Ford Fairlaine

REVIEW: Queensryche – Empire (20th Anniversary Edition)

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QUEENSRŸCHE – Empire (2010 EMI 20th Anniversay Edition)

20 years?  Wow, they sure flew by for me! When Empire first came out I bought it on cassette, and even back then I thought it was a bit too commercial. That’s not to say Empire is a bad album, but coming off Mindcrime and the killer first single “Empire”, I expected something heavier.

Now with the benefit of hindsight, you can really hear a band coming into their own identity. Empire is kind of the end of the old “heavy metal” Queensryche and the beginning of the newer more diverse Queensryche. The next album, Promised Land was a another stride further away from sheer metal, but more successfully achieved.

This box set, very nice looking and all, would have been better released as an individual live album, because disc one is identical to the previous Queensryche remaster version. The bonus tracks are the same. (“Last Time In Paris” from the Ford Fairlaine soundtrack, “Scarborough Fair” from the “Anybody Listening” single, and “Dirty L’il Secret” from the much later “I Am I” single.  Yes, “Scarborough Fair” is a Simon and Garfunkel cover.  Much more gothic though!)

The live album is from the same tour (but not the same show) as the Operation: Livecrime album. Think of this as representative of Queensryche’s non-Mindcrime live set, so if you have both albums you kind of have one complete show. It’s a good live album, although without the Mindcrime material to balance it, it is way too Empire-heavy. 7 of the 10 tracks are from Empire. That’s not me complaining really, just an observation of the feel of the set, as an album. For non-Empire material, you get the awesome “Walk In The Shadows,” “Roads to Madness”, and “Take Hold Of The Flame”, representing the first couple Queensryche full-lengths.

(As an added note, the Operation: Livecrime reissue also had one additional song not on this, which was “The Lady Wore Black” originally from the first EP.)

The live stuff sounds great, very clear with a good performance by the band. Tate is in peak voice at this point — he nails all the notes in “Take Hold”! The whole band sounds really good, especially in the backing vocals department. It also sounds pretty live and not messed with, which is my preference.  I’m sure there are backing tapes, Queensryche do use them, but the overall feel was one of spontaneity.  The liner notes claim there are no overdubs whatsoever.

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If you’re not familiar with the Empire album and you’re buying it for the first time, you are definitely going to be familiar with most of the album’s six singles:

  • “Empire”, the dark forboding tale of drug trafficking, with killer spoken word-style vocals from Geoff Tate.
  • “Best I Can”, the power pop rock song, with uplifting (but cheesey) lyrics.
  • “Silent Lucidity” one of the three songs that defined the term “power ballad” in the summer of 1991. (The other two were “More Than Words” by Extreme and “To Be With You” by Mr. Big.) A great song with brilliantly sparse-yet-lush arrangement. Still stands up today!
  • “Jet City Woman”, my personal favourite simply for that unstoppable bass groove.
  • “Anybody Listening?”, the epic album closer, and one of the all time best songs Queensryche have ever written.
  • “Another Rainy Night”, not one of the better songs, in my opinion. Kind of repeats the pop rock stylings of “Best I Can” but with lyrics about missing some girl.

There are also buried treasures within the album tracks. “Resistance” feels like a polished-up Mindcrime outtake for sheer tempo and mood. “Della Brown” is unlike anything the band ever attempted before, an atmospheric tale of a homeless woman that foreshadows the direction of Promised Land.

The band were really gelling at this point, and an album like this makes me really wish Chris DeGarmo was still in the band. He wrote or co-wrote almost every song, and his backing vocals really enrich the record. Everybody was playing great, though, and big props to Eddie Jackson for his killer bass sound.

The package includes an Empire poster, booklet, and five postcards featuring stills from the “Empire” music video.

To sum up, there is absolutely nothing wrong musically with this album, or the bonus live album. This is a 5 star album for music, for packaging, for sound, and all that stuff. I have to deduct one star simply because the first disc is just the same Empire I already owned and I think the live disc on its own could have been released alone for the 20th anniversary of Empire.

4/5 stars (5 for music -1 for rebuying the album, again!)

More Queensryche:

Mike Ladano: Exclusive EDDIE JACKSON interview, part I

Mike Ladano: Exclusive EDDIE JACKSON interview, part II

Mike Ladano: Exclusive EDDIE JACKSON interview, part III

Mike Ladano: Exclusive EDDIE JACKSON interview, part IV

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