In the sports world, there’s a concept called “a rebuilding year”. It’s when your team has fallen apart: the star talent has been traded elsewhere, the new kids from the minors are still learning the ropes, the coaches have all been fired and replaced by third and fourth-tier managers, and the seasoned players are all performing at a sub-par level. But even if the team finishes with a 61-101 record (i.e. the 2008 Seattle Mariners), the fans say it’s a “rebuilding year”, because lessons were being learned, and things will be better next time. Queensryche’s eighth studio album, Tribe, is something I’d consider a “rebuilding album”. It’s not great, but it shows hints of promise, or at least enough for hard-core fans to not completely dismiss the band.
After 1999’s Q2K, we learned that the departed Chris DeGarmo must have been a major contributor to the band’s songwriting success, because things definitely lagged without him penning tunes for the album. This time around, Kelly Gray was given the boot, and the original lineup with DeGarmo returned. It was unclear what DeGarmo’s status was with the band, however. He did co-write four of the ten tracks on the album, but there were no solo shots, and most of the material continues in the same vein as Q2K. Also, DeGarmo did not tour with the band, and it was largely rumored that his appearance was nothing but a session musician publicity stunt to revive the band’s image.
This is the first post-Atlantic studio album by the band; beginning with 2001’s Live Evolution, they moved to Sanctuary Records. Prior to Sanctuary’s absorption into Universal Music Group, they were well-known for releasing new albums by once-popular bands that toured the “where are they now?” bar circuit with half of their original members. The kind of budget involved with such a change in label, plus the band’s decision to self-produce the album, results in a significant drop in production quality over the last few albums. It’s not horrible (that would come later), but it doesn’t have the depth or brilliance that Q2K or HitNF had to them.
The ten tracks, weighing in at an anemic 41:37, don’t wander much from the same formula, which could best be described as “mid-paced introspective look at our world today, with a slight AOR hook”. Any one of those things could work well, and have in the band’s past. (Mid-paced = “Della Brown”; Introspective “Promised Land”; AOR hook = most of Empire.) But there are few surprises here, and no dynamics. With a few minor exceptions, very little stands out in the muddle. “Rhythm of Hope”, “Doin’ Fine”, “Open”, “Tribe”… most of these songs are largely interchangable, and about as interesting as an album of commercial jingles from a 60s Eastern Bloc country. As much as I try to get into this, it’s just a jumble of blah.
I mention a few standout areas. “The Art of Life” hints at the band this once was, and almost sounds like a lost Promised Land track. There are a few good riffs scattered in other songs, but just when something starts to get interesting, it gets repeated ten times and dragged out, like a kid trying to pad a one-page book report into four pages with creative font and margin choices.
Last summer, I saw the Seattle Mariners play the Angels in Anaheim. At the time, the Mariners were something like 30 games behind the Angels in the AL West, and watching a team with a $117-million dollar payroll and the most talented Japanese player to ever come to the US and play get beaten so severely was a lot like thinking back to Empire and then listening to this. Maybe their next album would not be stellar, either; and maybe the 2009 Mariners will still end up 40 games under a .500 record. The one saving grace of a “rebuilding year” is you can keep having them year after year with no marked progress, and at least some of your fans will still come back and hope for something better, eventually.