedalling in the Bombay sun you can do in one day :)

I loved this experience, though - I got to finally see these forts, and I saw parts of Bombay that were so different from the Carter Roads and the Phoenix Mills we tend to associate the city with.

Once again, thank yous are due to NatGeo and Mission Explorer for letting me do this!

If this sounds like something you would like to do, and possibly win a chance to go to Machu Picchu, then check out the Mission Explorer website - If you're passionate about exploring food, art, culture, travel (or anything else, really!) in your city, you will fit the bill.

Thursday, September 17, 2015


Ah, who can resist the swagger of Oasis? One of my favourite ever bands.

The most popular Britpop band and one whose legacy the subsequent band's spinoffs will always find hard to emulate. Utter hummability and melody were the hallmarks of Oasis’ music. Noel Gallagher was one of the finest songwriters of his generation, and his brother Liam delivered his music with an arrogant sneer that would become trademark.

Along the way, they threw up many surprises – but eventually the falling out between the Gallagher brothers led to the breaking up of the band. Nevertheless, they have left us with a considerable body of work to enjoy. Here’s my top 20.

20. Fade In Out

This song is awesome - if not for anything else, Johnny Depp played the slide guitar on it. Yes, Johnny Depp. Also, if the song sounds a little like Bon Jovi's Dead Or Alive - don't bum yourself out too much. Noel Gallagher might be a fantastic songwriter, but he tends to get a tad, um, overinspired. It's one of Oasis' heaviest tracks.

19. The Swamp Song

Oasis isn't known for instrumentals, so it shouldn't come as a surprise that not too many people know of this. It's more like a warm-up jam, though. But I like this because it's rare to hear the harmonica in proper rock 'n' roll.

18. Stand By Me

I'd say this is a typical Oasis song - very melodic, Liam singing like only he can, Noel trying a little guitar intro. It seems to be about commitment phobia. And a pretty cool video, too.

17. The Importance Of Being Idle

A spectacular song that is dark and has some of the best lyrics Noel has written. After While My Guitar Gently Weeps, this is my favourite song title. Noel wrote this song about how lazy he can be. The video is dark and funny all at once. An absolutely brilliant track.

16. Turn Up The Sun

A great start to the Don't Believe The Truth album. Moodier than most Oasis songs, it's also written by bassist Andy Bell (most of Oasis' songs are written by Noel). And just have a look at this video if you have any doubts as to what rockstars these people are!

15. I Can See It Now!!

A very nice filler song this - mostly instrumental. Soothing and fun. It's sort of an upbeat version of The Beatles' Flying.

14. The Masterplan

While Noel is capable of writing lyrics that make no sense, he sometimes puts out absolute poetry. What a picture he paints here! This is another awesome video by Oasis. By the way, Noel sings this song, and you can see the cartoon Liam in the song sitting by the amps playing his tambourine!

13. Champagne Supernova

Ah, the one that everyone loves. It's one of those songs where it would seem Noel came up with an awesome-sounding title and just put together words to fit it. That very well might be the scene, he's said the song means nothing. People can speculate, but I prefer to focus on the music itself - there is some lovely soundscape here and that tone on his guitar is perfect.

12. Don't Look Back In Anger

Liam has one heck of a voice - ranging from absolute swagger to heart-rending pleading. Oh, and that piano at the beginning! In the video, Andy White  drumming atop a float on a pool has got to be the coolest thing Oasis has ever done (not counting the time Liam threw an award into the crowd after not thanking Noel). There's a pretty neat explanation of the song here, if you care for such things.

11. Gas Panic!

This is a bit of a surprise song. I love that brooding start with the acoustic and the way Liam sings (it might just be my favourite performance of his) and the atmosphere as Oasis channels their inner Floyd. This is about panic attacks, don't let Liam's peppy voice fool ya - this has some pretty scary lyrics. Fabulous track, one you might have not heard about.

10. Stop Crying Your Heart Out

Pretty straightforward as far as lyrics go - it's constructed beautifully by that genius Noel and delivered magnificently by Liam. The piano and guitars are perfect here, especially those few notes after the chorus. One for the pick-me-up drawer.

09. Morning Glory

It's just their most upbeat-sounding song. I love Paul McGuigan's basswork here. Oasis just in the middle of their best ever album at the height of their powers.

08. Hello!

This is the first track off the aforestated best album. This is the acoustic version of that, and it was the first time I'd ever heard Oasis. I fell in love with it, and the band - it helped that they followed this up on that performance with #5 on this list. A 15-year old me was transformed. While Liam sings the studio version, Noel sings the acoustic version, after saying "So Liam ain't gonna be with us tonight, 'cause he's got a sore throat, so you're stuck with the ugly four."

