Operation: Mindcrime - The Key

Operation: Mindcrime The Key cover
Operation: Mindcrime
The Key
Frontiers Music Srl
I really remember the first Geoff Tate solo album quite some time ago that I really found to be preposterously bad... I was scratching my head trying to think why this guy, that popularized along with a few more notable singers a “style” of lyrical rock singing that became prevalent in the 80s, was wasting his talents away on such banal songwriting… the album obviously tanked and Tate kept on going with Queensryche releasing unpopular and underwhelming albums with a couple of good tunes at best, with the only sort of “rebound” being the second volume of “Mindcrime” that was way more solid and included some of the better singing that Tate had done in years. Obviously at some point discontent and dissatisfaction within the ranks of that band reached a critical level and I guess whoever’s been paying attention knows what happened next… two ‘Ryches, one with then Crimson Glory singer Todd LaTorre and one with Tate and whoever was available from the LA scene on a given week, lawsuits and finally an out of court settlement with Tate giving away his rights to the name given a period where he could call himself the “Voice of Queensryche” and then severance and him assuming the full rights to perform Queensryche’s most recognizable suite, “The Mindcrimes” as a theatrical presentation in their entirety and some cash for his stock in the company... kind of nasty way of severance after 30 odd years but that was what went down.
It's no secret that Tate has been straining his voice… I think he’s naturally a baritone that just has more range and that with age and abuse (drinking and smoking) he’s managed to really spend the past fifteen years seriously underperforming and in some cases even butchering songs before he resorted to slower acoustic renditions and retiring some tunes… from his repertoire. (A case where he really shone was the tour around the second “Mindcrime”, where he really had conditioned himself and really sounded pretty good but that’s almost a full decade ago…
Tate these days, after the very uneven “Queensryche” album that was later republished as another solo, after the “settlement” got himself busy with writing and recording a trilogy of albums with a main concept running through all of them and is dropping the first one, entitled “The Key” under the new “Operation: Mindcrime” moniker.
Kelly Gray, an average guitarist/producer remains Tate’s wingman and Randy Gane all the way back from the Myth days. The line-up is augmented by people like Dave Ellefson (Megadeth) and John Moyer (Disturbed) on bass, Simon Wright (AC/DC) and Scott Mercado (Candlebox) on the drums as well as Brian Tichy (Billy Idol, Ozzy). There’s even a guy from The Voodoos, their singer Mark Daly, one of the latest bands that Ryche toured with prior to Tate’s exit and possibly a band under his wife’s own management.
But in the case of “The Vest” we could either expect glory or catastrophe... there’s been several decent songs in the last few years, “Dark Money”, “Cold”, “Weight of the World”, “In the Hands of God” etc… and some decent performances and there has been the “You Suck” statements, the not so good songs (which were the majority in the latter period of the Tate led Ryche with “Dedicated to Chaos” probably taking the cake in being “Crappy”, the “Cabbaret”, which might have started as a genuinely nice idea, a “Cirque du Soleil” type of performance, along with the show, but ended up being more like “Cheap Cabbaret” and many many more…
It's not entirely surprising that Tate actually does manage to score a more than average album here, with “The Key”. Even without the whole range of his voice the guy is a performer and a singer, unlike many, so that trickles down in the performances and he knows his comfort zone and attempts to focus on how not to get away from them while at the same time trying to bridge the “current” sound of his band with what his core audience might be after and he manages well enough to do an album that’s reflecting on “Promised Land”, without ever getting close to it. The thing here is that the whole thing doesn’t sound too rushed, there seems to be a structure and possibly there might be some good continuity with the next volumes as this first installment sounds pretty sold. So forget the ups and down of “Frequency Unknown”, here expect a whole lotta more homogeny and order ...
“Reinventing the Future” and “Burn” were the first two songs to be leaked and to have low budget videos to accompany them and without being mega classics, they were pretty sweet especially the former. The latter suffers a bit from the slightly simply chorus line but ain’t bad.
“Ready to Fly” is also pretty good and has a nice solo and on “Life or Death”, where there’s hardly any Tate singing – with the Voodoos guy assuming the bulk of them, there’s a pretty darn good chorus.
“The Stranger” is probably somewhat of a misstep but more positive point are scored with “On Queue” a slow and emotionally charged number with a nice build that also comes complete with (drumroll) a sax solo! Yeay!
“An Ambush of Sadness” works nicely as a sort of interlude and the closing comes with another two really good numbers the also nice “Kicking in the Door”, which much like “On Queue” allows Tate to deliver a validating performance as well as the pretty dynamic “The Fall” that concludes the album nicely and whets the appetite for the second part of the trilogy, which given that all three albums have been recorded and delivered to the record company should not take too long…
The production is pretty similar to what Kelly Gray has done in recent years, far from ideal but it’s not abysmal. The whole thing would have benefited from someone with a better sound but I suppose, sound quality is not the biggest priority of Tate in his solo work or maybe he likes the grunge… I dunno. The thing is that Tate hasn’t sounded this focused and inspired in years and it’s a welcome, semi-come-back to a style that made him recognizable in the first place. It’s nowhere near as good as Queensryche at their prime, as it mostly alludes towards the “Promised Land” era but it doesn’t suck as many might have predicted. I could have done without the slightly homoerotic and campy cover, with Tate’s “fleur’du’tri-ryche” new insignia presenting itself with the bottom half missing in the form of a key-hasp/usb flashdrive… but hey what can I say.
It’s uneasy to try and compare it with his former band’s effort that also comes out around the same time and it’s probably even unwise and pointless, as the styles are not that similar but people will do it anyways. Well “The Key” sounds more inspired and interesting with more engaging melodies, even if Tate doesn’t sing as he used to anymore. Artistry is hard to conceal and even if the guy had his ups and downs recently, he does seem to be getting back on his feet again...