Geoff Tate cannot be stopped. Getting fired from Queensryche barely slowed him down, and a lengthy court battle over the band name just made him mad. Hell, we even begged him to show us mercy, but he denied us. Instead, Tate has delivered The Key, the debut outing by his creatively-named new project Operation: Mindcrime. O:M‘s lineup includes many of the players that served in Tate’s scab version of Queensryche for the past two years, alongside new faces like bassist John Moyer (Disturbed) and drummer Brian Tichy (Whitesnake).
Sadly, The Key is not a concept album about traveling back in time to kill the baby Jesus, but rather the first part of a 3-album trilogy about….something. Seriously, I think the plot involves a guy who has invented some piece of technology that has the power to change the world somehow, and hijinks ensue. In the album’s first 10 minutes, Tate sings “the future!” about 700 times, so you know he’s serious. Several of the songs begin with cutaway scenes of Tate talking to a computer, War Games/Knight Rider style, suggesting that his vision of the “future” is set firmly in the past.
Speaking of which, the album’s best track by a goddamn mile is “Reinventing The Future,” mostly due to the fact that it borrows its main riff from Queensryche‘s “The Mission.” Guitarist Kelly Gray delivers a flashy solo on this one, backed by a pumping drum track and a surprisingly decent performance by Tate. I hope Chris DeGarmo is getting royalties for this, wherever he is. Elsewhere, tracks like “Burn” and “Hearing Voices” are inconsequential grunge-lite, not far removed from Tate’s last solo album Kings & Thieves.
“Ready To Fly” is more of the adult-contemporary rock that ruined Queensryche‘s rep, but ups the ante by unleashing the full fury of keyboardist Randy Gane, who delivers a harsh synth solo reminiscent of 1980’s-era Rainbow. This is followed by an instrumental piece by Gane, “Discussions in a Smoke Filled Room,” which sounds like the music that Sega Genesis games played when you lost. Oddly, lead vocals on “Life or Death” are handled by an unnamed 1990s Angsty Grunge Dude®, while Tate merely drops in for some harmonies on the chorus. It takes balls of steel to make what is essentially a solo album and then farm the singing out to someone else, but that’s just how Mr. Tate rolls. Oh, and in case you were wondering: yes, there are saxophone solos. “Solos,” plural, as in “more than one.”
Which brings us to track seven, “The Stranger.” Sweet Jesus. As his band awkwardly attempts to incorporate both dubstep and djent elements, Tate adds pseudo-rap vocals and random moaning to achieve maximum creepiness. It’s a desperate and failed attempt to approximate what “the kids these days” are into, the sonic equivalent of a middle-aged man lurking in an elementary school playground. And don’t even get me started on all the unintentional homoeroticism.
Even when he’s not hilariously awful, it’s clear that Tate struggles with writing anything resembling a hook. His verses lack melody and flow, and the choruses are either forgettable or non-existent. His monotone vocal range and “dramatic” off-tempo delivery mangles any possibility of this stuff sticking to the brain. One of the strengths of the original Operation: Mindcrime was that the songs functioned independently of the storyline, but the same can’t be said of The Key. Tate forces himself to cram every plot point and “highbrow” concept into his vocal delivery, sounding somewhat like William Shatner in the process. At its best, The Key is more of the same pseudo-intellectual office rock that Tate has been churning out for years now. At worst, it’s pure audio diarrhea, served up piping hot by people who give precisely zero fucks about making good music. I don’t know who is still buying this stuff, but whoever they are, they should be slapped. I can only imagine what The Key, parts II and III will sound like. To be continued…