07. Where Did It All Go Wrong?

Oh man, what a track. I love Liam singing, but there's something that happens when Noel takes the mic! This song title is a reference to something a hotel manager asked a wastged George Best - and a bit of a reference to Noel's own struggles with cocaine. It features some magnificent lyrics, such as "Do you keep the receipts, for the friends that you buy?" Superb.

06. Wonderwall

Yes, the song that's the staple of guitar novices in engineering colleges around the country. It's definitely a love song, and I'm pretty sure Noel's got sick and tired of it. That being said, it's a beautifully simple track to sing and play on an acoustic guitar. The basswork on this song is excellent and underrated.

05. Some Might Say

I think that intro is their best ever, and Liam's singing is top-notch. Some nonsense lyrics (The sink is full of fishes / She's got dirty dishes on the brain) but then, some lovely ones like "Some might say they don't believe in heaven / Go and tell it to the man who lives in hell". Extremely fun to play on the electric guitar, too.

04. Supersonic

Ah, you just know this is gonna be a kickass track. Those drum intros, the guitar pick scraping the string, that reverb-laden arpeggio - it's all there. It's the type of song you'd enjoy most singing in an audience at a concert. Noel's guitar work is mighty fine here, especially those licks during the chorus.
And the video? Simple - but what you can clearly see - first album, but already acting like rockstars. That these guys were.

03. I'm Outta Time

The last great song they had - it has all the elements of a great Oasis song - Broody intro with arpeggio, great singing, simple chords, Oasisesque lines like "gotta keep on keepin' on" and terrific Noel-crafted melody. One of my favourite Oasis choruses. Also, a John Lennon interview snippet at the end.

02. Slide Away

Terrific from the word go! Drums, bass, guitars and Liam are all perfect here. Great melody, and sung beautifully. He's not a technically brilliant vocalist but has that rawness that somehow makes him sound more sincere. Great song. "Now that you're mine, we'll find a way for chasing the sun"

01. D'you Know What I Mean?

My favourite ever Oasis track! I love everything about this - the slow buildup, the way he sings and that it might be about Oasis telling the Beatles they're the big boys now. One of Noel's greatest gifts is managing to make the right lyrics fit into the right syllables. Like: "I ain't good-looking,but I'm someone's child / No-one can give me the air that's mine to breathe". It just sounds so good, rolling off the tongue.

Oh, and if you noticed - it has the very same chords as Wonderwall ;)

So there you go.
This list is unlikely to change since they've broken up now thanks to the siblings quarreling - but at least we have some kickass tracks like these to remember.


Saturday, September 05, 2015


Making a top 10/20/25 Dream Theater list is wrought with risk. Because nobody will agree.

You might think this is an affliction for all bands. But - not really. While people might disagree on the early vs later Metallica, the top 10 will end up being a rough reordering of the same songs. Ditto with the Beatles, Deep Purple and Iron Maiden.

But Dream Theater? Ah, there are so many angles! Long songs vs short songs. Mangini vs Portnoy. Moore vs Rudess. LaBrie vs no LaBrie. Early DT vs later DT. One man's favourite song can be another person's 'rubbish' - and I know this, having trawled dozens of forums and discussions - each of my top 10 at some point have been praised as the greatest song to bless our presence, and at the same time has been lambasted. Songs that you yourself thought you hated turn out to be absolute gems on a second (or 55th) listen. And let's not forget - many people don't like DT to begin with - the apparent instruwankery and length of songs being prime barriers.

So let's just get a few basics out of the way:
Dream Theater is an American progressive metal band. While critics interpret that as a license to instrumentally show off, fans of the genre look at it as everything pop music isn't: Unconventional, challenging song structures. Deep lyrical themes. Having and displaying technical proficiency. All this and more is what draws fans to the genre, while at the same time giving fodder to critics. While DT have been proclaimed as metal poets (rightly so) let me confess right at the outset that I'm all about the music. So while many forums go on and on about their lyric-writing ability, I've only really just heard the sound.

I was first introduced to DT in 2004/5 when I was just learning the guitar. The technical mastery of the instruments was jaw-dropping and I've been hooked to their music since. I've always made it a point to read lyrics / interpretations (shout out to this site) while listening to music, and this is particularly rewarding in the case of this band. Also, Amazon reviews where you find some of the most vociferous fans and opinions.

