Look, I’ll start off the review by saying the obvious, and scaring off the 90% of you that just won’t get this album. First, this isn’t a Queensryche album. Second, it’s not even really a metal album. And if you best remember Tate as a guy racing through eight octaves of scales like an opera star on crystal meth, you aren’t going to like this at all. If any of these three things disturb you, go ahead and say “man, what a gyp”, and go back to downloading Dream Theater bootlegs.
Okay. In 2002, Queensryche lead singer Geoff Tate took a sidestep and decided to release this solo album on Sanctuary records. Instead of doing a prog-metal album with a different cast of musicians in his band, he decided to utilize his voice for a much more pop-oriented effort. That might sound quite crazy to some, but I can think of at least two good reasons for this. One is that he’s very talented and he could create something that would transcend the metal world and crack at all of the Peter Gabriels out there in the music world. The other reason is that Tate’s voice isn’t exactly as full-ranged as it was twenty years ago. You can notice this on Queensryche live albums where he really struggles with the older material. Yet, in the studio, he always finds a way to work around this and do “thicker” sounding things in lower registers that sound great, but aren’t the shrieking high-end opera wailing like the old albums. That’s the basic litmus test for this album: if you can enjoy the “newer” Geoff Tate vocals.
As I am not one of those “you must do it the exact same way your entire life and never change” metalheads, I welcome the change, and I found this album very interesting. The music here is much more laid-back than Queensryche, but Tate really takes the effort to try a few different things. Stuff like “Flood” almost sounds like it would belong on the new Peter Gabriel album, a slightly electronic backing with great vocals. That and “Forever” both sound like the kind of modern synth-pop song that makes a great single, and also lends itself to a good dance remix. “Helpless” goes into a more romantic sounding adult contemporary number, with Spanish guitar and sweeping choruses.
As far as the music, this is very much the type of contemporary arrangement with anonymous background players, lots of Pro-Tools, expert programming on the drum sounds and filling synths, and perfectly sculpted sound. There are no wailing guitar solos, thumping bass, or other metal-oriented dramatics. Imagine the sort of hit factories that turn out records for Alanis or any other FM superstar, and that’s where the mix here is aiming. And that’s not bad, because it’s got Geoff’s voice on top. He’s not breaking any wine glasses with his high register here, but damn, he is putting together such a smooth and complete sound here, that I’m surprised none of these songs ever broke out on the charts. It’s as if he’s been doing this all of his life, and somehow on a fluke ended up putting on some leather pants and fronting a prog-metal band for all of those years.
I should mention a few other songs on here that are relevant. The song “Every Move We Make” is a slower romantic number which is good, but it segues into “This Moment”, which is a great little ballad that sounds like it could have been sung 50 years ago by one of the crooner greats. “A Passenger” is one of my favorite songs, and almost sounds like it could have been a slower Queensryche song, or maybe something they would have done at the unplugged gig, because it’s got a mellower beat and a very smooth hook. “Off the TV” is the “radio” number, and the production and compressed verses of vocals sounds right for it; “Grain of Faith” is another poppier number that’s in the same vein. The two styles collide a bit for the closer “Over Me”, which is one of those songs with some power behind it, but it’s really talking about losing someone, so it’s not exactly happy, but that’s what you need to close up an album with a good punch.
Problems? There are a few. The album seems more like a grouping of eleven demos that were done in a sort of “see what I can do” fashion, like he was auditioning for a big label to pick him up. And because of that, there are little issues, like that some of the percussion was obviously dialed in on a synth or computer or whatever, like you’d do on a demo, before the drummer came in. Plus some tracks (like “Off the TV”) sound so much like a producer or studio tech said “this is what everyone wants, patch number 45A on ProTools, so let’s use that”, and I don’t entirely like when producers try to second-guess listeners like that – it’s a reason I don’t listen to adult contemporary all the time. There are also some continuity issues with all of these tracks, in that the album doesn’t flow as well as it could. Individual tracks are all great, but it’s a little hard to go through from end to end.
Overall, I like this. It’s one of those albums that didn’t take off, for all of the obvious reasons, but that I’ll always enjoy listening to. I know in ten years, nobody is going to know what the hell this is, but I’ll always go back to it and enjoy it.