EMI Records, 1990


REVIEW BY: Christopher Thelen


How does an artist or group follow up an album that has been universally declared a masterpiece?

Queensryche had this exact dilemma in 1990. Their previous release, Operation: Mindcrime, sent the band into superstar status, with radio and television quickly discovering this previously-ignored group. So when it came time for them to record their next album, they had two choices: try to re-create their last album, or try a different road and see what happens.

The final result was Empire, an album which was almost as strong as Operation: Mindcrime, but thankfully didn't follow in the concept album format.

Perhaps best known now for its ballad "Silent Lucidity," Geoff Tate and crew eschewed the concept album to make a collection of carefully crafted rock songs. Kicking off with "Best I Can," the groove that was created on Operation: Mindcrime was continued with a solid rock number (though the keyboards felt a little too heavy here).

But then the similarities disappear. "The Thin Line" and "Jet City Woman" both have a rather funky backbeat provided by bassist Eddie Jackson and drummer Scott Rockenfield; the guitar duo of Chris DeGarmo (who just recently left the band) and Michael Wilton put their six-strings through a solid workout without entering the "I am a guitar God, watch me show off" mode. Also worthy of note are the vocal harmonies, always an intregal part of Queensryche's sound.my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250

While "Silent Lucidity" is a pretty song, I have to admit I'm amazed that this song became one of 1990's omnipresent radio hits. It's a tad overdramatic, and isn't the best song on the album. Songs like "Another Rainy Night (Without You)," "Hand On Heart" or "Resistance" could all have been big hits (and EMI did release "Another Rainy Night (Without You)" as a single), but for some reason, the kitsch factor won out.

The only times where Empire does weaken are on the longer numbers, when less easily could have been more. "Della Brown," arguably the weakest track on the album, could have easily had about three minutes chopped off of it, while "Anybody Listening?" is a rather aclimactic ending to the album. Some people might also not like the preachiness of some song bridges (such as on the title track), but I didn't think they were terribly over the edge.

If Empire did anything for the band, it gave their fans the impetus to hang the catch-phrase "progressive rock band" around the band's necks - remember that prior to Operation: Mindcrime Queensryche was pretty much just a heavy metal band. But I don't think that they were really progressive rock at this time; if anything, they had become album-oriented rock... and this isn't necessarily bad. (Also remember that 1990 was the peak of acceptance of hard rock and heavy metal on the radio - so the time was just right for Queensryche to step out in a big way.)

In one sense, though, Empire proved to be Queensryche's downfall. Their last two studio albums have both been held up to Empire (much like Empire was fated to be held up to Operation: Mindcrime), and have disappointed many people. Some cynics might take this as a sign that Queensryche's success was a fluke, and they were destined to be flashes in the pan.

But in the long run, this has proven to be unfair to Queensryche - and to their fans as well. Inasmuch as I was disappointed by Promised Land, we can only imagine what we would have been screaming had Tate and company chosen to try and redo Empire again. The fact that they tried to distance themselves from their successes is quite admirable.

Empire is another album that is a "must-own" in anyone's collection - and if you can get through the occasional dramatic noodlings, you'll consider this yet another masterpiece from Queensryche.

Rating: A-

User Rating: B



© 1998 Christopher Thelen and The Daily Vault. All rights reserved. Review or any portion may not be reproduced without written permission. Cover art is the intellectual property of EMI Records, and is used for informational purposes only.