One thing is for certain: Dream Theater is a band that demands your attention. It's not easy listening, the music will not come to you. You need to stop what you're doing and focus. Only then will the smorgasbord of notes and drumming stop being noise and make sense to you. If you're looking for easy listening, head elsewhere. If you're looking for wankery for wankery's sake look here. If you're looking for awesome but easy listening guitar, may I recommend this gent? If you're looking for music to push your boundaries, be a little frustrated along the way, and just generally be blown away by what you hear - you've come to the right place.

So then, on to my list of top 20, which will no doubt be debated :)

20. The Enemy Inside (Dream Theater, 2013)

DT has never been scared of talking about issues - ranging from AIDS to depression. And this is one example. The video perfectly accompanies the theme of the song, and while it might be radio-friendly for some, it works as an out-and-out hard rock song.

19. The Best Of Times (Black Clouds And Silver Linings, 2009)

DT was never scared to bring in other instruments in to the studio: Be it an orchestra or a violin, as you'll hear here. They're also never in a hurry to get to the point. This is about Howard Portnoy, Mike's dad. It's a touching tribute that starts off very slowly with an acoustic guitar before rushing into a fast-forward album flip of their life together. It's easy to follow but there are enough changes to keep hard-nosed prog fans interested throughout. There's a small reference to A Change Of Seasons, Mike's tribute to his mom (eagle-eyed DT fans will notice).

But as powerful as the lyrical content of the song is - people will remember the astonishing guitar solo at the end, starting 9:59 - a flurry of his emotional and shredding side both, which many have said is his finest solo ever.

18. Home (Scenes From A Memory, 1999)

It's one of those intros where you know something awesome is going to happen. Before that a word on the album itself - Metropolis Part 2 - Scenes From A Memory is one of the most stunning concept albums ever written and a best-of-list can never do justice to the genius of an album like that. Check out the story here. Home follows a pivotal part in the story, and knowledge of the theme can make the song seem more powerful. Musically this a monster: There's a sitar-laden intro / solo, crunching riffs, haunting spoken words and sounds of slot machines (again, read the story). Here's the genius of DT that many mistake for wankery: The fast-paced solo sections are where the protagonist is going through moments of anguish and the music is meant to reflect his state of mind. Sharp-eared DT fans will notice a few riffs and lyrics referencing Metropolis Part 1. I like the live version better (even though James LaBrie is better in the studio), so here it is...

17. Hollow Years (Live At Budokan, 2004)

This song is one of those examples why I love reading fan comments along with listening to the song. The original version of this of course, is on the much-lambasted 1997 album Falling Into Infinity. One fan recommended listening to the Budokan version of this song where Petrucci has probably his finest guitar solo. I would have normally skimmed over the live albums without too much of a thought, but made it a point to get it and boy - am I grateful.

While the song itself is decent - Petrucci adds a wonderful acoustic intro and then an astonishing solo at 4:39 which, I must say, was an absolute privilege to listen to. To date, it's one of my favourite guitar solos of all time and (in my book) easily Petrucci's finest. I love how he waves to the crowd at 6:26 without breaking the flow!

Being one of their most radio-friendly songs, you can give this to anyone, regardless of whether they like prog metal or not. What. A. Solo.

16. Only  A Matter Of Time (When Dream And Day Unite, 1989)

Uncharacteristically hummable given its deep progness. It's hard to believe a bunch of 20-year-olds were able to write an album as landmark as WDADU, that too for a genre that hardly existed. The influence of original keyboardist Kevin Moore is apparent here. This song features first vocalist Charlie Dominici who, despite not finding favour with DT fans, does quite a decent job on the album and especially this song. Moore writes some of the most cryptic lyrics on a DT song, which manage to seamlessly flow into the complicated time signature. I mean, as you have the lyrics open in front of you, you can't help but sing along to:

I understand mine's a risky plan
And your system can't miss
But is security after all a cause
Or symptom of happiness?

Or how about the gloriously rewarding

And though the time will come when
Dream and day unite
Tonight the only consolation causing
Him to fight

A fantastic end to one of the great debut albums by a band that will continue to rule the genre for decades.

15. Forsaken (Systematic Chaos, 2008)

This comes bang in the middle of DT's most critically panned phase, and this song might be an easy target for those who like to brandish a 'sellout' label eager to pin it on someone. One can understand why: It's a piano intro, guitar riff and chorus that's pretty radio-friendly. Not to mention, it has a video! The song has been discussed to be about a broken relationship but could also be about a parasitic alien race / vampires (makes sense actually). It might be the least prog thing on this list, but is still a fantastic showcase of LaBrie's singing and the inventiveness of the rest of the band. Plus, the keyboard intro is a favourite ringtone of mine.

