You know how you have those desert island albums – the ones that you would take with you if you couldn’t listen to anything else? Well, that’s Operation: Mindcrime by Queensryche. In fact, I’d go further than that, it is my favorite album by any band, anywhere, anytime. Nothing is better. Not anything by Black Sabbath, not anything by Judas Priest, not anything by Pink Floyd or Led Zeppelin, not anything. Mindcrime is #1. Period. End of story.
Dr Blair, Dr Blair, Dr Jay Hamilton, Dr Jay Hamilton…
Today is the 30th anniversary of the original release of this album. It came out May 3, 1988.
This is the greatest concept album I’ve ever heard – topping such masterpieces by Pink Floyd as well. It’s the story of a heroin addict, and a political radical who is frustrated with the society around him due to economic inequality, corruption, and the hypocrisy of the United States around him. SOUND FAMILIAR?
The story goes on to talk about the organization he gloms onto lead by one “Dr. X”, who manipulates our “hero” through a combination of drug addiction and brainwashing to become an assassin for the organization.
The plot is heavy on politics, sex, and control of people. Again, sound familiar? This was written and recorded in 1988, but has transcended into the realm of timeless. So many things are easily picked up as being “of their era”, but this does not sound like most of the metal that came out in the late 80’s. The story is not locked to events of that era, and as such feels a lot like what’s going on with society today.
That’s just a mark of an all time brilliant album. One that speaks to events of the time, speaks to events of current, and doesn’t seem stuck in either. I suspect the brilliance of this album will carry on for a long time into the future.
30 Years Ago
Back in 1988, I had just gotten into Queensryche. I discovered them on their album before this, “Rage for Order”. It was excellent, so I was looking forward to seeing the next album come out. Back then we didn’t have all these sources for info on what was coming, you hoped to catch a glimpse of what was coming in Creem, Hit Parader, & Kerrang type magazines. In them you started to see the buzz building for Mindcrime. Made me think it was going to be something special.
When I got the CD originally, it had the sticker on the outside that most still do today, but this one really crowed the “concept” part of this to me. It has a couple of quotes from Circus & Hit Parader. Unlike most people, I don’t throw those out with the shrink wrap. For the most part, I keep them. Over time most have fallen apart, but I still have this 30 years later. Here’s a picture of it I took a couple years ago (it’s packed up now, so not taking a totally new pic). I transplanted it from my 1988 original CD purchase to a remaster released in the early 2000’s.
You can click this for a VERY large version of the picture.
I got it home, and HOLY CRAP – I said on the first listen to I don’t remember who, “That’s it. Queensryche has written the best thing they ever will”. 30 years and 12 studio albums later, this turned out to be true. Now that’s not to say nothing was great after that. That is certainly not true at all, there’s great tracks all over their discography. However, nothing else in the Queensryche catalog has the total mastery of all aspects of what constitutes a record album than what Operation: Mindcrime has.
That just talks about the concept of the thing. The music itself is brilliant. Granted, it’s metal, so if you hate metal, you’ll hate this, but… in trying to figure out how to write about the music part of this, I find myself in quandary over that. That’s partially because it’s the pinnacle of metal for me. I can’t pretend to do music this spectacular any justice with my words about it, so I’m not going down that path. Just understand that I run a website for Black Sabbath and have since 1995. I’m well known as a major Black Sabbath fan – and I am. This album is better than all that. It’s just THAT perfect to me.
So with the album out, the attention turned to the tour. Now one major problem existed – this was a such a big album, such a large concept, that how do you do all that when the band hasn’t yet graduated to headlining status.
In 1998, Queensryche was still an opening act band, although not for long. I saw them back on September 25, 1988 in Philadelphia when the opened for Def Leppard, who was all kinds of massive at the time.
They played Queen of the Ryche, and then started on the Operation: Mindcrime album. If memory serves, they played the album up through Speak, and stopped before Suite Sister Mary. I recall them playing Eyes of a Stranger last, and whether they hit anything else, I can’t recall now. I do have a memory from the concert of thinking “DAMMIT!” right after “Speak” as I wanted to hear Suite Sister Mary. Was a few years before I saw that.
But I have fond memories of my first Queensryche gig back in 1988. Turns out, it wasn’t the last.
The end of the actual Operation: Mindcrime tour brought and end to the time of Queensryche’s life as an opening act. For their following album (“Empire”), they graduated to full time headliners, and as such had the facility to do justice to Operation: Mindcrime. In other words, play all of it live. That’s what they did. The tour for Empire was about 3/4 the Operation: Mindcrime album. They played a handful of songs, then played the entire Mindcrime album, and then closed with one other non Mindcrime song as an encore.
