November 23, 2010

Music Review: Queensryche - Empire (20th Anniversary Edition)

In 1990, when my development should have been well on its way towards some level of maturity, I was only reaching a crossroads. That is what happens when your enjoyment of music gets a late start. I was still pretty entrenched in the hair/glam era with bands like Bon Jovi, Def Leppard, and Poison (all of which I still have a lot of affection for). However, my best friend was introducing me to heavier bands like Metallica and Slayer.

I enjoyed them, but my full blown love had yet to develop, not to mention I was on the cusp of the grunge revolution. Then there was Queensryche. They were not quite mainstream enough to have crossed my narrow path, nor heavy enough to be bothered with by my friend. Then I heard "Silent Lucidity," a gorgeous ballad that hit t the right time. I picked up Empire as one of my earliest CD purchases (remember cassettes?) and I was exposed to something quite different than anything I had yet encountered.

Now, not to overstate the matter, but Empire is an album that was beautifully produced, emotionally driven, technically sound, and had a certain infectiousness to it. Over the years my attention to Queensryche has waned, and all but killed by that cover album they did a few years back. It has gone so far down as I have not even checked out their most recent original release. It is this remastered anniversary release that has encouraged me to revisit them during the highest point of their career. I am very grateful for this encouragement as it has reminded me why I loved them in the first place.

It is interesting to track their development over their first few albums. Their first two full length albums (The Warning and Rage for Order) showed a band willing to experiment in the studio while giving full attention to the craft of songwriting. Then Operation: MindCrime appeared and it was a game changer. It was an amazing rock opera that pushed them closer to national mainstream fame. In 1990 the push towards multi-platinum success came in the form of Empire.

The album features the breakout hit "Silent Lucidity" which was everywhere, and while hardcore fans may have loathed it, there is no denying that it helped bring a lot more ears to their music (mine included). It's success was buoyed by other singles like "Jet City Woman" and "Another Rainy Night (Without You)."

Sure, the record seems to be filled with singles and somewhat filler, but I didn't care. It represented something that I had not heard before, remember that I had not heard Mindcrime or any of their other work prior to this at this point. I loved that crisp, technical sound. Geoff Tate's powerful voice, Michael Wilton and Chris Degarmo on  guitar, Eddie Jackson's steady bass, and Scott Rockenfield's big driving drums came together in just a perfect way. The end result is an album that is clearly ready for the pop world, yet retains an artistic edge that skirts the mainstream just enough to retain its integrity.

I am not sure that makes sense, but I am sure you know what I am getting at. This CD got a lot of play back in the day. I am actually kind of shocked I haven't listened to it much of late. It still holds up today. It is easy to get caught up in these tunes. Even lesser entries like "Resistance" and "One and Only" sound good.

This release includes a couple of bonus tracks that were also included in a previous reissue. First is "Last Time in Paris," a song that has a nice catchy groove. It is not a great song, but it is run. Next is a cover of Simon and Garfunkel's "Scarborough Fair." Well, it is kind of interesting, but it has to be said that covers are not play to their strengths. Finally there is "Dirty Lil Secret." Well, I did not care for this song and it's bluesy feel, it just didn't sound right.

A second disk is also included, it is a live recording from London's Hammersmith Odeon on 11/15/90. The set captures the band at the height of their popularity, and a scant few months after the release of Empire. Now, it is not the best of recordings, but even with its shortcomings you can hear a band that is about as tight as they come when it comes to the live stage. Highlights of the ten-song set include "I Walk in the Shadows," "Empire," "Jet City Woman," and "Take Hold of the Flame."

Bottomline. I cannot recommend this album enough to those who don't have it, this is clearly the release to get. If you already have it, it is more of a decision of how much you want the live tracks (which are pretty cool). I have already put this album back into rotation. Great stuff.


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Article first published as Music Review: Queensryche - Empire (20th Anniversary Edition) on Blogcritics.


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