Friday, February 10, 2012

Queensrÿche - Dedicated To Chaos [album review]

Released in June 2011 (part of an ongoing series of reviews covering older releases from the past year that "fell through the cracks")
Being a fan of Seattle prog metal veterans Queensrÿche hasn't been an easy experience over the years since their heyday in the late 80s and early 90s - it's been a long, steady procession of middling to forgettable albums during that time. Just take the last five or six years: 2006 saw the release of Operation: Mindcrime II, the sequel to their seminal 1988 concept album. It was a risky move updating the story of such a highly regarded album, although one also has to assume the expected commercial benefits of revisiting the project they're most identified with was also a motivator, which I don't hold against them. While Mindcrime II can't touch the original, the band certainly didn't embarrass themselves, either. Their 2007 covers album (Take Cover) just felt like a band going through the motions and its followup, 2009's American Soldier, left shockingly little impression. And I somehow missed the fact, until doing a little research for this review, that they toured in '09 and '10 with something called The Queensrÿche Cabaret, which sounds like a horribly misguided career move. One description of it stated the show would " art, lust, dancing, and naughty fun with the band performing their hits and never-before-heard selections accompanied by go-go dancers, burlesque dancers, drag queens, a juggler, ballet dancer, aerial artist, contortionist, and more". Uh, no thank you.
Dedicated To Chaos is their latest album and it's a refreshingly solid effort, although most certainly a challenging one for fans, who are used to the band's penchant for taking risks. I almost wrote this one off as just another disappointing Queensrÿche album when the initial two or three listens didn't sink in. Actually, to be blunt, I kind of hated it. I unusually decided to give it more of a chance, however, practically forcing myself to stick with the album and find something worthwhile, purely based on the belief/hope that this once-great band couldn't have completely lost their ability to produce a good album. Dedicated To Chaos isn't quite great, but it's definitely good. It finds them experimenting further with their sound, going for more of a bass and drums-driven collection of songs this time around, with mixed results.
The good: On a purely sonic level, the album is impressively put together. The band and producer (Kelly Gray) had headphone listening in mind when recording, so there's a plethora of interesting sound textures and stereo effects to enjoy. "Get Started" and "Hot Spot Junkie" get the album off to an excellent start with a couple of the album's more straightforward rock songs. "Higher" steers things in an artier direction, mixing a funky hip hop beat and some jazzy saxophone and guitar solos into the mix - on paper, it shouldn't work, but does. "Wot We Do" moves along on a laid back groove and has plenty of interesting weirdness going on. Lyrically, it's obviously inspired by the band's cabaret experience ("If you've got a wild fantasy, we've got something for you/You like the pretty things you see, don't touch"), but vocalist Geoff Tate getting randy with his lyrics and vocal delivery slightly creeped me out. "Around The World" is the highlight of the album - there's a distinct U2-influenced sound in its grand and slow-building intro, moving its way towards a catchy, huge-sounding chorus. The song probably best shows off the incredible four octave vocal range of Tate. "At The Edge" is Dedicated To Chaos' most ambitious song, evoking a cinematic feel with its moodiness and wide scope. Normally, a 70 second mid-song interlude consisting of artsy fartsy sound effects, tinkling piano, and random vocal lines would be a turn-off, but again, it works. "Retail Therapy", an indictment of consumer culture, is the album's heaviest track and most reminiscent of that revered 1990ish era of the band, while the solid "I Take You" gives it a run for its money in the heavy department.
The bad: Those song titles! Someone mistakenly thought it was a good idea to take a page from the Prince playbook with titles like "Wot We Do", "Big Noize, and "LuvnU" (which appears on the album's deluxe version). The decision to throw a little heavy-funk-mixed-with-Indian-music into the 'Rÿche sound fails miserably on the atrocious "Got It Bad", a song I'd have to select as one of the worst the band's ever released (and it's not done any favours with some more of Tate's horny vocal work). "Drive" comes close to achieving liftoff and falls short, and "The Lie" and "Big Noize" are textbook examples of album filler.
One wonders if Queensrÿche's affinity for experimentation has finally pushed many of their fans' patience to the limit, as Dedicated To Chaos' first week ranking on the Billboard 200 chart was a lowly number 70, the band's worst debut ever for a full-length release. The album delivers a substantive and cerebral listening experience littered with its fair share of flaws, but that's not an uncommon by-product of art that takes risks.
Rating: ★★

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