Review Summary: A brilliant self-parody, intentional or otherwise.46 of 46 thought this review was well written
Geoff Tate will require no introduction to most Sputnik readers. Those who are unfamiliar with him need only know that he was once the golden-voiced frontman of Seattle five-piece Queensryche, with whom he begat several otherworldly, mind-burning masterpieces of progressive metal between 1981 and 1994. Everything that he's done since then is simply too nauseating to describe here. When the once-great man proclaimed that his second solo album would herald a return to the righteous heaviness of yore, many of his erstwhile admirers closed their eyes, spread their arms and turned their faces to the sky, joyfully awaiting the promised rains of divine, molten steel that would burn away the scars of Geoff's musical iniquity. Kings and Thieves, the deluge of rancid smut and offal that has bucketed down in its place, can only be some sort of joke. It's so stupendously bad, so diabolically cruel to the fans, that this one wonders whether young master Geoffrey's antics have all been part of some calculated career shift from metal singer to edgy, sinister underground parodist and clown.
To begin with, any singer who performs on a commercial recording is generally expected to be able to sing; clearly, expressively, and in tune, preferably without physically harming themselves. Geoff's strained, demented caterwaulings on this album are so intensely painful to hear that consumer protection authorities should be lobbying for a safety warning. The guy sounds like he's just popped the bonnet of his car, drunk a litre of petrol, and is singing into the muffler with a battery line clipped to each nostril. He has affixed monitor-melting volumes of special effects to his vocals as a figleaf for his incompetence; but they are so amateurish and so patently eighties that they merely throw it into stark relief. Geoff might have been better off recording his melodies on the saxophone, an instrument which he appears to currently have a far better grasp of than his ailing, crotchety voice.
Even the most inept vocalists can be forgiven for bum notes and grating tone if their lyrics are stirring and inspired. Geoff, who once drew his inspiration from science fiction, politics and philosophy, appears to have found a new lyrical muse: drunk-dialling. From the lyric sheets of Kings and Thieves leaps a vivid recreation of the enthralling phone calls made in seedy bars at 2AM on Saturday morning: the cringe-worthy innuendo ("She rides me hard like an exercise machine"); the dazzlingly astute socio-political commentary ("The rich will laugh and say they care/While the middle class pays the lion's share... Dark money fuels the president!"); the barely ironic Dr Dre play-acting ("I'm rockin' the mic here... I'm the real deal, baby, I don't fake dat ***... Why tha police lookin' over the shoulder... It's the way I roll!"); and of course, the beautifully-composed text messages - a song titled "Say U Luv It", no less. This particular tune marks a disturbing digression from the overarching lyrical theme. It's about violent sex, but the question of whether it's BDSM or rape is ominously left unanswered. I won't quote it here, as the lyrics read like an excerpt from the script of The Silence of the Lambs. If Geoff was aiming to inspire sheer horror in the listener here, he has emphatically succeeded. Unfortunately, this is the only time that I felt anything other than disappointment, embarrassment, or unsolicited mirth whilst listening to these lyrics.
Where the vocals and lyrics fail, a good metal album always has its riffage to fall back on. Fortunately, there are a few decent riffs to sink one's teeth into here; unfortunately, they are rarely arranged into anything resembling a good song. "Take a Bullet", "These Glory Days", "In the Dirt" and even the Youtube pincushion "Dark Money" all start promisingly, with booming bass, swaggering beats and snarling guitars. Unfortunately, each somewhat interesting tidbit is repeated ad nauseam until the tune dissolves into a Creed-esque broth of inadequacy. This is broken up only by the Tufnellian guitar solos, which listeners will either love or hate (probably hate, if they can play the instrument).
In the end, you have to laugh at Kings and Thieves, or you'd cry and projectile vomit simultaneously. The best thing to be said for it is that it's an undeniably brilliant exercise in self-parody, intentional or otherwise. However, those of us who know what lofty heights Geoff Tate is capable of reaching will be left hoping that he aims a little higher next