There are a few different reasons a group would record an album of cover tunes. Bands just out of the gate might not have enough original material written, and need to fall back on the classics to come up with a CD’s worth of tunes. Other bands feel a need to “pay tribute” and record their own interpretations of their influences’ hit tunes. Some might want to do something weird. And others are looking for a quick way to make a buck, or, even better, get out of an album’s worth of obligation to a record deal. (See also the main reason live albums are recorded.) So which of these reasons best describe why Queensryche went into the studio and laid down eleven cover tunes for this album? Good question.
Queensryche, like many prog-rock bands, have a very narrowly-defined scope to work with, as far as their reach to do different-sounding things. Yes, they’ve progressed quite a bit over the years. But when they record almost any genre of song, it’s going to sound pretty much like a Queensryche song. And that’s the biggest failure of this album. The band set out to record a wide swath of different types of music for this collection, and only a few things worked well.
Credit where it’s due: this CD starts with a dead-on version of Pink Floyd’s “Welcome to the Machine.” Queensryche can do a pretty decent version of ‘Floyd, at least the post-Syd version. (In fact, the first time I ever heard “Silent Lucidity,” my initial response was “Jesus Christ, Roger Waters is going to sue them for copyright infringement, this sounds so much like one of his songs.”) They throw down a thick, synth-laden rendition, with some ethereal saxophone bits, super-sustained guitar licks, and somber lyrics, and it works well. Add to this the fact that the album doesn’t sound like it was recorded on a Radio Shack laptop ala Mindcrime 2, and it’s a pretty impressive number.
Another song that works is the band’s rendition of ‘Sabbath’s “Neon Knights.” When you figure that Queensryche started playing covers of old metal tunes, a rehash of a Dio-era classic doesn’t seem that far-fetched. (Add to that the fact that the band used to open for Dio back in their beginning days, and Ronnie James appeared on the aforementioned jambox-recorded Mindcrime 2, and it isn’t too peculiar to hear the band paying tribute to the Satanic dwarf.) The guitar is pretty spot-on, and although Tate tries a little too hard with his singing, it’s a decent recording.
The real problem with many of these tunes is that Tate’s operatic style is too distinct and inflexible. It’s like when William Shatner recorded all of those Beatles classics like “Lucy in the Sky”: no matter what he did, it sounded like a stick-up-the-ass Captain Kirk, and not a decent rendition of a Beatles tune. When I hear Geoff Tate try to belt out “Synchronicity II” or “Bullet the Blue Sky,” it’s so forced and inorganic, it makes Geddy Lee’s experiment with rapping sound smooth as silk.
Some of the song selections are absolutely baffling. They cover The Ojays’ “For the Love of Money,” which is basically an attempt at saying “hey, we’re 100% whitebread, but we want you to think we’re hip by covering an R&B number in the whitest possible way, with shrieking heavy metal guitar licks and an opera singer frontman piling on the tremolo! And our drum roadie’s brother once went to high school with a dude that was friends with a black guy, too! We’re multicultural!”
And a few of the songs are absolutely terrible. They do a completely unlistenable version of Queen’s “Innuendo,” a stumbling take of CSN&Y’s “Almost Cut My Hair,” and an awkward and uptight recording of “For What it’s Worth” by Buffalo Springfield. Overall, there are maybe three or four tracks that did not get an instant “never, ever play again” rating, and the rest are relatively forgettable. Like I said, the production is decent, though. Maybe they can write some new material and record it this well to get a decent album. Until then, I’d skip this one.