Now here's a weird one: Queensrÿche's covers album. Given their long run, and the rock & roll tradition the band's members have come from and indulged in as individual listeners, it shouldn't perhaps be a surprise that they'd be interested in everything from Pink Floyd to Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young, Queen, Black Sabbath, Gamble & Huff, the Police, U2, and Peter Gabriel (oh yeah, and the score of Jesus Christ Superstar). Appalled or intrigued yet? Both? Yeah. For fans of this mighty, conceptual prog metal unit, there is nothing to fear. The renaissance that Queensrÿche underwent when founding guitarist Chris DeGarmo left the band has been nothing short of astonishing. From Tribe to Operation: Mindcrime II to this, the results have been for the most part tremendously satisfying. The live records, which are really live, attest to that. While the opening version of Pink Floyd's "Welcome to the Machine" draws very natural comparisons to the paranoia and fear on the Mindcrime series, it does not prepare listeners for the reinvention of the Tim Rice-Andrew Lloyd Webber penned "Heaven on Their Minds," from J.C. Superstar, sung from the point of view of Judas Iscariot. Queensrÿche turn this baby into a first-rate metal tune, using its melody but changing its dynamic range and creating a tension that is both heavy and almost unbearably emotional at the same time (and vocalist Geoff Tate should be considered for the role when another touring production of the hard rock musical is assembled: he sings his ass off). The same goes for the C,S,N&Y covers "Almost Cut My Hair" and Stills' "For What It's Worth," as done by his preceding band with Young, the Buffalo Springfield.
These are paranoid, overtly political songs, as were their originals, and the edge of paranoia coming from the twin guitars of Michael Wilton and Mike Stone push the former from being simply a rocker into an overdriven, riff-propelled jam. The latter doesn't work quite as well, but it's pleasant enough, even though the new twists on the melody sound forced. "For the Love of Money" transforms itself quite naturally from a funky, in the pocket groover to a tough metal tune. Ed Bass is having a ball with that riff, which is the root of the whole tune. There's no stretch involved with the Q-rÿche playing Queen's "Innuendo," or Black Sabbath's "Neon Nights"; these guys grew up with these tunes and have probably envisioned themselves recording them forever. These are solid, killer moments in the middle of the disc. While "Synchronicity II" rocks harder than the Police could have ever dreamed, Peter Gabriel's "Red Rain" feels strained because Tate is using inflections in his vocal that are not natural. That said, the bass in this tune is monstrously great. The set ends with U2's "Bullet the Blue Sky," done live. Over ten minutes long with plenty of feedback and bass throb, it's the best thing here. Not because it's a U2 cut, but because of what Queensrÿche do with it. They shift the rhythms, melody, and dramatic parts all around, turning it into a song in their own image. U2 should never play it again because this one is the jam. The guitar and bass lock in this thing is amazing. Nine winners, one loser, and one so-so track make this a covers record that has plenty of fire, plenty of innovation progressive moments, and some genuine inspiration. All of this said, now it's time for Queensrÿche to get back in the studio proper and write some new material and do a proper album of their own.