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DISCLAIMER: I'm probably going to refer to the legendary Operation: Mindcrime a lot, as it's literally my favorite album of all time. I'm also not going to discuss the story at all, since A) I don't have the lyrics, and B) that would completely spoil it for anyone who does care. The following thoughts are based on the music alone.
Beginning with an orchestral-type of intro arrangement, it's a far cry from the BOMBAST of the original's "Anarchy-X" ("paging Dr. Davis, telephone please Dr. Davis"), yet before you know it, the aggressive strains of "I'm American" are upon you. This is easily the best "new" Queensryche song since anything off Promised Land, so I'm already happy. "One Foot In Hell" stays along this path, with an "updated" Queensryche sound. This is easily the most metal they've written in over 10 years. "Hostage" is fairly strong, and "The Hands" even hearkens back to that glorious melody from "Eyes of a Stranger." In terms of best "pure" song, it's either "Re-Arrange You" or "Fear City Slide." The former featuring tons of great melodies & vocal harmonies to complement a good, chunky riff, and the latter establishing itself as a killer complement to the classic "I Don't Believe In Love." But even then, bands like Vanden Plas and Symphony X have far surpassed the master in this case.
Lest you think I drank the cool-aid, there are some AWFUL songs here, "Speed of Light" being the worst culprit. It sounds like a Tribe outtake, if that tells you anything. Ho-hum rhythm, boring drumming, some jackass in cargo pants strumming a "riff," you get the picture. "A Murderer?" might be the prototypical "new" Queensryche song. It's catchy, if you're not careful, your head will nod up & down a bit, Tate is spot-on vocally (as always), yet there's just something missing. These songs simply do NOT reach down your throat and squeeze your liver like the 1980s Queensryche was wont to do.
Of course no review of this album will be complete without talking about what's missing. Namely, Chris DeGarmo, and not just his riffs. There is simply nothing that brings to mind the INSANE TALENT of songs like "Suite Sister Mary," "I Don't Believe In Love" or "Spreading the Disease." Take a song like "Signs Say Go" for instance. It begins promisingly enough, with an awesome vocal harmony and some tasty guitarwork, but then a downright awful chorus kicks in and trainwrecks the whole thing. This is where the songwriting genius of DeGarmo is sorely, sorely missed. As for his guitar-playing, did I miss something? There were solos on the first Operation: Mindcrime, right? Because this album has 14-or-so legit songs on it, and I can only remember like, a single solo! WTF?!
Another example, whereas we get brilliant ballads like "The Mission" and "Empty Room" on the first part, O:M II has dreck like "If I Could Change It All" and "All the Promises." Bah, not even the return appearance of Pamela Moore as Nikki can save these, though I suppose the bluesy vibe (which must be 100% Tate's doing) is done well, at the very least.
Obviously, Queensryche's glory days are long, long gone. BUT, if you can get past that (many cannot, I'm well aware), this is...decent. Nothing more. At first I was tempted to be caught up in the total elation of Queensryche material that didn't outright suck. And this does not. But once I stopped to think about just how good the first Mindcrime record is, I caught myself. I do maintain it's easily their best album since Promised Land, and quite possibly their best since Empire, but that might not be enough. I will in all likelihood purchase this for nostalgia's sake, and to read/complete the story (which is seemingly done well). But it goes without saying that it was a near-impossible task for Queensryche to recapture the magic of that first Mindcrime, a task they probably should not ever have attempted in the first place.