Released: 2009, Rhino Records
Reviewer: Aaron Yurkiewicz
Man, you’ve really got to hand it to Queensrÿche. Is there any other band in the English speaking world that can ruin a good thing better than they can? I mean seriously, was everything pre-EMPIRE just luck or has the band made a conscious effort to bewilder fans with inconsistent releases? Following up 2006’s “meh” OPERATION: MINDCRIME II, the ‘rÿche offer up AMERICAN SOLDIER, a concept album intended to tell the story of the American soldier (duh!). While the premise is unquestionably worthy of the concept album treatment, the delivery is regrettably lacking. What should have been a rallying cry of support around the men and women of America’s Armed Forces is rather a collection of lackluster and uninteresting power ballads.
The 12 tracks featured on the disc follow the collective personal journeys experienced as a soldier. From boot camp, to the battlefront, to coping with the loss of a comrade, to the dull ache of home sickness, conceptually the album does a tremendous job of personalizing these unique issues in a way that really can hit home. Interspersed with vocalist Geoff Tate’s unmistakable voice are recordings of actual soldiers narrating throughout the album, sharing their own experiences in relation to the theme of each individual song. This further intensifies the intent behind the album, as it truly illustrates the challenges and traumas endured in the name of freedom. From a purely conceptual standpoint, the disc earns an A+, 5 stars, and two thumbs up. But the brilliance of the concept unfortunately isn’t enough to save the music on AMERICAN SOLDIER.
“Sliver” opens the affair promisingly enough, with the pomp and melody that we’ve come to know and love from Queensrÿche. Kind of a subdued, mid-paced rocker, it’s a fair tune but it doesn’t do much to get the blood pumping. And that’s the problem with AMERICAN SOLDIER; all of the songs are subdued, mid-paced rockers that never pick up any steam. “Unafraid” shows a little sign of life with a compelling chorus that will get you singing along, but then things really flat line. Power ballad, power ballad, jazzy interlude, sappy ballad, power ballad, wash, rinse, repeat. Even as contrived as OPERATION: MINDCRIME II may have been, it proved that Queensrÿche could still kick some ass when they wanted to. But it’s like they didn’t even want to try on AMERICAN SOLDIER. Did they feel the material was too serious or sensitive to rock out to? Did they feel that the only way to address such somber topics was through melodramatic arrangements? Seriously fellas, what gives? This is the same band that dramatized the murder of a former prostitute nun at the hand of a junkie under psychological control. This is the same band that had a hit single about the war on drugs. Or are they just taking themselves too seriously again? TRIBE, PROMISED LAND, Q2K, does any of this ring a bell guys? Even those snoozers had more enthusiasm than this apathetic mess.
Queensrÿche had a tremendous opportunity with AMERICAN SOLDIER to bring some much needed attention to the issues faced by our soldiers. We sometimes forget that these men and women are simply regular human beings with the same joys and fears as the rest of us, except they’re willing to put their life on the line to defend their (our) country. The hardcore Queensrÿche fans will likely dismiss any negative reviews about this disc because the rest of us just don’t “get” how great it really is. AMERICAN SOLDIER will receive some short lived publicity because of the subject matter and then quickly drift into the shadows as word spreads about the actual music itself. I’ll go out on a limb and say that AMERICAN SOLDIER is at least worth a listen from start to finish, if for no other but to properly acknowledge the soldiers whose experiences shaped the framework for the album. But beyond that you’ll be hard pressed to come back for another listen.