September 29, 2007

CD Review: Queensryche - The Best of Queensryche: Sign of the Times

Any opportunity to listen to some Queensryche goodness should always be explored. Sure, the band has had their ups and downs, but what band hasn't? They came to my attention when their popularity exploded in the wake of the classic concept album Operation: Mindcrime and the dawn of their biggest album (in terms of mainstream popularity), Empire. I remember listening to Empire over and over again, loving their technical precision, the emotion, and just great songwriting. I then took a step backwards and dove into Mindcrime, discovering even more excellence. I then took another step backwards and got a hold of Rage for Order and found still more great songs. It was weird stepping back through their albums and hearing their progression in reverse (regression may be more accurate, but definitely not appropriate). Anyway, this is their second greatest hits collection, following the 2000 release of The Best of Queensryche. Well, there is the Classic Masters release in 2003, but that is more of a contribution to another line of releases than a part of their discography.

Those other releases beg the question, why Sign of the Times? What is the purpose of this release? Well, it does encompass three more albums than its predecessor. The first best of disk seemed like a closure to the Chris DeGarmo era, as it only contains songs from the albums he appears on. This is significant because when this came out Queensryche had already released a new studio album with Q2K, with Kelly Gray replacing DeGarmo. Now while that was siginificant it really does not play into this collection as much as you would think. Of the 17 songs on Sign of the Times release only two songs come from the three post-DeGarmo albums while 12 of them also appeared on the 16 track Best of Queensryche.

That is absolutely astonishing. How can they have a so much cross over? Beyond that, why is it such an unbalanced set? It covers all of the standard bases, with little surprise. Queensryche's catalog has plenty of other songs that could have been switched in to vary it a little bit more from the earlier release. I get that those earlier albums were definitely filled with better and more consistently good music, but I really wish that we did not get a disk that so closely mirrors that original collection.

Okay, enough complaining. If you are someone who missed the Queensryche explosion back in 1990, and you are curious as to what Queensryche is all about, you could do considerably worse (like picking up Tribe). Greatest hits collections are good for the uninitiated, giving them a pretty good overview and an idea if you will want to explore their catalog in more detail. They are also good for the longtime fan that would like a CD of the arguable top tracks and don't want to put together a playlist from your own collection. So, that said, this is not a bad set of songs, not by any stretch of the imagination.

This is really a fine collection of songs, that really does show the band at their finest. They have an original sound that I have not heard duplicated by anyone else. Geoff Tate has an amazing voice, and his pairing with Chris DeGarmo was genius. DeGarmo is an excellent songwriter and his absence was sorely missing over the last few albums.

Now, if you want the cream of the crop, be sure to pay particular attention to "Walk in the Shadows," "I Don't Believe in Love," "Silent Lucidity," and "I Am I." Of course, you won't go wrong with any of the songs here, including the soundtrack offering "Real World" that appeared in The Last Action Hero (a movie I am on record as liking).

Still, if you already have all of the remasters that came out in 2003, or the prior best of collection, you will likely want to skip this release. I know I said no more complaints, but I have one more. The 17 songs are really crammed onto this disk, clocking in just under 80 minutes. They are packed in so tightly that as one song fades, the next begins. Each song transition is like a mini-train wreck. I don't like that at all.

But, and there is a but, you are still interested, there is a deluxe edition of Sign of the Times. Unfortunately, that is not the version I have here. I am unable to attest to the quality of the disk, but I can say that it may offer enough to entice all of you Queensryche fans and completists.

The second disk contains 15 tracks of live, demo, and previously unreleased material for your listening pleasure. Leading of the set is a trio from a band called Myth, which was Geoff Tate's band prior to Queensryche. Two of the three were eventually re-written as Queensryche tracks. Other highlights of disk two are a previously unreleased acoustic version of Della Brown, three demos from The Warning era, and a new recording with Chris DeGarmo called "Justified." The only problem with most of the material here is that much of it appeared as bonus tracks on the remasters from a few years back. This means that completists likely have most of it already.

Bottomline. I do not know who I can really recommend this to, other than newcomers. I mean, I cannot say there is no value here. This is Queensryche, after all. The music is great, and there is no denying that this music is worthy of being in your collections. It is an odd release that straddles the line of playing to newcomers and to longtime fans. If they wanted to do this right, there should be a release of unreleased material, B-sides and such for the fan that wants it all, and a separate two disk best of set that covers their entire catalog in a way befitting their excellence. I am sure this will be in the works as the label looks for another way to mine the catalog for revenue.

Highly Recommended for the Music.

Mildly Recommended as a Collection.


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