14. Breaking All Illusions (A Dramatic Turn Of Events, 2011)

That intro will sum up DT in a minute: Incredible riff you can't keep time to, all instruments playing a part, mood changing from cheerful to bleak without you knowing it. There are massive keyboard riffs and punctuated with that happy folksy tink-tinkery which peppers the song and keeps the upbeat vibe going. For me, the highlight is a lovely guitar solo by Petrucci which should bring back memories of La Villa Strangiato. Indeed, for those who think the man is all about mindless shredding, listen to 6:08-8:50. For most bands, a song like this might be the apex of their career. For DT, however, we're just getting started.

13. Wait For Sleep (Images and Words, 1991)

A unique song that has just keys and LaBrie singing. It's one of their most touching songs which has been best linked to various types of relationships. In an ideal world, that haunting intro should be the piano equivalent of the Smoke On The Water riff in music stores around the country. Songs like this show why Kevin Moore is held in such revere by fans of the band. Great song to try out new headphones.

12. Behind The Veil (Dream Theater, 2013)

About a kidnapping, told from the victim's point of view. It's dark lyrical matter delivered brilliantly by LaBrie - the man moves from menacing (paragraph 1) to pleading (prechorus) to operatic (chorus). The latter, by the way, is one of the best DT ever had - I would love to be in a show where they played this live. Then there is the usual Rudess-Petrucci magic happening.

11. Instrumedley (Live At Budokan, 2004)

Four masters of their respective instruments in one band. Many would say John Petrucci, Mike Portnoy, John Myung and Jordan Rudess are the greatest exponents of their respective crafts in the world and it is an absolute treat to watch them have an absolute go. I present to you Instrumedley, a 13 minute compilation of the best instrumental moments of DT (and the side project Liquid Tension Experiment) over the years - delivered to one very lucky audience in Japan. There's nothing to explain here. Just keep your jaw off the ground and enjoy, you will lose 200 calories by just watching the video. Oh and if you're wondering what the songs by themselves are - go here. The best way to watch this is split-screen!

As you see / listen to it, you are left bewildered by many things: How can they be so tight? How do they remember all the notes? What's that fish on the side of Rudess' keyboard? Has Portnoy just done the most badass thing by a guy wearing glasses? Is the moment when they break out into Ytse Jam the single best thing to happen on stage live? Phew.

10. Pull Me Under (Images and Words, 1991)

Ah, the song that critics love to pan - which automatically means it's one of their best and most accessible songs. I wonder what about this song suggests it's radio friendly: It's over 8 minutes long, is as prog / unconventional as it gets and the lyrics aren't exactly singalong. Heck, the lyrics kick in only at the 2-minute mark.

What it does have is an amazing intro that I'll never tire of, signalling the beginning of probably the finest prog metal album of all time, great singing by new recruit James LaBrie, fantastic musicmanship - I particularly enjoy Myung and Petrucci's rhythm guitaring on this. Oh, and that anticlimax of an ending!

If this song is 'accessible' and it means some more people get to try out DT, I have no problem with that. We need more gateways.

09. The Ministry Of Lost Souls (Systematic Chaos, 2008)

Some DT songs take a while to get to the point. Not this one. It was love at first keyboard riff here - I love large orchestral keyboard riffs and this one just pinned me to the wall when I first heard it.

The song has some beautiful interpretations which you should check out here. With the knowledge of some of those interpretations, it's hard to keep a dry eye while listening to this. (Yes, DT are one of those bands who are capable of making grown men cry)

This song is a perfect example of the 'instruwankery' meaning something - read the lyrics and you'll automatically draw images in your own head, and all the notes suddenly make sense. Of people running, screaming, struggling in their sleep - it's mystical, scary and magical. And it reaches a crescendo before beautifully 'dropping' back into the opening riff at 10:42. Phew. What EDM 'drop' can compete with the sheer beauty and emotion of this?

An absolute cracker of a song, this, and a highly underrated one.

08. Illumination Theory (Dream Theater, 2013)

At the time of writing, this is their last opus: A monster 23-minuter to close their eponymous album. There's a lot to like here: The orchestras, the riffage, Myung making his presence felt and last but not least Mike Mangini sounding like he belongs!

The first few minutes are all angry DT - which then gives way to some lovely solo work (please keep an ear peeled for magic by Myung here!), and a beautiful orchestra section (close your eyes here), and the usual insane instrumental show-of-prowess.

It's a complete package and a song that grows on you rapidly, despite the sheer length. It's heartening to know these guys still have it in them to belt out a monster like this.

07. Ytse Jam (When Dream And Day Unite, 1989)

The first sign of the incredible instrumental wizardry to come.

