Operation Mindcrime – The Key

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Frontiers Music

Review by Rick Ossian

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Being a HUGE fan of the old Queensrÿche stuff, I thought for sure that I would positively adore this latest missive from the mind/voice himself, Geoff Tate.  After a couple of listens, not so much.  While I did enjoy the punchy hard rock of such numbers as Ready to Fly, The Stranger and Hearing Voices, I was kind of put off by the majority of the tracks.  There are good, even great, vocals on nearly every track, but there are also weird FX and voices on almost everything put down here.  I mean, we understand that there is a concept at work here – they key, the code, the system – OK, we get it!  The media, the government, whoever, is trying to take over our lives, THEY are always in control, and they have the cure, but they don’t know whether they want to just give it to us or sell it for a profit, or just get rid of it!  It appears that the Big Brother theory is still well at work, at least in Tate’s mind, and in some ways this is just an extension of Queensrÿche‘s album of the same name…

But let’s get down to the meat of the work here.  First of all, the players.  We know who Geoff Tate is, at least most of us probably do.  I’ve been a fan of the ‘Rÿche for well on close to 30 years now, but didn’t really take notice until Mindcrime and Empire came into my life.  John Moyer (bass) is probably best known for his work with the nu-metal outfit Disturbed.  He has also done time with The Union Underground and Soak.  Simon Wright (drums) has worked with a veritable plethora of heavy rock and metal acts, including AC/DC, Dio, UFO, Michael Schenker and Rhino Bucket Kelly Gray, producer and musician, began playing guitar with Myth (along with Tate and Randy Gane) and has produced records from Queensrÿche, Candlebox, Dokken, Nevermore, Brother Cane and Second Coming.  He was also on board for Damon Johnson‘s (Brother Cane, Black Star Riders, Alice Cooper) Slave to the System project.  Keyboardist Randy Gane has also worked with Queensrÿche, Sweet Sister Sam, Sweaty Nipples and CandleboxScott Moughton (guitar) has been in the business for some 45 years, mainly as a studio musician, and worked previously with Tate in 1999 on his first solo album.  Also on board at times, apparently, are drum whiz Brian Tichy (Whitesnake, David Lee Roth, among others), and the Sarzo brothers, Rudy and Robert.  Whew!  Everybody still paying attention?  Right then, on to the tunes!

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Choices is an eerie, creepy intro with FX and voices.  The vocals are mostly just disjointed words, talk of the future, etc.  It is a throwaway in my opinion.  Burn starts off with more of the same, although there is some pretty good guitar work.  There is a solo about midway through, but nothing really too incredible to speak of.

Re-Inventing the Future starts off life with even MORE FX and voices, and is the lead-off single.  This is a bit more like it, and has some fairly rousing bass work.  Perhaps it does have a shot at radio.  It IS a bit more FM-friendly than a lot of tracks I’ve heard here.  Some shredding lead rounds out what could have been even better given a bit more balls and length, perhaps.

Ready to Fly features some good jamming, even metallic riffing at some points.  It again has that creepy vibe and some weird FX and voices.  Some excellent bass work, but barring that, not much extraordinary work going on.  There is also a keyboard solo, which I thought a bit strange, but hey – why not throw a cog in the wheel every now and then to jazz up what would otherwise prove a boring formula?

Discussions in a Smoke Filled Room is a musical interlude of sorts, with some vaguely disturbing piano and MORE FX and MORE VOICES…another throway, methinks.

Life or Death doesn’t sound like it’s a Tate vehicle; I’m thinking one of the other blokes must have taken on lead vocal duties with this one, perhaps Kelly Gray, as he did that for a track or two on the Slave to the System CD.  There is some heavy riffing at the outset, and some sky-bound, atmospheric guitar work.  There is some fairly decent lead guitar work as well.

The Stranger is more of the same, and I’m starting to wonder if maybe some of these lyrics couldn’t just be transposed on to one or more of the other tunes.  Damn, I’m starting to sound cynical as hell here!  I guess that is what comes with being a reviewer.  I hesitate to call myself a critic because normally I’m not QUITE so critical!

Hearing Voices is finally just an out and out jam, for the most part.  NO FX or VOICES to speak of, just good heavy jamming, which is refreshing.  There are a couple of guitar solos also.

With On Queue we find ourselves back into the world of the concept LP, with plenty of FX and voices.  OK, guys, we get it – concept album – right!  “The program won’t work without the sequence.”  Again a couple of nice guitar pieces, and even a sax solo from about the 4-minute mark until the end of the song.

An Ambush of Sadness is another of the pair of musical interludes, if you will.  There are some cool FX – some finger-tapping on the guitar and some neat percussion.  Otherwise, another throwaway.  Sorry, guys, it’s just not working for me.

Kicking in the Door is a bit of a resurrection, with plenty of cool keys and sky-bound guitar work.  I also liked some of the lyrics: ” I don’t know the right thing to do/Tell me what’s the right thing to say/When they come kicking in the door”.  We see our protagonist as the main man also, as he notes that “the code and the key are safe with me”.

The Fall is a pretty big closer, just over six minutes in length, and has some nice guitar riffing at the outset.  However, unfortunately, this is just not enough to save this collection.  Again, some nice keyboard work, some vaguely thrilling guitar, and more saxophone.  I must say that overall, this is not NEARLY what I had anticipated from Tate and his cohorts.  It is about mid-level, and probably for completists only.

***/5

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