QUEENSRYCHE – TAKE COVER (RHINO 2007)

REVIEW BY VILLE KRANNILA / JANUARY 2008

A lot of bands have that one record in their career that both elevates them to superstardom and enslaves them at the same time. In the case of Queensryche, in 1988 they released seminal “Operation: Mindcrime” – a concept masterpiece so grand and dangerous in delivery, it placed the band under lock and threw away the key. They seem to have struggled ever since in trying to establish themselves as modern music makers and not simply a talented group of players who got lucky once almost 20 years ago. However, as often my personal preferences don’t align with those of the public eye, QR did some fabulous work after “Mindcrime” as well. The follow-up “Empire” was in fact even bigger commercial success, and in the wake of grunge, 1994’s “Promised Land” stood its ground quite admirably. “Hear In The Now Frontier” released in 1997 was again an attempt to reach more accessible audience, but to this writer’s ears it contained some of the finest material the group had ever laid down on tape. A big part of it of course was the creative genius of guitarist/main song writer Chris DeGarmo whose melodic sensibilities were pushing the band strongly towards that direction. Unfortunately HITNF was to be his swan song in the band, although the man briefly returned years later to offer some writing assistance.

For Queensryche his departure was a devastating blow, and to this day they haven’t settled on a permanent replacement. Kelly Gray filled the spot for few years and now producer Mike Stone handles second guitar duties. Ironically Gray has moved to the other side of glass, engineering and mixing this album.

The absence of DeGarmo of course was truly felt on the creative side of things and the material written during the last 10 years is a sonic proof to this. After a string of dreadful releases, they finally bowed down to pressure and released a sequel “Operation: Mindcrime 2” couple of years ago. While not even in the same ballpark as its predecessor, it certainly wasn’t a disaster either containing some enjoyable moments and the addition of guest vocalists such as Ronnie James Dio brought in extra spice. Maybe the winds of change were now blowing and Ryche could be trusted to deliver the goods once again?

Thus arrives “Take Cover” available now for reduced price. Essentially compiling together 11 cover versions by Pink Floyd, Black Sabbath, The Police, Queen and U2 among others. While listening to this album, for some strange reason I continuously had to ask myself: why they bothered? All the necessary parts seem to be in place: the legendary voice of Geoff Tate, often praised, sounds as powerful as ever. He doesn’t top himself but generally material like this doesn’t require this of him. Guitarists Stone and Michael Wilton deliver some tasteful solos, yet make no mistake this is no guitar fest. Rhythm section Ed Jackson and Scott Rockenfeld provide a solid backing. So on the surface there’s nothing to cause much alarm. And therein exactly lies the problem. When one looks inside, there is nothing there.

In my eyes the purpose of a cover album – other than amusing the players themselves – is to present a fascinating selection of songs mirroring artist’s influences and adding something new to older classics. During the last 10 years or so, there have been numerous projects released by almost everyone, some of them good, some of them bad. Among the good ones for example was a CD more recently by the German guitar wizard Axel Rudi Pell whose record contained some unusual choices and interesting arrangements. The problem with “Take Cover” is that it sounds EXACTLY like one would expect from current Queensryche. There is no element of surprise or danger involved, each track ploddingly follows other and listener hopes for something to happen. Nothing happens until the record ends.

Before Queensryche became Queensryche, they were called The Mob and played all around Seattle area doing Black Sabbath covers from “Heaven And Hell” & “Mob Rules” albums. The question is, why have they then gone and produced a note-for-note copy of the safest possible choice “Neon Knights?” Beats me. There are about thousand other covers of this track out there with none of them naturally eclipsing the original. Plus for me this song was never that much of a highlight. The irritation grows when Tate in recent Classic Rock magazine lists the songs The Mob used have in their set. “Falling Off The Edge Of The World,” “The Mob Rules,” “Die Young…” Oh if only…

Buffalo Springfield probably also have few other songs than “For What It’s Worth” already peerlessly covered by Rush on their “Feedback” album. And curiously the same track also appeared on Ozzy Osbourne’s “Undercover.” See a pattern here? They tackle Queen’s “Innuendo” and I have trouble following the melody, same goes for the Police-track later on. They seem to want to lay their own stamp to proceedings but somehow are unable to do so. The songs have no breathing space and nowhere to go. Someone should have told the band to shake up the arrangements seriously, had some of this material been all acoustic it actually might have been more interesting.

On the booklet Tate admits not being able to speak a word of Italian. Unfortunately it shows and feeble attempts at “Odissea” should have ended up at the garbage bin very early during planning stages. The albums ends with risible live take on U2’s “Bullet The Blue Sky,” which is extended to 10-minute boredom with Tate shouting out verse after verse of nonsense apparently relating to US politics of some kind. The word pointless comes to mind. As QR have always been a visual band, I guess you just have to see it to understand.

Listening to “Take Cover” is frustrating as there is very little to actually sink your teeth into. A lot of it sounds like a mess, rest just doesn’t bring out any emotions. It just is. I openly admit not having heard most of the originals here but I suspect fault is not in the songs themselves.

Bringing DeGarmo back might eventually be the only option but so far it is the card ‘Ryche are unwilling to play. It does seem sad if it is ultimately what they are forced to do. Like I said before, Queensryche are extremely talented band and I can only hope they regain their faith and produce a classic album again. This isn’t it.

2k

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1.Welcome To The Machine
2.Heaven On Their Minds
3.Almost Cut My Hair
4.For What It’s Worth
5.For The Love Of Money
6.Innuendo
7.Neon Knights
8.Synchronicity II
9.Red Rain
10.Odissea
11.Bullet The Blue Sky

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About Ville Krannila