The title of this instrumental is MAJESTY in reverse - which was the first name of the band. All the chops are here: Odd time signatures, individual members showing off, headbangable moments... Most bands would be happy to pull this off as their opus, but for Theater, it's just a minor matter of announcing themselves. A bunch of 20-year olds did this, keep in mind.

06. A Change Of Seasons (A Change Of Seasons, 1995)

One of their most popular songs (well, at 23", it's not likely to be on too many party playlists - so let's just say popular as far as prog metal discussion forums go). It was written by Portnoy in a tribute to his mother. That intro is one of the most beautiful Theater has ever done.

This song has more melodies and riffs than you can count - my favourite is the one at 4:11. Encapsulates the song so well. James LaBrie - much reviled and revered both - does a terrific job of delivering the pain-laden lyrics and screams. You can feel Portnoy's emotions - hope, pain and anguish - reflected here. And as is to be expected of a song of this size, there's a lot of superb instrumental action and coordination here (how do these guys do it?!)

The 'Carpe Diem Sieze The Day' lyric is one of their most famous and will be referenced later in a few songs.

And for those who care about such things, this is the first comment on the video:
4/4, 3/4, 7/4, 8/4, 7/4, 8/4, 7/4, 4/4, 3/4, 7/4, 17/8, 21/8, 17/16, 4/4, 15/8, 7/4, 4/4, 9/8, 15/8, 7/4, 4/4, 9/8, 4/4, 9/8, 4/4, CARPE DIEM! SIEZE THE DAY!, 6/4, 19/16, 5/4, 4/4, 5/4, 4/4, 5/4, 4/4, 8/4, 3/4, 6/4, 4/4, 10/4, 6/4, 4/4, 11/8, 7/8, 11/8, 18/8, 4/4, 7/8, 7/4, 6/4, 6/8, 4/4, 3/4, 5/8, 4/4.

And well, I know we DT fans pride ourselves on our tolerance for long songs and sneer on others for their lack of patience etc, but even I feel that this was a little overblown and a few minutes could have easily been shaved off - not for accessibility's sake but I don't think the song needed it.

Big boys now!

05. Octavarium (Octavarium, 2005)

There are two ways of looking at Dream Theater's finest opus: One, as an overblown, self-indulgent exercise in excess. The other is possibly the best musical autobiography ever told. Neither approach is wrong. I lean towards the latter, of course - but let it be made clear - Octavarium is not the song you give a prog metal virgin.

However, once you submit yourself to the fact that this is going to be an awesome theatrical experience, you're in for a treat. The first 4 minutes (yes, most Bon Jovi songs are over by then) meander along like Pink Floyd at their lazy finest. Then there's a bit of synth and flute.

By the way, this song is about DT themselves - their influences (Floyd, Rush, The Beatles and others) and then how they defined this genre for themselves and got trapped inside it (Hence the repeating 'Trapped Inside This Octavarium' lyric).

The meandering, slow start gives way to the next movement, where Myung really gets into his element and the tempo really picks up (well, given that it's 13" into the song, they'd better start getting to the point, yes?). I love the next section - where there are vocal tributes to many of their heroes and the songs (you'll notice them!) though it's surprising to see no Rush reference there, given how much of an influence they are for the band.

Another musical genius moment follows: Each of the songs in the album are invoked - each of them are on a different scale - hence going to a full circle (from F to F), and LaBrie screams out Trapped Inside This Octavarium - hitting the highest notes he's ever done on a DT studio album.

It's a stunning musical extravagaza - which again, many will pan for being excessive. But hey, screw them.

04. Stream Of Consciousness (Train of Thought, 2003)

From one of DT's heaviest albums comes this fabulous instrumental.

There is nothing much I want to say here - except, you will be hard-pressed to find a better showcase of the instrumental wizardry of the band than this. The opening arpeggio is one of the darkest and really sets the tone for the magic to come.

John Petrucci - you are a God.

03. Dance of Eternity (Scenes From A Memory, 1999)

When SFAM came out, many hailed it as a progressive milestone and this instrumental as the greatest ever. I'm not too sure about that - I think La Villa Strangiato is the greatest, and perhaps Messrs Beethoven / Bach might have a point of view on that.

But anyway - this is their most famous instrumental and for good reason. It's got more time signature changes than you can possibly imagine. So many that even the drummer - one of the most acclaimed in the world - struggles.

This song is the reason why haters hate (or is it h8?) and fans adore. Sure, it's a lot of wankery on display with just a few melodies thrown in, but there are other songs for that. This is Dream Theater at their finest or worst depending on your point of view.

