Tuesday, November 10, 2015

Operation: Mindcrime - The Key (2015)

It wasn't too long ago, during the Great Unraveling of The Man, that Geoff Tate himself was downplaying the importance of his alma mater's classic material, including Operation: Mindcrime, an album I happen to find just as timeless and entertaining now as it was when I was 14. Yet, after the smoke cleared and the last shots faded from the partitioning of the Queensrÿche brand, we catch him back at the proverbial well with another stab at recognition. I suppose it makes sense from a marketing standpoint that having two bands with the same name floating around hurts everyone involved, so I can't fault Tate for that. But using the name of his arguably most famous record, one that many Queensrÿche fans, who are coincidentally not very keen on Geoff Tate, still hold dear, seems like a pretty cheap grab for recognition by someone whose star, in any just civilization, is not exactly rising...not to mention it is going to be really fucking confusing for newer fans or those who might not have kept up on all the drama these past several years...

Of course, this is not the first time that he and his former co-conspirators have gone back to the conceptual/thematic pseudo-universe of Mindcrime, since we got the abortion of a sequel already in 2006. Could The Key possibly be that bad? Surprisingly, it isn't. It's not as weak as American Soldier, either, or Tate's previous band album with the his own appropriation of the Queensrÿche name. If we were to pretend that none of the clusterfuck of recent times had ever happened, it would seem like a somewhat subdued version of the mediocrity he was churning out with his old band through most of the 90s and beyond. Progressive rock, largely, with a few of those same tendencies towards alt rock which seems no less irrelevant now than when they thought it would be cool for an album like Q2K or Hear in the Now Frontier. Bland, noncommittal, and severely lacking in the level of vocal hooks Tate and friends banked heavily on during an age when Operation: Mindcrime and Empire were such inescapable success stories. Aside from a few acceptable leads and nerdy synthesizer flights, the other musicians here have been roped into such an underwhelming set of compositions that one wonders if they're suffering from some kind of collective suspended animation. To say there is not a single lick on this album heavier than the Stone Temple Pilots is one thing, but what crushes me is that a little more speed aggression could have really rounded this thing out to a tolerable level.

Because as it stands, The Key is not actually not complete shit. Just a half-shit. A safe, sedate selection of half formed riffs and ideas that occasionally jive with the pleasure receptors of the ear when they rely on their most unusual, brief melodic phrasings or grooves. Little ventured, littler gained, weaving a conceptual narrative that nobody is honestly going to care about using voice clips, and then attempting to emotionally drive those points home. You wouldn't be able to tell these were a seasoned array of musicians, because the music is just not deserving of their best effort, nor the huge slew of guest musicians ranging from Chris Poland and K. K. Downing to Ty Tabor and Paul Bostaph. It never matters, because they all sink into these simple songs like so much boring wallpaper. The heaviest the record gets is when it grooves out a little with a slightly dreary, doomed feel as in the closer "The Fall", but even then there is a heavy reliance on the atmosphere provided by synths, so when it cuts into those threadbare chugging rhythms, the most 'prog metal' point throughout the entire experience, it is far too little and way too late.

I could forgive some of this if Geoff goddamn Tate would strain himself a little harder in the higher pitch...but he rarely ever escapes his middle range and frankly that's been the case for so long that I'd have my doubts if I hadn't seen him pull off some older material live. It seems a crying shame to have such an iconic register and then fail to use it to its fullest, but The Key is all about rainy day escapes and dramatic, predictable chord progressions that stir an almost cinematic quality, only for a really boring movie. You'll get streaks of world music and echoes of prog rock from 30 years ago, a 'maturity' that betrays any possibility for genuine excitement, but seems serviceable for background music if you've run out of Rush albums and your co-workers are exhausted with Geddy Lee anyway, so you'd spin this and nobody would pay attention whatsoever but they also wouldn't call Security. The mix is fine, and none of the tunes are truly offensive except for the broken grooves of "The Stranger", which seem like a lame callback to Geoff Tate's laughable 'streetness' on some of the prior albums. It doesn't work any better here, but this is the sorest thumb on The Key. In the end, while this record is a step up from its predecessor, it lurks just below banality, and it still seems such a long distance from mattering.

Verdict: Fail [4.5/10]


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