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The first thing I noticed when I bought this record at the used CD store was how much the name of the album on the cover looked so much like the EMI logo. "I guess the label musta loved that" is what I thought upon seeing that; a thought that would return a few times upon listening to Empire (Sweet Lucidity, yuck!). I suppose that this shouldn't have come as a surprise, as Empire was definitely the band's most commercial release to that point. Of course, Empire is a lot better than anything the band has put out since, as their pursuit of commercial success has has led to several mediocre efforts.
I guess you could say that Empire was Queensryche's Black Album; the record where they adopted a more commercialized sound on the heels of their past mainstream successes. Like the Black Album, this record is listenable, and even good at times, but it's no Operation Mindcrime... Wait, in comparing Queensryche to Metallica, does that make Tribe the equivalent of St Anger!?
Anyways, let me just say that I am a huge fan of Operation Mindcrime. It blew me away the first time I heard it, and even now makes for an enjoyable listening experience. In fact, had I not thought so highly of OM, there woulda been no chance of me picking this one up. However, Empire is definitely inferior to its predecessor, and isn't something that I would give too many listens to.
Unlike Mindcrime, Empire doesn't seem to have any concept related to it. Granted, most of the songs here are about love, but so were most of Poison's songs, and they never released any concept albums. Mind you, Queensryche has done some of the best love ballads I have ever heard, (I Don't Believe In Love off of Operation Mindcrime is a personal fav.) and Jet City Woman and Another Rainy Night (Without You) on this record are great.
The title track, Empire, is another one of the hilights on this release, and it doesn't deal with romance or anything, either. Of course, it seems that governmental corruption is another favourite subject of Geoff Tate, as Operation Mindcrime dealt with it as this song does. Still, I'd say that the title track is probably the best of the bunch on this one.
From there, however, the album goes downhill. Seventh track Resistance is nothing to write home about, and the eighth track, Silent Lucidity, well, let's just say that it's easy to see how it was a hit at a time when melodic love ballads ruled the pop charts. The following track, Hand On Heart, is, while heavier than Silent Lucidity, another lame 80's love song, and while album closer Anybody Listening? isn't bad, at 7:40, it's definitely a bit too long.
In conclusion, the first half of this record is really quite good, but the second half isn't anything special. If I had Empire on vinyl, I probably wouldn't listen to side two...