Posted by: markfender | February 6, 2013

Headphone Diaries – September 3, 1990

The last of a dying breed emerges and closes out the previous decade of metal.

QueensrÿcheEmpireQueensrÿche
Empire

Queensrÿche is a band from a different time, specifically the 1980s. Back when it was cool to have grown men sing in falsetto. Judas Priest sorta made it acceptable and Queensrÿche sorta made it good. Geoff Tate is a good singer. But it’s like listening to a band with a saxaphone player in it – no matter how good the saxophonist is, it still sounds like the mid-80s. Queensrÿche is no exception. Their prog rock leanings work well with Geoff Tate’s high-pitched singing, but it’s never gonna’ sound hip or current.

But that doesn’t mean it isn’t good. In fact, I think Queensrÿche is good despite that strike against them. And Empire is the height of the band. Not every song is perfect (or even great) but the songs that are good are the best that they’ve ever done.

(This song amuses me because the statistics spoken in the bridge are incredibly outdated. Hell, they were outdated even when the album was released.)

“Silent Lucidity” was, of course, the big hit. But “Jet City Woman,” “Another Rainy Night,” and “Best I Can” all rank as some of their best. Like most Queensrÿche albums, it’s spotty – a few standouts and a few duds – but the standouts were massive hits and rightly so.

It took Queensrÿche a few albums to get going. While there are songs on The Warning and Rage for Order that I do like, they’re not exceptional albums. But 1988’s Operation: Mindcrime is absolutely stellar. It’s the only Queensrÿche album where I actually like every song. And I dig the angry lyrics of something like “Revolution Calling”

Unfortunately, something terrible happened to Queensrÿche after the success of Empire – grunge. It pretty much killed their mainstream appeal. And the things they did to adapt weren’t working. A friend and I were giant Queensrÿche fans in college. We liked Nirvana and Ministry and all the other heavy music of the times, but Queensrÿche had a special place in our hearts. So, when Promised Land was announced and we heard that Geoff Tate falsetto in the tiny teaser, well, we got goosebumps. But the album ultimately proved disappointing. It sounded muddy. There was too much bass, too much piano, and too little Chris DeGarmo (even though he wrote most of the songs). Like most Queensrÿche albums, it did feature some decent tracks (“Disconnected” and “Damaged” are good), but the sound was too radically different from what we enjoyed about the band. In an attempt to update to the changing face of music, Promised Land was a misstep.

And oh my god they’ve had 7 albums since that one! Including what seems to me to be a terrible idea, Operation: Mindcrime II (How do you even make a sequel of a rock opera? That’s just dumb). I have neglected to listen to any of these because, frankly, I’m not sure I can take the falsetto. It was only after moving away from that strain of music that I can look back and say, “Men shouldn’t sing like that.” And then, of course, DeGarmo left the band, and then Geoff Tate went insane and now Queensrÿche is two bands – Queensrÿche (with some new guy singing) and Queensrÿche with Geoff Tate the Original Voice (with Geoff Tate and a bunch of other people he hired). So this all seems like it fell apart pretty thoroughly after Empire.  (It’s just Pink Floyd and Roger Waters all over again – I bet they’ll come out with competing versions of Operation: Mindcrime now. What is it about rock operas that drive these bands apart? The pretentiousness?)

Did it age well? Empire was pretty much the last album in that particular style to chart big. So, no, it did not.

Should this go on your iPod? It’s on mine, but it’s a total nostalgia listen. Probably the worst example of nostalgia on my iPod. (Well, that and the ’80s playlist – but I’m claiming irony on that one).

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