Riding high on the creative wave of “Operation: Mindcrime”, Queensryche returned to the studio to put together “Empire”, what would be their commercial breakthrough.
Unlike most commercial breakthroughs though, this one doesn’t have that feel nor the accusations of sellout– in fact, the band simply kept developing along the lines of their own idiom, but after the massive encompassing storyline on Mindcrime, this was an album of songs, loosely based around themes of society and relationships. Musically, its similar in Mindcrime in that the metal backdrop has become largely a backdrop on which the menagerie of styles and sounds can be overlaid. As a whole, its a bit lighter in tone than Mindcrime was.
The strength of this album lies in its variety, there’s great compulsive rock pieces on here (“Best I Can”, “Jet City Woman”), some superb Queensryche styled metal (the title track), a few really breathtaking ballads (the album’s hit, “Silent Lucidity”, a piece deserving all the accolades it gets, homelessness ballad “Della Brown”), and at least one purely ecstatic love song with some great riffing (“One and Only”). As if that wasn’t enough, album closer “Anybody Listening?” is in many ways the summation of the band’s entire catalog (and history) and is one of the best they’ve ever done. Admittedly the album has its weak moments (“Resistence” is a step backwards and “Hand on Heart” is just awful), but its really quite an effort.
The remaster, again featuring crisp, clean sound as the rest of the series, is augmented by three bonus tracks– the goofy “Last Time in Paris” is a lot of fun but admittedly a throwaway and “Dirty Lil Secret” was a b-side for good reason, but their cover of Simon & Garfunkel’s “Scarborough Fair” is fantastic– haunting, dark, and powerful.
This may not be the best thing Queensryche has ever done, but its awfully good, and its a great place to start with the band. Recommended.