I think everyone listens to their favorite music differently. Some of us are focused primarily on the structure of the instrumental track, while others are all about the message in the lyrics. I tend to lean toward the instrumental side of things and go for an overall sound, but having strong lyrics can make the good songs great. With this latest offering from harmonic hard rockers Queensryche, we get a concept album built entirely around the words of a few good men - men known as American soldiers. Singer Geoff Tate interviewed a lineup of American military men, many of which can be heard throughout the CD, and put their riveting stories to song. BUT, being that Queensryche's last couple of releases were pretty weak, I was a bit afraid of what this concept might bring.
"American Soldier" accomplishes what it sets out to do. It weaves tales of anguish and woe that relate to war and the human emotions that are attached. Songs like "Dead Man's Words," "Unafraid," and so many others, are highly effective songs that forge rhythm and lyrical content quite nicely.
The disc starts with the barking of what sounds like a senior military officer. "On your feet" is the line that gets things rolling, and the band shouts of "welcome to the show" are what act as the main hook of the song. As the album moves into "Unafraid" we start to hear actual audio from Tate's interviews. As they play, telling horrific stories of a beastly war experience, they act as verses to the song. Just the recordings and a short refrain make up this simple song. It's a little too simple maybe, but it is still effective. These soldier interjections do add certain realism to the songs. They help connect the listener to the music, and give the lyrics integrity and a sense of conviction. Not everything is a success here, but it would also be hard to call anything a failure. The strongest songs for me were the ones that had Tate turning phrases like he did in the old days - an aspect of the band, and of Tate's style, that seems to have been absent from the last couple releases. His voice is still amazing - powerful, clear, and emotional - with many of the phrases being given a spirit and a soul. Look for this nod to the classic sound in songs like "At 30,000 Feet," "The Killer," "If I Were King," and "Man Down!" Some of the more inferior songs on the record ("Remember Me," "The Voice") don't have the same kind of passion, but they seem to hold up being surrounded by the powerful theme of the record.
There are a couple of very welcome surprises on this record as well. Tate picks up the sax again for this record, as he did for Promised Land, and dishes out a beautiful accompaniment to guitarist Michael Wilton's guitar sound. They end up playing off of each other, and the effect is strong. And, for the first time on any Queensryche record, there is more than one Tate that makes an appearance. Geoff's 10-year old daughter Emily sings on one of the best songs on the record, "Home Again." Her voice is not spectacular. Her voice isn't booming and impressive. Instead, she offers up a raw, organic, earthy essence. The song is about a soldier writing to his daughter from the frontlines and telling her he can't wait to come home again, and the daughter writing back with a response that says I can't wait to have you home again. The innocence, and the simple and natural texture of Emily Tate's voice, makes this one extremely effective and heartwarming. And for the last surprise, Geoff and Emily are not the only Tate's that appear! Geoff Tate's father, Perry Tate, can be heard telling a bit of his war story at the beginning of "The Voice."
A big tip of the cap to Geoff Tate and Queensryche for coming up with this concept. I think these stories are ones that not only need to be heard, but I think they need to be told. The music of Queensryche has been a spectacular vehicle for many things over the years, and now it carries the voice of the American soldier to a world that is desperate for receptive ears.