Like many other progressive bands playing difficult music, Dream Theater inevitably chose to trim down both their bombastic production and intricate songwriting for a more laid-back approach, both live and in the studio. The result, Falling Into Infinity, is something of a disappointment. Never before have the band's influences been worn so openly on their sleeves, which translates into a derivativeness that undermines much of the material on this album. Guitarist John Petrucci's solos sound like cloned Steve Vai more often than not, which stands in direct contrast to his groundbreaking work on earlier platters. James LaBrie, though gifted with a strong, bellowing voice, has a range too limited to properly convey the emotive resonances of the lyrics: he's either singing in a soft whisper on the gentler passages or yelling at the top of his lungs during heavier moments. Subtler shading is needed before he can properly be classed in the same league as Robert Plant or even Steve Perry. New keyboardist Derek Sherinian gives the best performance on Falling, establishing himself as an accomplished musician and songwriter without blindly following in his predecessor's footsteps. Unfortunately, his presence fails to turbo-charge the rest of the group, who turn in a halfhearted creative effort under the direction of new producer Kevin Shirley. Most of the songs here rely on the same device to build tension: a bold riff is repeated while the drums quicken pace and crescendo in volume beneath the rhythm. In addition, the "progressive" songs are relatively subdued compared to earlier efforts, particularly "Trial of Tears," which drags on for over 13 minutes with little hint of either songwriting ingenuity or instrumental virtuosity. "Hell's Kitchen" and the middle of "New Millennium" prove Dream Theater haven't forgotten their roots, but elsewhere they're content to trot out standard AOR clichés. This brazen attempt to woo a more mainstream audience has resulted in the band's weakest effort since their debut.