I’ve had about a week to digest the latest release from Queensrÿche, Operation: Mindcrime II. It was an album I dreaded listening to when I first heard the group was planning a sequel a year or two ago. In most cases, sequels serve only to reinforce the fact that one was enough. Notable exceptions to this rule are, of course, The Godfather Part II and Superman II. Oh, and The Empire Strikes Back. Which was Part II at one point, and now is just Part V.
So first things first — for all the positives of this album, it is no Operation: Mindcrime. Oh, the effort is clearly there. But what is lacking is the grand vision and sheer power of the first installment. OM:I is the product of a band clearly firing on all cylinders. OM:II runs at about ¾ speed. I can appreciate that while Queensrÿche wanted to record an album that was similar to the first, but not identical. Their current sound is more raw and primal, less melodic and soaring than before. On some tracks that works very well (“Signs Say Go,” “Murderer?”). On others (“I’m American,” “Hostage”), the old sound is definitely missed.
Perhaps someone who hasn’t lived with OM:I for 18 years might feel differently, of course. Expectations are a double-edged sword — they can stoke excitement and interest, but open the door ever wider for disappointment. I have listened to the album about 4 or 5 times, and I must admit that it grows on me a little more each time. Taken on its own, it is actually a pretty good album. It is easily the best work the band has done since Promised Land (my personal favorite).
More than anything else, shoddy production values dampen the impact of the music. This is understandable, as I’m sure Rhino Records didn’t spend quite the same amount of money that EMI did on OM:I. Still, I can’t help but wonder how much better this would’ve sounded with a bigger budget. But enough of the negatives.
The much-ballyhooed duet of Geoff Tate and Ronnie James Dio (“The Chase”) is as effective as can be hoped for. Dio, for a man in his mid-’60s, can still rawk. The plot, such as I can make it out, is interesting. It is more of a character study than a story. Much of the album focuses on taking revenge, and how it usually is not as satisfying you think it will be. I won’t go on too much about the plot details, as they can be found elsewhere. Besides, I have no idea if I have it right!
The album takes a while to pick up steam, as the first third of it doesn’t really contain any standout tracks. The high point of the entire experience is the three-song sequence of “Re-Arrange You,” “The Chase” and “Murderer?” This is Queensrÿche as aggressive as I have heard them in a long time, and it’s nice to hear.
It’s almost unfortunate that this album is linked with the first Operation:Mindcrime, because I think it would stand better on its own, because next to the original it does pale a bit. Still, it’s a sign that Queensrÿche still has something to offer. I must admit that I had almost lost all hope of that. Hear in the Now Frontier was OK, but Q2K and Tribe were pretty damned awful.
I will be seeing Queensrÿche later this year on tour, as they play both Mindcrimes back to back. Perhaps that will be the ultimate test of how good the sequel compares to the original.