Having heard the two singles, “The Unthinking Majority” and “Empty Walls,” dozens of times on the radio, I knew I wanted to buy this album, even though it’s not my typical music choice and I’m not familiar at all with Tankian’s previous works or SOAD. The songs were catchy, they stayed in my head, and when I actually bothered to take a listen to the lyrics I was surprised and impressed by the complexity and politics.
So, being a naive newcomer to Tankian, I bought the album, figuring it would be some dozen tracks just like the two singles. Not true, and in the best way possible.
While Elect the Dead is a decidedly cohesive album in style and musicality, after the two title tracks it is surprisingly more introspective than I would have guessed. After listening through the album the first time, I was left with a feeling altogether different than the one I had from the singles. It was a much richer, deeper sense than the go-go-go politicism of Unthinking Majority and Empty Walls. Tankian has far more layers to his music than mere social commentary. While I won’t deny that there’s such commentary throughout the lyrics, there exist emotions above and beyond this social commentary. There are moments of melancholy and curiosity, eloquently conveyed by Tankian’s voice. The man can shout his lyrics with the best, but he can also slow and draw his voice out into a despairing line, calling emotions up in the listener.
One element that’s definitely carried through to several tracks is the juxtaposition heard in Empty Walls — going from five hundred miles an hour to five, wild one moment and tender the next. The way Tankian does it, even though the various modes may sound entirely different taken individually, the elements complement each other in each individual song. The transitions hold your attention, and Tankian masterfully makes the transitions not repetitive so much as surprising. Sometimes you think you know what’s coming next — especially in “Sky Is Over” — and it’s something entirely different.
There really are so many surprises on the album. Little musical riffs, things that appear only once but are so enticing you have to play the track over again just to hear that one little element, the way you never know what’s coming next until at least the second time listening, and a final track that I can only liken to a funeral dirge.
And after I had listened to the album, I turned around and started listening to it all over again. If you’ve heard the singles and expect an entire album of the same, this is something better. It’s similar, and it’s definitely the voice of a single artist, but it’s not just more of the same.