02. Metropolis Part 1 - The Miracle And The Sleeper (Images and Words, 1991)

If you can get past the extravagant title, what reveals itself is possibly the finest prog metal song of all time. It's a terrific introduction to anyone looking to get into the genre.

There's a storyline here (which is continued a few albums later), great musicmanship, a lovely intro that's built up, James LaBrie at his best... My favourite moment is after all the instrumental showmanship, there's a crescendo that's built up... And it all peaks and climaxes, leaving an orgasm of beautiful chiming guitars at 8:03 - that is to me, Dream Theater's finest moment encapsulating all that they are about - a lot of instrumental wankery, but with melody underlying all of it.

01. Learning To Live (Images and Words, 1991)

I am aware this is an odd choice for a top song, but I have many reasons for it.
One, that intro.
Two, that voice. James LaBrie might be reviled by many, but any man who can pull off a performance like this, especially those high notes he hits in the middle.
Three, the lyrics. I know I don't look at words too much, but Myung has some real nice stuff here, apparently about AIDS.

And finally - the ultimate DT instrumental moment. From 7:04 onwards when LaBrie delivers that goosebump-inducing shriek - it all becomes instrumental fantasy. First, Petrucci's guitar solo, 7:51 is one of my favourite DT moments, but it all comes to climax when Wait For Sleep is reinvoked and a full piece constructed around it. It suddenly gives meaning to why that odd 2 minute song was placed in the album in the first place.

Melody after melody follows - each of them could have been the cornerstone of a song by itself - here, Theater are at the height of their creative powers (Oh, Kevin Moore!) and throw them around with the gay abandon of five men in their mid-20s endowed with musical superpower.

Even after LaBrie ends with his last lines, they are not quite done - Myung gives a spectacular bass run on which the band builds, taking the listener into the outro, to end what is quite possibly the greatest progressive metal album ever.

Learning to Live had me in tears of joy when I heard it for the first time and I will weep if I ever manage to see it live.

Phew. so there you have it. My top 20. I realise this post went on for as long as a DT song itself. Feel free to criticise, give your own rankings, etc.

For what it's worth, here's what my 21-30 would have looked like:

21. In The Presence of Enemies (1+2)
22. Trial Of Tears
23. Take The Time
24. Space Dye Vest
25. The Enemy Inside
26. These Walls
27. The Spirit Carries On (which is also the name for their excellent drummerhunt documentary!)
28. Fatal Tragedy
29. On The Backs of Angels
30. Along For The Ride

PS: One of my life dreams is to watch this band live. Feel free to crowdsource etc :D

Sunday, June 14, 2015


"Eh, who?"

I wouldn't be too surprised if you had that reaction. I had the same when I stumbled upon the band's name on some discussion online raving about how awesome they were. And how influential they were, despite leaving behind just two albums.

I was blown away. It sounded like what Oasis aspired to become. If you're a fan of Britpop / stripped-down alternative rock, you will love the Roses. Let me take you through my favourite 15. They're a Manchester-based band: Two albums coming in 1989 and 1994. Although they're reunited now, the jury's out as to whether there's another album in the offing.

I usually do 20, but since we're dealing with just 2 albums here, I pruned the list down to 15, and yes, even that was tough - there's very little filler in the discography.

15. How Do You Sleep At Night?: This is a little deviant from most TSR songs in the sense, it’s sounds less swagger and more pleading, if you know what I mean. That said, it’s got some signature elements: Brown’s lazy delivery, nice layered instrumentation with a terrific rhythm section.

14. Love Spreads: Another great track, average in comparison to the rest of the album (ah, the travesty!). Imminently enjoyable, cheeky lyrics and as always, amazing basswork. Country-style guitaring!

13. Driving South: Strongest opening to any TSR song, with a magnificent riff Blackmore would have been proud of. But just as you’re expecting an Ian Gillan scream, you’re greeted by Ian Brown’s Oasis-inspiring swagger. Listen to this for the guitaring.

12. She Bangs The Drums: Frenetic pace, with an imminently memorable chorus (Especially the ‘How Could It Come To Pass’ line). It’s apparently about thinking about a loved one, resulting in your heart / chest beating. Nice, quick paced song.

11. Good Times: Great all-round song. Terrific singing – probably the loudest Brown’s ever  ventured - with loud brash guitaring backed by lovely basswork and drumming.

