Wednesday, November 22, 2017

Album Review: Operation:Mindcrime - The New Reality

The last few years have been tough for Geoff Tate. Leaving aside all the drama surrounding Queensryche, and how the fans seem to have had no problem moving on without him, his own career has been taking some very weird turns. He started this Operation: Mindcrime project with the ambition to make a trilogy of concept albums. I don't think that's ever a good idea, but recording them all at once, and trying to write three good albums at the same time, was begging for a disaster. And that's largely what the first two records were. Neither one was good at all, with each being unfocused, messy, and devoid of more than one or two songs that could ever work outside the context of the concept album. That spells failure, but we haven't finished dotting the i's and crossing the t's yet, because we now have the third and final part of the trilogy. How much worse can it get?

That's difficult to answer. We start with "A Head Long Jump", which is a better choice to open the album than when he started one of these with three straight instrumental intros, but that's about all I can say. It takes several minutes to get past the washes of noise, and when we do, the fragment of a song is truly confusing. Tate is singing, but I can't tell what kind of melody he's trying for. Behind that, we get some poor sounding guitars, and drums that are pounding away sloppily and out of time. It sounds like a drunken jam session at the end of a long day that was accidentally put on the record without getting reworked into something usable.

The most frustrating thing about this album isn't the time that is needlessly wasted through segues and intros, nor the infusion of sounds and paths that pull us away from the core of the songs, it's Tate himself. As the creative director and producer of this material, everything comes down to him. I know that Tate is still capable of singing, as he showed during his guest appearance on Avantasia's "Ghostlights" album. But left to his own devices, he falls back into every bad and lazy habit, and he sounds terrible here, compared to what he should be. His voice is so thin and nasal, and his 'melodies' don't work within his limitations whatsoever.

For being a project led by a singer, what is most amazing to me is how little this album is built around him and the narrative he has supposedly written. Most of the record is centered around the weak and sloppy drumming, and keyboards that are always mixed far too loud. Tate takes a back seat to his own ambition, which he no longer knows how to bring to life. The original "Operation: Mindcrime" was a daring narrative that worked (for most people - I've always hated it) because the story could be followed, and the songs could exist on their own. These namesake albums fail for those exact reasons. Three albums in, you could hold a gun to my head and I wouldn't even be able to tell you the first thing about this story, and the songs surely would never be listened to on shuffle. There isn't a single song on this record to match the quality even of "Frequency Unknown", one of the most panned albums of the last decade (although I admit to liking it more than most).

This project was a bad idea, written as a bad idea, recorded as a bad idea. It should be no surprise, then, to discover that the results are, well.... bad.

Hopefully, "The New Reality" will mark the end of this project, because over the course of three albums, Geoff Tate has continued to prove the adage "you can't dig your way out of a hole." He's in one, he's still digging, and at this point all he can hope for is a flood to lift him back to the surface. When you're praying for disaster to save you, it might be time to give up on your current course. Operation: Mindcrime has done nothing but make some of the worst music of recent years.

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