Wednesday, February 7, 2024

Megadeth - So Far, So Good... So What! (1988)

If So Far, So Good... So What? doesn't get mentioned in the same reverence as the records sandwiching it, that's probably for a good reason, because this is a strange one. It's Megadeth through and through, don't get me wrong, but the band is certainly taking more chances here than one might have anticipated, with some slower, more emotional pieces to contrast against the more intense battery, another cover that feels a little too cheesy against the originals, and a couple of cuts that don't quite get a Golden Star from the teacher. Ironically, this features a few of my favorite cuts from the band, it's just that they are not all created equally. In Megadeth's defense, they were enduring half the roster being changed out...Gar Samuelson and Chris Poland dropped for their alleged drug addiction, Chuck Behler and Jeff Young signing on board to replace them, so the idea that this would be a step up the ladder like Peace Sells... was from the debut was wishful thinking at best.

Weirdly, the issues I take here are almost the inverse of those few I had on Peace Sells... That album frontloaded all of its best material, where this time I think the opposite. The first three tunes don't exactly line up for me. "Into the Lungs of Hell" is a fine, anthemic instrumental, something more ambitious than the shorter intros like "Last Rites" or "Good Mourning", but it's a little too steady and never achieves the payoff it needs, certainly not in "Set the World Afire", a solid technical Megadeth track that once more that feels like a Peace Sells... outtake that can't quite compare. As for the Sex Pistols track, I think it does fit the band's attitude even more than those on the last two albums, but clearly this is a practice that had run its course. I realize "Anarchy in the U.K." was a limited hit, and they do slightly metalize it from the original, but not enough, and I was over this one by about the age of 16. Had it been tucked later onto the track list I might be more forgiving, but this is a skip almost every time I listen through the album the last couple decades.

That said, I REALLY like the rest of So Far, So Good...So What! "Mary Jane" and "In My Darkest Hour" are wildly successful attempts at building slower, more dramatic, accessible and melodic tracks without teetering into lame ballad territory, and they feel as poignant now in 2024 as they did in 1988, the former with plenty of the thrashing in the bridge you'd hope for, the latter having some amazing harmony hooks and perhaps the best Megadeth song to break out your lighter for. Pair these up with some superb speed metal licks on "502" and "Liar" and we're getting somewhere, but I have to talk about "Hook in Mouth", a personal favorite. I love how the crashing chords set up the bass lines and moody verses, and when it busts back into the thrash rhythm guitars around :45 I swear my puberty had achieved a new level. It's a strangely subdued track with a lot of pent-up energy, an an epic latter half where Dave's vocals just ring out under the sustained chords, a real gem with a great title that also manages to tie itself into the band's mascot.

The production on this is highly atmospheric, lots of reverb, guitars not always as bold as they were on Peace Sells..., and a lot more emotion being showcased through Dave's vocals. Perhaps natural as a response to the band's personal or lineup troubles, but it feels genuine and painful nonetheless. A few of the leads are awesome, others fail to land, but there's still a strong sense of musicianship, especially the two Daves, since the other roles felt temporary and mercenary even back then. What I take away from this is much the same as the's like a magnificent, chonky EP of material with a few extras tacked on that don't really flesh it out to a properly brilliant full-length, yet there's no question that this album also possesses its own sense of timelessness. The quirkiness and variation are interesting, and this isn't the last time a Megadeth album would take risks (ha ha), but in terms of sheer consistency or quality, records like South of Heaven, Eternal Nightmare, or The New Order send this one home on a stretcher. It had its charms...a good one to play for your girlfriend if you had one back then, and the better tracks hold up, but it can hardly shine the shoes of what would follow.

Verdict: Win [8/10] (every poem that ever was)

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