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So. This is Queensrÿche walking that Thin Line (*rimshot*) between very catchy heavy metal and straight up pop-hard rock, and doing a pretty good job of it. The production job is excellent, and I'd assume even better on the remaster. The guitars are plenty loud, the bass has the signature Queensrÿche impact, the drums are solid, the vocals are in the forefront as they should be, and the synths are tastefully used.
The individual performances of the band members are quite good, but not virtuosic as on previous albums - the solos are generally melodic interludes instead of high-speed shredding, and Geoff Tate's voice generally stays in his impressive middle range, only rarely climbing to the higher registers. It's clear that Queensrÿche focussed more on songwriting that performance for this album, partly explaining its massive commercial success.
Ah yes, the songwriting. Ths top track on this album is, without a doubt, closer "Anybody Listening?," a balladic kind of song with an incredibly powerful chorus. This song is Tate's one major foray into the vocal areas of the 80s, with his patended brand of non-falsetto, yet still amazingly high notes spotlighting the melodic verse sections. An extremely emotional tune with great lead melodies and, as mentioned, just a masterfully done chorus. Tate leads with the double-tracked line "Is there anybody listening?" and then the riff kicks in with incredible heaviness, grooving under brilliant harmonized vocals. This is one of those songs you need to listen to at night, with headphones, preferably while in a deeply emo state.
The other high points of the album pop up at tracks 2, 3 and 6. "The Thin Line" is a multi-faceted lament about falling in lust, and despite a completely and utterly useless horn section, still manages to rock with bass-heavy verses and a great harmonized riff. Yeah, they use a lot of harmony on here, and it kicks ass. "Jet City Woman" is along the same lines and just as good, with awesome soloing throughout, a very good chorus riff, and powerful vocal delivery. The title track is, by contrast, a relatively simple but very heavy piece with epic-sounding verses and an immortal singalong chorus, marred only by one of those silly spoken political interludes. We know, Geoff, America is fucked. Write songs about it - don't lecture us.
The other good tunes are synth-heavy but undeniably catchy opener "Best I Can," harmony-heavy single "Another Rainy Night (Without You),"and fast-paced rocker "Resistance." "Hand On Heart" and "One And Only" are pretty much filler, and "Della Brown"is a boring extended jam notable for well-done bass and some decent vocals. The lead single "Silent Lucidity" is utterly ranicd - a Cliff-Notes rewrite of Pink Floyd's classic "Comfortably Numb," with schmaltz in place of soul, and a patently stupid spoken overword. Why they still play this turkey live, I don't know - it may have been a hit in 1990, but it certainly didn't age well.
So, that's Empire for you - a very solid affair with moments of brilliance; the effects of Queensrÿche as a group largely putting aside their massive individual talents and settling down to write some good, catchy songs. It was inevitable that anything following the amazing Operation: Mindcrime would be a bit of a disappointment, but this is a strong if unspectacular record that would prove to be Queensrÿche's last moment of relevance in the metal scene.