When I was in college, I dated a girl who was probably a bigger Queensryche fan than me. And when listening to a snippet of their music, she’d sometimes say things like “Oh, that’s such a Chris song,” and roll her eyes, apparently bemoaning the songwriting ability of guitarist Chris DeGarmo. The habit made me realize that up until that point, I’d never even considered how the power structure within the band operated. Queensryche has two guitar players, who initially formed the band, but they are usually both referred to as “lead/rhythm guitar” and without studying some videos or going to a bunch of live shows, it’s not apparent who’s taking what solos. Contrast that with a band like Guns N’ Roses, where you know Slash plays the lead and Izzy’s on the rhythm guitar. So after almost ten years of not thinking about it, I wondered, who was the driving force behind the band? Who was in charge? Was Geoff Tate the ringleader, or just the guy brought in by the real brains of the band to front them? Who was the John and Paul, and who was the Ringo?
All of that was answered when DeGarmo left the band in 1998. The remaining members jumped from the then-bankrupt EMI to Atlantic, adding Kelly Gray, a former bandmate of Geoff Tate’s from his old band Myth. They quickly went back to the studio for their new release, Q2K. I initially moaned at the news of the new album name, because Dan Quayle used the same slogan for his 2000 Presidential campaign (which, thankfully, died quickly.) And the album title happened during the surge of Y2K paranoia, when every other spam in my mailbox was about Y2K radio flashlights and Y2K survival food and Y2K fallout shelter plans and Y2K asbestos-lined condoms with emergency first-aid instructions written on every package.
I have to say that Q2K is the beginning of the end for me and my love for this band, and I don’t think I’m alone in this conclusion. The band took a serious turn with this mid-paced collection of eleven songs. Prior to this album, every Queensryche album had a mix of songs. For every slow-paced song like “London,” there was a faster-paced rocker, like “NM156.” Making a good album is like making a good can of mixed nuts; if you have no almonds or honey-roasted peanuts, and 90% of the nuts are those crappy tasteless ones they use to pad out the mixed nuts combination to make it cheaper, it’s not any good. And with Q2K, you’ve got a lot of those crappy mixed nuts.
What I mean is, most of the songs sound about the same here. Play a random five seconds of “Beside You” or “One Life” or “When The Rain Comes,” and it’s basically the same mid-paced, contemporary, almost easy-listening smooth rock music. Radio pros used to call this stuff MOR, for Middle of Road, and now I think they call it AAA, or Adult Album Alternative, to basically mean a wussier version of AOR that doesn’t rock and is suitable to play in elevators and dentist’s offices. It’s like it’s aspiring to be the Singles soundtrack. I’m not saying any of these songs are horrible; some of them are vaguely emotional or contain some interesting hooks. It’s just that they all sound roughly the same. WIthout DeGarmo to mix up the writing, it’s a very homogenized approach.
The problem is, there are too many of these mellow songs, and no rockers. They try, with “Burning Man” and “Breakdown,” but both are essentially boring attempts at it. And they put both of these songs back-to-back, which also makes no sense in the dynamics of the thing. “Breakdown” was their attempt at a single and I think it got a video, but it’s pretty flat attempt at a song. This is where the Chris song belonged, and there wasn’t one. And aside from the lack of his writing, there’s no conceptual or story-driven component to the album. That isn’t needed – their last album to do this was Mindcrime, and they had their share of decent albums since then.
The band has an almost-trademark habit of capping the end of an album with a longer, slower, but more powerful number, and they do that here with “The Right Side of My Mind”. It’s got a lot of force wrapped up in a mellower package, and builds and builds before it peaks and concludes the album. This is executed well, which makes me think it’s a Geoff Tate thing, but without an entire album of differing numbers before it, this doesn’t do much good.
I got this album, tried to listen to it for about six months, and then forgot about it entirely. When I switched over to iPod, I don’t even think I added this to iTunes for years, so it sat untouched in my collection of CDs I never used. Despite the fact that this album never spent any extended time in my current play cycle, I have two very distinct memories of it. I’ll mention them both, with the caveat that memories of an album don’t affect my rating as much as the actual contents of an album, something that other reviewers consider in the intrinsic value of an album.
Anyway, the first is that I bought this album the day it came out at the Virgin Megastore in Times Square, immediately after I had a job interview in the same building. I interviewed at Juno Online, and ended up getting the job, working in the BMG building for almost two years, and spending many a long lunch hour wandering around the Virgin store, feeding my music addiction. And when I bought the CD that day, Cheap Trick happened to be playing a gig at the bookstore, which was surreal because this band I thought was bigger than life when I was a kid was setting up their amps in a room about as big as my apartment, playing for two dozen people. So there’s a strange connection in that whenever I think back to those two years I worked in Times Square, or any time I returned to that Virgin store (or any Virgin store), I always thought back to this album.
The other memory I have of Q2Kis that I had a job interview the week after I bought it (I think I hadn’t yet got an offer on the Juno thing, and was frantically interviewing at every dot-com-bubble-funded e-sweatshop in the book), and listened to the album three or four times on my Minidisc player on the way there and back. That interview was in the World Trade Center, and was almost exactly a year before 9/11. So that’s a weird connection for me.
Despite those memories, there’s not much I can say about this below-average effort. They’ve done better albums since, but not by much.