Review Summary: Revolution Calling > I'm American
Queensryche has, for a long time, been a band that has lived in the shadow of two great albums: Operation: Mindcrime and Empire. Respectively, these albums were the critical and commercial highlights of their career, and nothing the band has made since has come close to achieving the same success these albums had. Sure, Promised Land charted higher than both of these albums, but right from when it was released it was clear that it was not the success Empire was.
As most Queensryche fans know, it only continued to go downhill from there. Every album from Here in the Now Frontier to Tribe reflected the band’s rapidly diminishing popularity as well as songwriting quality. And while some like to put the blame on Chris Degarmo’s departure for this, it must be remembered that he wrote clunkers for both HITNF and Tribe. More recent efforts like American Soldier and Dedicated to Chaos didn’t do so well either. They both made their short runs on the charts without generating too much attention, and after their runs they simply faded into obscurity like all the the other albums mentioned
The only album that Queensryche has put out since Hear In The Now Frontier which got considerable public attention was the infamous sequel to their masterpiece. Operation: Mindcrime II, released in 2007, successfully returned Queensryche to the Top 20 in the charts and reestablished the band as a headlining act for larger venues. A lot of critics praised OM2 as a welcome return to form for the band even despite not matching the original, which was inevitable to say the least. As far as fans of the band went though, opinions were much more mixed as to whether or not the album was good, bad, or even necessary.
Unfortunately for Queensryche and anyone who’s just getting into them, Operation: Mindcrime II is both bad and unnecessary. There are a multitude of problems with this sequel, the least of which is the issue of it being a sequel to a classic. The first, most glaring problem is the band’s frontman, Geoff Tate. In addition to singing, Tate is also the main lyricist for the entire album, and in the years between this album and its predecessor, there has been a definite drop in lyrical quality. Where OM1 had great lines like: “I guess Warhol wasn’t wrong/fame fifteen minutes long”, this sequel drops cheesy goose eggs like: “I’ll step by step re-arrange you”, “You’ll feel the fear from my shadow/with intensity, yeah, you’ll bleed”, and “He’s got his fingers dipped in everyone’s pie”
When you couple cheesy lyrics like these with the fact that Tate just can’t sing anymore, it makes for a listening experience that’s more often annoying than enjoyable. In the years between the two albums, Tate’s voice has changed for the worse. His tone is just awful, and his range has noticeably decreased, essentially giving him a different voice than what he had in the late 80s/early 90s. These things make him unrecognizable on tracks like I’m American, whose horrible rap-like vocal melodies would make any fan wonder if this is really the guy who bellowed out Queen of the Reich.
Tate is not the only reason why OM2 is so bad though. Another thing the album suffers from is an obvious identity crisis concerning what genre it is trying to be labeled as. There are several styles that are being played on the album, from the weird rap metal of I’m American to the near alt-rock of Speed of Light to the grunge/hard rock of One Foot in Hell, and because of all of this, the album feels disjointed and sonically lacks the kind of flow essential for concept albums like these.
Overall, the way OM2 was written as a whole is disappointing. The music fails to generate any sympathy for Nikki within us, and there is no build up to any of the climactic events such as Nikki’s encounter with the dastardly Dr. X. One minute, we’re hearing about Nikki’s desire to do bad things to the villain, and then suddenly, Ronnie James Dio starts singing as him. Exactly how Nikki found him was apparently not important to the band, as was creating atmosphere for this encounter. After all, how could the band be expected to write garbage like Speed of Light AND an intro for what should have been a legendary duet? As far as how the actual duet between Dio and Tate goes, the legendary singer performs admirably in the album’s sole highlight (The Chase), but his efforts are let down in the end by Tate’s whiny crooning.
The Chase may have had potential to be good, but it alone couldn’t have saved the album from the sub-par songwriting surrounding it. Every song on the album either suffers from sounding half-assed, or there is simply nothing memorable about it. When you listen to the album the whole way through, the only song you’re likely to remember besides The Chase is The Hands, and even then you would only remember it because its intro lifts a guitar line straight from Breaking The Silence, a great song on the original Mindcrime.
Another reason why the album is not worth checking out is because of its atrocious production. Jason Slater, who produced this album (as well as albums for Smash Mouth, if I may add) seemed to have handled the job of producing this as though he was trying to create a rough, edgy sound while simultaneously making sure that Geoff Tate is the only band member we actually focus on. The guitars have been compressed to hell, the bass is not noticeable on many of the songs, and the drums sound like they were recorded as an afterthought. At first, it may seem like a mystery why the band even approved of Slater’s terrible production, but if you read the credits, you’ll see that Slater has co-written nearly the whole album. I don’t know what Geoff was thinking, but Jason, neither your crappy song ideas or crappy production was welcome.
Unless it hasn’t already been made clear, stay away from this album. It doesn’t matter if you’re a Queensryche die-hard or if you’re just getting into the band. Stay away, and stick to the original Operation: Mindcrime. If you want to know the story of this album, look it up on Wikipedia. It’s a lot easier to read the summary there than to decipher the poor lyrics here. And with the exception of Dio’s performance on The Chase, you’ll get more enjoyment from the track “I Remember Now” from the first Mindcrime than you will with anything on this album.