Review: Queensryche: Empire: The One CD That I Can’t Live Without

Queensryche’s Empire is my favorite cd/album/cassette/record/whatever you call them today, of all-time. There is not one single flaw on this record. Every song is as good as and better than every other song. It offers a variety of sounds from melodic (Jet City Woman) to anthem (Best I Can) to power ballad (Silent Lucidity) to harsh realism (Della Brown) to anger (Empire). The album sucks you in and doesn’t let you go.

That is all right though, because you will not want to let go. This is a record for fans of Led Zeppelin or Pink Floyd. It has the driving animalistic pulse (on drums) reminiscent of John Bonham. It has a trippy, conceptual sound heard best on Dark Side of the Moon. Geoff Tate’s vocal range would make Mariah Carey envious. Chris DeGarmo’s guitar work is so excellently crafted that you’d swear that he is the reincarnation of Jimi Hendrix and Stevie Ray Vaughn, with some Jimmy Page thrown in for good measure.

This record is so well produced, so well written, so well performed that you wonder how something this great could ever be created. You’d think that this level of achievement was as unattainable as a perfect season in baseball or running a 2 minute mile. Once you hear it though, you will understand that once in a while, once in a lifetime perhaps, like true love, you can be astonished on the grandest of levels. I know I am.

The record kicks off with the power rock song Best I Can. This song is 10 helpings of straightforward rock. When Spinal Tap said “Ours go to 11”, they were talking about this song. It tells the beginning of the story of a man who is paralyzed and confined to a wheelchair. He will not let this handicap slow him down or debilitate him. He will strive “to be the best man, the best man that I (he) can”.

This is a song that should be played in gyms when people are working out. It is a song that would have fit in perfectly in a Rocky movie. It is like Eye Of the Tiger – Survivor, Enter Sandman – Metallica, or Thunderstruck – AC/DC in that it pumps you up. A perfect opening to a perfect album.

Up next is The Thin Line. This song combined vocals, keyboards, and bass in a way that must be heard to be believed. It changes tempo often and effectively. The way that the band performs on the line, “I… walk the thin line for…you” is something to marvel at. I can’t do justice to it, just listen to it.

The third song is Jet City Woman. It is very hard for me to pick the cream of the crop on this album or the shining star, but this song may be the one. From the opening bass riff to the following guitar lick, you will actually become one with this song very quickly. It is the story of a man who longs to return to his Jet City (Seattle) woman.

He is on the road too much and misses her. You can feel his pain and sorrow. When he mentions that the plane is delayed, you will get mad as well. One other thing, this song has my favorite guitar solo of the 1990’s. It is even better than Alive – Pearl Jam. Quite simply, this is one of the greatest songs in the history of music.

After three straight hard rockin’ songs, #4 – Della Brown is a slower song. It is not a ballad, the theme is way too dark, but it is much slower than the opening trio. Listening to the sadness that has become Della’s life is the story of the song. Della deals with the reality of what has happened to her. You need to hear it to appreciate it and appreciate what you have.

The next song, Another Rainy Night (Without You) is a pure adrenilyne, testosterone driven love song. The title tells the whole story. It is raining, and the guy can’t be with the girl he loves, at least for that night. It is simple, sweet, and effective because of the music, if not the words.

The sixth song, the title track Empire is the most angry, questioning, song of the bunch. It is about the rise of gangs, drugs, and violence in the inner cities. It also questions exactly how our tax dollars are being spent. The spoken section of the song, which tells about the “Fiscal Year 1986-87” spending will shock and haunt you.

When they break down the amount of money spent of National Defense as compared to Law Enforcement, it is depressing. This is a powerful song that makes you think of the anti-war songs of the Vietnam era as well as today, even though this is not an anti-war song. It is very moving to say the least. And the way it builds to a climactic guitar solo is beautiful.

The next song is Resistance. To me this song sounds like something that should have been released in the 1970’s. It has an arena rock quality to it that makes me think of STYX or BOSTON in their heyday. That is a good thing. Nothing more to say about it.

Song #8 is one of the most known and loved song of the 1990’s. It is Silent Lucidity. Everybody knows this song. Everybody loves this song. I challenge you to find somebody to honestly admit that they don’t like it. To me, it sounds like a child’s lullaby. In part, it is, only the child here is an adult. Every aspect of this song is arranged with attention to even the most minor detail. Not one note, not one chord, not one octave is delivered off key. It is as beautiful a song as has ever been written.

Track #9 is titled Hand On Heart. This is a song that is all about the drums. You’d swear that Phil Collins was pounding the skins. Any song that you can think of that is drum driven (think In The Air Tonight or Born In The USA) is a gem to hear. This is no exception.

The tenth song is One And Only. This is maybe the best all around performed song on the album. Everybody has a chance to shine here. Each instrument, including voice, is finely tuned and delivers in their own way. As an added bonus, the end to this song, approximately the last 45 seconds or so, may be the best 1-minute of music released in the 1990’s. The way that the guitar riff, bass line, and drums all play together is the stuff that haunts lesser musicians. Hell, it haunts expertly crafted and established musicians. I absolutely love it. It is the most perfectly segued transition into…

The last song, Anybody Listening? This is one of the hidden gems of the 90’s, a song so good yet so unknown. I have a theory that the last song of a great album is usually the best. That is the case on Prince’s Purple Rain, where the last song is Purple Rain. It is the case on U2’s Achtung Baby, where it is Love Is Blindness and on U2’s Rattle & Hum with All I Want Is You. I also think it is the case on Empire. Anybody Listening? is a song that calls up the spirit of Pink Floyd from 1973 or so. Tate’s voice here is best described as angelic. This song can put you into a trance if you listen closely and concentrate. It can also lull you to sleep if you desire.

As I said above, the transition from the previous song, One And Only, into this song is something often attempted but hardly ever achieved. The changes in tempos and sound from the hard rockin’ Only into the exact opposite on Listening? is a perfect union of yin and yang that keeps the cosmos in order. Yep, that’s right, that transition is responsible for life as we know it. The song ends with a minute+ long near silent outro that culminates with the beginning of the story to the first song – Best I Can; telling how the man became paralyzed. Thus it concludes a perfect circle on a perfect album.

For me, if I was stranded on a desert island, and I could only have 3 cds with me, I would take 3 copies of Queensryche’s Empire just in case I lose or damage two of them.

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