10. I Am The Resurrection: The Roses were more prog than any pop-rock band out there. Sample this, where the chorus comes in after all verses, and then segueing into a long, awesome instrumental section, which occupies over half the song. All the previous songs in the album were relatively short – maxing out at around 5 minutes. Ah well, they were anything but conventional. Oh, and it’s anti-religion (with some quite stinging lyrics, really)

09. Made Of Stone: It’s made very apparent on this track that The Roses have always had an element of dance music in their songs. It’s hard to resist grooving to this track, even though it’s about French student riots (apparently). Also featuring what might be their first extended instrumental section, with a little solo, some effects and a great bassline. It's also the title of their upcoming documentary.

08. Shoot You Down: Probably the sweetest ever song to tell someone that he’s gonna be punched up. The lazy singing, the jangly guitars… It all just works. Classic Roses this.

07. Something’s Burning: If you’re looking for something immediate, you’ve come to the wrong place. Just put on your headphones and indulge yourself in this. Yes, indulge. It seems hedonistic listening to a track like this. In a modern age where everything needs to be efficient and to-the-point, this is anything but. Close your eyes, it’s easy to get distracted by something else. But once you do, you’ll be rewarded. 8 minutes of glorious, dark rave-meets-poprock.

06. Fools’ Gold: Busy drums, gloriously lazy bass, funky guitar, and quiet menacing vocals greet you within a minute of this 9 minute gem. Apparently an anti-war propaganda song. This is totally unlike anything else on the album – it meanders about, taking the listener on a psychedelic journey. Without being instrumental geniuses, the band manages to perform one great instrumental section purely through soundscapes. Fabulous ending to one of the greatest and most influential albums of all time.

Big guns now!

05. I Wanna Be Adored: Probably the Roses’ most famous track? Why not? First song of the first album and anthemic lines, sung with lots of reverb over fine guitar licks. You won’t get too much by way of lyrics here, but as far as an entry point into TSR goes, it's ideal. And yeah, that reverb!

04. Tears: Sure, there’s a lot to like about this song. It’s got some of the signature TSR elements – those vocals with reverb, clangy guitars, terrific drumming, efficient and solid basswork… But what will blow you away is a fantastic guitar solo by John Squire. For me, easily the best performed in the two albums. From 3:25 the song takes a different character, the highlight of which is that sweet, sweet solo, which will make you wonder if you’ve missed out on any other great guitar playing in the previous songs. The song is apparently about Squire coming off drugs for his wife.

03. This Is The One: This just feels epic. Lovely start, a little bassline, in comes the arpeggio, those drums again, and Ian Brown’s echo-ey vocals. Classic Manchester ‘plan’ pronunciation. We’re in the middle of something special. It feels like something The Who would have done, as it picks up. About leaving the past behind and looking forward to a better ahead. This is the song I’d be waiting for at a concert, to jump up and down singing. It’s also played before every Manchester United game – here’s Brown singing it at Old Trafford. Not too many TSR songs are feel-good, and this is upliftingly against the grain.

02. Sally Cinnamon: A worthy contender to the genius that was to come. The 1987 demo had just a dash of that British swagger that would come to define the Stones. Lazy basslines give way to frenetic drumming and jangly guitars in pop-rock at its purest and finest. Not to mention that innocent ‘ah!’ before ‘Sally Cinnamon’. The lyrics are about a man pickpocketing a woman’s jacket and finding a letter from her apparently lesbian lover! I love the fact that this gem doesn't feature in either album - enough justification to listen to not just the 'discography' but also the hidden singles! Keep that in mind before torrenting ;)

01. Breaking Into Heaven: 1994. The reclusive, mysterious Stones had one magnificent album behind them, and came back luxuriously, five years later with another belter. It started extravagantly, with a 11.5 minute track. Now, that length is something that’s usually the preserve of prog-metal and art-rock, not Britpop precursors. But psychedelia meets rave meets pop-rock in this most incredible track which has everything: Instrumentals, hummable anthemic sections, Rush whimsy (think 2112 water flowing), wall-of-sound soundscapes… And like some modern day Pink Floyd, they take their sweet time getting to the point… Only well after the 4-minute point does the song actually kick in to life. When it does, at 4:36, with that sweet guitaring and basswork, it’s orgasmically satisfying. It ends with one of my favourite lyrics of all time:

“You don't have to wait to die,
You can have it all,
Any time you want it.”,

followed by a lovely guitar solo. Magnificent. And all of it seems better because of that meandering start. Shave that 4:35 at the beginning off, and you have a weaker song.

There you go! \m/

Thursday, May 21, 2015


Two days back, I was having a pretty crappy day - an outcome that usually involves close interaction with armpits of fellow victims of the Mumbai local trains, and partially, idiotic meetings.

I knew I needed the ultimate remedy. It needed to be used with caution. Like Getafix would have us believe, overuse might render it useless.

