Thursday, October 28, 2010


  One of the characteristics that annoys me about music fans, and I've touched upon this in previous articles, is how quickly we abandon a band or singer. Even I have fallen prey to this practice in my younger days. I think many in my generation had that moment in class, preaching to all that would listen, that Michael Jackson "sucks" and can't fathom why anybody would listen to him. Of course, you conveniently leave out the part where you admit to lip sync-ing in the mirror to "Beat It" and "The Way You Make Me Feel" and wishing all music was this good. I suppose it boils down to peer pressure. If someone rails on something you love long enough, it's only natural to begin to second guess yourself. We all want to be liked and respected and truthfully, who can respect anybody that listens to Milli Vanilli without a hint of irony.
  I remember there was a girl in school named Tammy who was quite well known for her love of "The New Kids On The Block". Not only was she a fan, but she was proud of it. So what...lots of girls were.
  Not in 1992 they weren't.
  She had the nerve to show up as a senior at Garden City High School sporting acid washed jeans with "Danny", Donny", "Joe", "Jon" & "Jordan" air-brushed on them. Now of course we all laughed at her because, even at 12 years old, I knew their material was awful. But, at the same time, I kind of admired her. I mean even if she's crazy, and really how else do you explain people crying and fainting at the mere sight of Michael Jackson, she knew what she liked and stuck with it.
  I respect that.
  Such is the case with sometimes progressive band, Queensryche. They were formed in Seattle in 1981 (boy, were they off by about 10 years). The band drew great critical acclaim in 1988 with their modern day masterpiece, "Operation: Mindcrime". A concept album that set the stage for their next move. That endeavor was 1990's "Empire". Bolstered by the hit single "Silent Lucidity", "Empire" brought the band to previously unseen heights and transformed the group into a full blown arena act as well as a creative force on the charts. They seemed primed to join the ranks of Metallica and Guns N Roses as one of the Kings of Metal.
  Then two things happened.
  The first, of course, was the Seattle grunge movement. You'd think they would have saw that coming. Once Nirvana and Pearl Jam enlightened a nation to flannel and depression, going hand in hand like chocolate and peanut butter, good time rock n roll was put on notice. Not that Queensryche were ever about the good times. As I stated in the debut column of rescued gems, this band was more of a thinking mans metal band. However, if it looks like a dog and acts like a must be a dog and Queensryche may as well have been Poison as far as the general public was concerned.
  Second, Queensryche was never willing to be defined by one style. They started out with a progressive sound, complete with long running times and multi-layered guitar work. Then for Mindcrime and Empire, they evolved to more traditional heavy metal, with some pop leanings. Following that, many of the albums were hit and miss as they experimented with various styles. They had changed their sound so frequently, fans had a difficult time deciphering what exactly to expect. You see, many people (not sure 'fans' is the right word), hear a singer and decide right then and there that "that's how my band sounds". They're on board until that sound changes and then it's like they don't even know you. But I ask, how would you like to be defined for the rest of your life as you were at 20 years old? I know I wouldn't. It's unfair to child stars and it's unfair to musicians. You may want to hear the hits, and any band worth their salt, tries their best to oblige. But just like you and I, musicians get bored and feel compelled to grow and try new things. That brings us our two later albums "Hear In The Now Frontier" and "Q2K", our topic for this edition of "Rescued Gems".
  This really is a tale of two different bands. Though technically both by the same artists, the album differences are huge. From the band's inception, the primary creative forces had been vocalist Geoff Tate and guitarist Chris Degarmo. As with most songwriting duos, they balanced one another. Tate capably handled writing thought provoking lyrics while Degarmo's knack for melody made you forget you were kind of learning. It's why these two albums are so different because "HITNF" was the last one for Degarmo as he left the band following the tour to become an airline pilot. However, he went out with a bang as this album has Degarmo's pop sensibilities all over it. To put it in simple terms, this was Queensryche's pop (or hair) metal album. All the songs have the big choruses and while they didn't go the full hairspray Monty with songs about sex and drugs, they did stick to a fairly inspirational route with "Sign Of The Times" and "Some People Fly". There's also a hint of grunge on a few of the songs such as "Saved" and "Hero". Sometimes they even try something strange with "Hit The Black" and "Spool". Now that I write about it, it's actually a hard album to define, however, it is most definitely the band's most accessible to pop music fans.
  Two years later, after Degarmo's departure, Tate and the rest of the crew added guitarist Kelly Gray for their release "Q2K". The title is obviously a play on Y2K, the term signaling the new millennium. For the world as well as the band. "Q2K" was actually a return to form for the band as they once again embraced their harder edged style not seen since the days of Operation: Mindcrime. With Tate solely taking over the creative direction, the band explored more spiritual themes with "Right Side Of My Mind" and "Liquid Sky" as well as their traditional society viewpoint songs such as "Breakdown" and "Falling Down". This album is almost the second cousin of Mindcrime...certainly, miles better than it's actual sequel released in 2006. Another article for another time. But the sad truth is as of 2010, this album is probably the last great release from the band. Sure they've had their moments in subsequent releases especially on 2003's "Tribe" which saw the temporary return of Chris Degarmo, albeit in a more advisory, songwriting role. But in this writers opinion, the last decade just hasn't been particularly fruitful as far as classic music.
  Queensryche remain one of my all-time favorite bands. At the end of the day, they've been around almost 30 years and you don't achieve that milestone without producing quality music that continues to garner new fans year after year. Contrary to popular belief, the band did not fade away after "Empire". "Hear In The Now Frontier" and "Q2K" are fine examples of that. I strongly recommend these two albums for fans of the bands earlier work as well as newer fans who are tired of crap like Kings Of Leon, Nickelback or whatever is passing for 'rock music' these days.    

  Here's a sample list of songs from the albums to get you started:

Hear in the Now Frontier
"Sign of the Times"
"Cuckoo's Nest"
"Get a Life"
"The Voice Inside"
"Some People Fly"
"Miles Away"
"Hit the Black"

"Falling Down"
"Sacred Ground"
"One Life"
"How Could I?"
"Liquid Sky"

-Marc Walentowicz
for the Drb

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