Review: Queensryche “American Soldier”

Today, I’ll walk across the minefield that is Queensÿche’s “American Soldier.”

It would have been very easy to not review this disc. You, my two loyal readers, weren’t out there thinking, “hey, when is that stupid blog gonna review the new Queensrÿche, anyway?” No one would have suffered or lost anything if I’d just let this disc slip away unnoticed.

But, alas, I can’t. I’ve been a Queensrÿche fan for longer than likely most readers of this site have been alive (I have a copy of “The Warning” on tape that is older than the bulk of you, I suspect) … but fandom does not mean the listener must nod and smile like a bobble-headed automaton at anything the band does.

With all that build-up and self-absolution, you might think I’m about to belch out a big “it sucks” to “American Soldier.” Well, no, not exactly. Instead, my opinion is decidedly mixed: While I admire the scope of concept and find the album not unpleasant, American Soldier” falls short in the crucial area of musical execution – which is another way of saying “American Soldier” might be a decent light rock album, it’s certainly not metal – the foundation upon which Queensrÿche built its empire.

queensrycheamericansoldier5001Let’s spend a moment on the concept. Queensÿche has a solid track record with concept albums, and vocalist Geoff Tate felt the flame of inspiration when preparing to write “American Soldier.” Energized by the stories of his father, who served in both the Korean conflict and the war in Vietnam, Tate spent what must have been countless hours interviewing U.S. combat veterans from World War II to the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. The lyrics are often direct quotes from veterans and the stories are harrowing, sad and frightening at times. The band also uses sound bites from veterans – to particularly good effect in “Unafraid” and “If I Were King.”

Tate handles the concept tastefully and the exercise never feels exploitative or as if the band is capitalizing on the veterans’ personal stories. All that is well and good, I agree: But the lyrical concept alone doesn’t make the album. In the end, an album has to be judged by the music.

On that score, “American Soldier” falters. The album is not terrible, but it’s musically forgettable.

The band takes only a few chances with “American Soldier.” “Sliver,” with its barked drill sergeant chorus, comes close to being rap and “Unafraid” throws out traditional verses altogether for samples from interviews Tate conducted with two soldiers from different conflicts. The sampling makes “Unafraid” the most interesting track of the album, but it doesn’t compel repeat listens.

The rest of the album is difficult to describe – not because the songs are so adventurous that they’re unable to classify, but because they’re so similar they tend to run together.

“Hundred Mild Stare” is a decent but placid power ballad, with few fireworks. “A Dead Man’s Words” and “Middle Of Hell” feel almost like the same song, although the saxophone solo and Tate’s vocal work are impressive on the former track. “The Killer” has a decent chorus … but when the saxophone turns up near the end of the track,” it feels like a repeat … and when it pops up again (for the third track in a row) on “Middle Of Hell,” it just feels overused.

“If I Were King” and “Man Down!” are decent songs, particularly “If I Were King” … but then the band makes the curious choice of stacking two ballads (“Remember Me” and “Home Again”) on top of one another. “Remember Me” is the best of the two, although somewhat reminiscent of “Silent Lucidity” in the verses. “Home Again” is a duet with Tate and his 10 year-old daughter, Emily, singing from letters sent between a father deployed overseas and his child at home. The vocal similarities are uncanny – Emily Tate even has some of Geoff’s odd pronouciations – but the song is rough. I know: I understand the band is reaching for an emotional impact by having father and daughter sing a duet. It’s a daring choice, to be sure, but the song’s too long – especially following on the heels of “Remember Me”- and drags the album down.

The album closes with “The Voice,” which comes closest to the epic tone the band seems to be reaching for throughout “American Soldier.” It’s a solid enough ending – the big choruses make the track the best on “American Soldier,” but it’s not striking enough to warrant being added to my mp3 player.

In retrospect, I wonder if the band was musically intimidated by “American Soldier.” The album feels safe musically, much too safe: With the exception of “Unafraid,” no real risks are taken here and the album seems to be reaching for a non-metal fan base. Toning down the metal and keeping to the straight and narrow might help “American Soldier” find a broad appeal, but I’m not sure it will win the band any new metal fans or help return the old fans to the fold.

1 Comment

  1. may the war in iraq ends and the us soldiers return back to their country i am very sorry for hearing every moment a death of someone
    i hope also that the iraqis find peace
    the tragedy of the us soldiers and iraqi people tears me
    i dislike that their pictures while they are dead may be shown in tv or internet it is really a shame for me
    shame for all muslims to do this or encourage

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