I reached for my most excellent Hifiman HE500 headphones, and plugged on the track I knew would set everything right.

And it did.


Never has a piece of music moved me as much as that underrated genius, Alex Lifeson's solo on La Villa Strangiato. Along with Neil Peart on drums and Geddy Lee on bass/keyboards, he created 2:33 of sheer joy and beauty.

To say that Rush is just a band is like saying Nutella is just a spread. They are quite simply, the most efficient band ever - to think that so much sonic magnificence can come out of just three individuals is mind-blowing, and something process engineers the world over should study, before an MBA comes along and creates some stupid 6-sigma presentation.

But I don't want to beat about the bush too much - alas, being a strategy guy in advertising, that's my natural disposition - but here, I just want to talk about this solo.

The song itself is an instrumental, spanning eleven 'movements' over 9 minutes. It's the fourth part of this, A Lerxst in Wonderland, whatever that means, that I'd like to draw your attention to.

Here's the track:

If you're listening to this for the first time, then listen to the whole thing, from the beginning. Trust me, the solo sounds way better that way. In a way, it's like Sachin and Ganguly ripping into the hapless English bowling at Headingley in 2002, but only after Dravid has laid the foundation with an epic 148. Something like that. But anyway.

Read as you listen.

At 3:16, you can FEEL the shift in tone.
By 3:35, something has settled, but there's tension. You notice the world's greatest drummer, Neil Peart, manically hi-hatting away.
And then begins those guitar moans. Those incredibly sexy guitar moans. Oh, shut up, Jimmy Page, you don't hold a candle to this man.
At 4:02, Geddy Lee's bass note fills the air. You can sense it, something is gonna give. Like a tense father-son altercation after an opprobrious word was used by mistake.
The few seconds after that, Lifeson's guitar is almost reassuring. By 4:14, it's turned from tension to beautiful melody. It's just been a few seconds.
Slowly, the pace picks up. At 4:27, it's like a plane getting ready to take off. You know, that moment, it's just teasing you, gliding along the tarmac, as you clutch your seat, waiting for that gut-wrenching zoom to happen?

And then, my favourite moment.
As Lifeson slowly builds up the pace, there's a bit of subtle genius by Rush. Notice Geddy Lee's bass. Before the 'paragraph', if I may call it that, is over, he changes his bassnotes at 4:39 to become more aggressive. Hear it again. Now, suppose he'd waited till the next 'paragraph' began at 4:44, it would have seemed like the whole band just shifted together, it was a deliberate 'taking to the next level'. But since Geddy's already gone into next gear before Alex, you don't know what's hit you. Suddenly, before you know it, the pace has changed from slow and easy to third gear.

Some quick pyrotechnics later (4:48, hear that?), we are clearly going up, up and away - and that happens, at 4:56, as he launches into an astonishing array of notes that never dips in melody despite the speed. As the minute counter crosses 5, you realise that you're hearing something very, very special.

One final run, one final finger-blurring series of notes, before ending in an orgasm - that beautiful, beautiful muted guitar riff at 5:14, which carries on till the end of the 'movement', 5:49.

Phew. I mean, phew. Speechless. As always. Eyes, finally open again.

Rush don't allow you to relax, of course, the next movement throws you right back into action. Your fingers are itching to press rewind, but that's almost disrespectful. You wait till the song is over, and then play again. From the beginning of course.


Most guitar solos are just that - solos of guitar. The other musicians are just support acts.
Not LVS. The solo is as much Peart's and Lee's as it is Lifeson. The tension and atmosphere that their incredible drumming and basswork creates is as instrumental (hehe) to this song as Lifeson's fantastic guitar playing.

To fully appreciate what Peart and Lee bring to the table, it's worth listening to the track sans the guitar. Pay attention to Peart's oh so subtle changes. That's the genius of the man.

And see if you can keep time. It's maddening.


I've heard every version of LVS that exists on YouTube, including most of the covers. From the classic one (1979, Pinkpop) below, where he's probably played his fastest ever. And that's when you realise, the bugger was 25 when he played this. Twenty fucking five.


And of course, there's the 'old' Alex...

No matter which 'other' version I hear, it's imperfect. He's trying too hard, or adds something needless, goes too fast (like the solo outro in the above video), goes too slow, makes it too short... The original studio version remains, in my eyes (ears?) the perfect-est way to do this solo. I'm sure many hardcore Rush fans will agree.


I just realise I've written a fairly sizeable post about one guitar solo. But that's how much this means to me. If a piece of music is powerful enough to undo the damage a Borivili Fast train can do to you, it must mean something.

Thank you, Aleksandar Živojinović aka Alex Lifeson, for this.