Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Take Cover, Queensrÿche Is About To Drop A Bomb

When I went out in search of another copy of Pink Floyd's Meddle, I happened across a new Queensrÿche album, Take Cover. I vaguely remember reading about their plans to do a covers album, but I don't really keep abreast on Queensrÿche news so I had no idea if they were really considering it or when it was going to be released until I happened to spot it in the music store. The track list included a good number of songs I recognized, so I figured it would be fun, or possibly funny, to hear what Queensrÿche would do with some very popular and recognizable songs like Pink Floyd's "Welcome to the Machine," Queen's "Innuendo," and The Police's "Synchronicity II." I've conluded that Queensrÿche most likely chose that spelling for their name just to piss off rock journalists everywhere having to punch up a special character every time they write the band's name.

Most people say covers are never good, and in a general sense, this is very much true. Every once in a while, a band will perform a cover song where everything comes together perfectly to at least equal, if not outdo, the original. Unfortunately, an album full of cover songs reveals just how extremely limited Queensrÿche sans DeGarmo actually is. Geoff Tate may be the voice and proponent of the band, but Chris DeGarmo was always their best songwriter. Note that DeGarmo's name appears as the primary, if not only, credit on most of the band's most highly regarded songs.

They suffer without Chris DeGarmo in the fold, especially with the tone-deaf Kelly Gray mixing their albums. Kelly Gray couldn't identify a proper chord with a gun to his head, and he is adamant about subduing all the music he produces in murky lows, probably to hide his bad tonality. Kelly Gray produced a Nevermore album that was so unlistenable that Nevermore called in someone else to remaster it and they re-released it with an apology to their fans. It was a shame, too, because once you could actually distinguish the different notes in the songs, Enemies of Reality wasn't a bad album.

With this album, though, Queensrÿche at least didn't try to duplicate the original songs, but instead attempted to Queensrÿche-ify them as much as possible. Queensrÿche has a distinctive and recognizable sound, even without Chris DeGarmo in the band. Part of that sound comes from the signature bass lines of Eddie "Edbass" Jackson, part of it comes from Geoff Tate's operatic singing style, and part of it from their mournful lead guitar sound. I hate it when a band just duplicates the original because it never sounds quite as good as the original, and if I really wanted to hear the original, I'd just listen to the original. I like to hear a different, somewhat divergent, band make the song their own by reinterpreting it with their own distinctive style. This is what Queensrÿche opted to do for this album, with mixed, but generally overall unpleasant, results.

1) "Welcome to the Machine" — I'm not sure if this was the best song to start with. On one hand, you are automatically reinforced that you're listening to a Queensrÿche album, but the more I listen to this, the more it reveals how limited the band is. It's like Eddie Jackson didn't want to take the time to learn the bass lines for the song and instead just stuck with a steady drop D chord in 4/4 rhythm. I'm not sure if the original keyboard melodies were scrapped or if Kelly Gray just did the best he could at recreating them on guitar and still ended up getting it the utter and complete opposite of right. It kind of sounds like he was really trying but everything is completely off-key, out of time, and using the wrong notes. The faint hints of saxophone kind of catapault me back to the relaxed, atmospheric Promised Land days, though. Overall, I'm not entirely sure if this song is a win or a fail.

4) "For What It's Worth" — I am putting my name on the petition to officially ban this song from ever being covered. It's one of the easiest songs to play, every single even slightly politically charged band seems to want to cover it, and I have yet to hear a single version that is even in the same hemisphere of as good as the original. So stop covering this song. You suck at it.

5) "For The Love Of Money" — Queensrÿche tries their hand at funk. I wish I could say that the results were mixed, but they weren't. They were all one hundred percent bad. Eddie Jackson remarked in the liner notes that it's one of "the coolest bass riffs I could ever play without having to pay for it." I think that statement should be amended to "...without ever having to learn it" because it's readily apparent he didn't. Instead, he took a big huge smelly dump all over it. Combine that with the fact that Geoff Tate can't sing in anything other than his own distinctive style, and here you have the perfect recipe for the cold-blooded slaughter of motown.

6) "Innuendo" — Hello, and welcome to the worst cover on the album. Queensrÿche must absolutely hate Queen because they destroyed this song. This was one of the songs I was actually looking forward to hearing. The original is one of my favorite Queen songs, and I'd love to hear an amped-up version of it. Unfortunately, what I got was guitars out of tune, more drop D in 4/4 bass, and the fact that Geoff Tate can't sing like Freddie Mercury. No other song on this album showcases how utterly limited Geoff Tate is as a vocalist. Don't get me wrong, he has a tremendous voice, but he can only sing in one particular style, which can best be summed up as "his own." It's one thing to not be able to sing a funky motown song if you're an operatic heavy metal vocalist, but you'd think an operatic heavy metal vocalist could at least somewhat accurately copy Freddie Mercury's vocal lines. Freddy Mercury practically defined operatic heavy metal singing. The guitars are as out of tune as Geoff Tate's voice is passionless. If covers albums are typical markers of the point to which a band is washed-up, then this song is the archetype for a washed-up band just going through the motions, and doing very poorly at that. Probably the worst song on the album, primarily because it's a disappointment to hear and a disgraceful tribute to the original.

7) "Neon Knights" — Geoff Tate attempting Dio is the lulz.

8) "Synchronicity II" — God make the hurting stop. Don't worry; it's almost over.

9) "Red Rain" — This song is. . . actually not that horrible. Maybe because it's slower and more ambient so the band can take their time and make it sound right? Maybe because Peter Gabriel's vocal lines on this song are more suitable for Geoff Tate's style? I dont' know, but this isn't nearly as unlistenable as most of the other songs on the album. That's not to say I wouldn't prefer the original, but I could listen to this version, too. So congratulations, guys, you got your first song right, and it's only the nineth on the album.

11) "Bullet the Blue Sky (Live)" — I've been waiting to hear a remastered soundboard recording of this ever since I found out that Queensrÿche covered it back in 1998. I've tried acquiring a few versions with varying results except one unifying detail — the sound quality sucked on every single one. So just finally being able to hear this after nearly ten years of longing would in itself be worth the twelve bucks for the album. If no other song by no other band was just perfectly suited for Queensrÿche to cover, U2's "Bullet the Blue Sky" would be the one. This is probably the absolute angriest song U2 has ever made. You can just feel the rage pumping through the thundering, militaristic bass lines and screaming guitar feedback. It's the perfect song for a politically-charged heavy metal band to cover, and Queensrÿche covered it beautifully.

The bass riff is simple enough for Eddie Jackson to emulate and still have it sound distinctively Queensrÿche, which is a plus, but not the best part. The best part is that this version is just over ten minutes long, and during the free-form "spoken word" middle part, Geoff Tate just goes off like a fucking bomb. Bono would have been proud, and the best part is that I could envision Bono unloading the exact same unrehearsed diatribe during one of U2's live performances of this song. This one song made the purchase price of the CD a worthwhile investment for me. Of course, if you're curious and less fanatical than I, I would recommend just downloading it because the rest of the album is not that great.

Of course, I kid. If the RIAA or FBI happen across this, I not really recommending downloading it as much as I'm asserting that halfhearted efforts shouldn't necessarily be met with overwhelming success. Downloading copyrighted material may be wrong, but so is shitting all over Pink Floyd, Queen, Black Sabbath, the Police, and the O'Jays. That should be a crime as well.

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