Saw them in Philadelphia on that tour (Jul 23, 1991) – I loved it. It was amazing, and Suite Sister Mary live was something to behold. It was also the only time I saw Mindcrime songs performed with the actual band that was on the album. The next time I saw Queensryche live after this was long after original guitarist Chris DeGarmo retired. So this show more than any of the others holds a place in my heart.
Back then bands hadn’t yet degenerated into the concept of “Album, Tour, Live Album” yet. Oh, it happened, but it wasn’t as pervasive. Queensryche did release a live album after this tour called “Operation: LIVEcrime”. It was a CD and VHS (we weren’t in the DVD era yet) of the concert recorded on the 1991 “Building Empires” tour. I still have it somewhere. I have to admit I still prefer the studio version of the album over the live one, but it’s still quite good in and of itself.
That wasn’t the end of Mindcrime live. Some years down the road, the band announced there was going to be an “Operation: Mindcrime II” come out, and they had been working on it. During the recording sessions for that, Queensryche went out on the road, and did the whole of Mindcrime again. But this time they brought actors for the various characters in the album’s story. That was quite different. It wasn’t bad at all, but it was nice to see a few of the tracks and musical pieces expanded on a little. We also got to find out what actually happened to Mary in the story. There was also a small tease for Mindcrime II at the end – they played a Mindcrime II track via tape at the end of the show.
Speaking of Mindcrime II, I should probably say something about that. A lot of people called Mindcrime II “the sequel that nobody wanted” – except probably Geoff Tate. It was “OK”. A lot of people will flat out say it sucks – which certainly is NOT true. It’s not anywhere in the same league as the original Mindcrime, but I can still enjoy it, just not as strongly as the first one. One thing about that, they got Ronnie James Dio to do Dr X on this album which was cute stunt casting, but he did just one song. Given how intertwined Dr. X is to the overall Mindcrime story, it wasn’t enough. If you’re gonna do that, either put him in more, or get the guy from the first album. I actually passed on seeing that tour. Probably should have gone, but I didn’t.
On the tour for Mindcrime II, they did the whole of Operation: Mindcrime & Operation: Mindcrime II back to back. This tour produced the live album “Mindcrime at the Moore”. I really loved what they did visually with the song “Anarchy-X”, bringing out the Seattle Seahawks maching band (“Blue Thunder”) to perform the song with them. Can’t tell you how many times I air drummed to that song with Scott, and this version of it brought those old feelings back in waves when I saw it for the first time.
Here’s a video from probably the best song from Operation: Mindcrime II, called “I’m American”. Love the lyrics from it, too. Felt it “fit” the original Mindcrime more than most on the sequel.
If you voted for the man you’re wasting time.
He’s got his fingers dipped in everyone’s pie.
The news can’t wait to promote
All the bullshit this government is selling.
Because I’m free,
I deserve everything I can get.
And I’ll get everything I can get.
A few years after this (and two more studio albums), the original Queensryche (well, Chris DeGarmo notwithstanding) broke up. It was fairly nasty as band breakups go, and there was actually two versions of Queensryche running around for a little while there around 2012.
I’ve seen the new Queensryche a few times, and I really love where they’re going with Todd LaTorre. Their third album with Todd comes out later this year, looking forward to that. Around the time of the first album with Todd, this video popped up. It’s Queensryche doing Suite Sister Mary with Todd LaTorre & Pamela Moore. It’s quite a great version of the song, and kudos to the guy who put this together, and it’s a multi-cam fan bootleg. Most excellent. Todd LaTorre sings now like Geoff Tate used to back in the 80’s. This is good. This is VERY good.
As part of the breakup of Queensryche, Geoff Tate got the rights to the Operation Mindcrime name, and per contract, only he is allowed to perform the album in full anymore, but proper Queensryche still does Mindcrime songs on tour.
Tate himself is going out on the road this summer for a “30th Anniversary of Operation: Mindcrime” tour. His solo band is also called “Operation: Mindcrime”. I’ll be seeing that show in Dallas this summer.
There is a LOT to like on Mindcrime, but I wanted to single out a few groups of lyrics, which speak to the political and somewhat sexual nature (in places) of the lyrics of this album.
The system we learn says we’re equal under law
But the streets are reality, the weak and poor will fall
Let’s tip the power balance and tear down their crown
Educate the masses, we’ll burn the White House down
Religion and sex are power plays
Manipulating people for the money they pay
Selling skin, selling God
The numbers look the same on the credit card
Fighting fire with empty words
While the banks get fat
And the poor stay poor
And the rich get rich
And the cops get paid
To look away
As the one percent rules America
I feel the flow, the blessed stain
Sweating hands like fire, and flames
Burn my thighs, spread in sacrificial right
The hallowed altar burns my flesh once more tonight
As I said above, I cannot praise the Operation: Mindcrime album any higher. It is a supremely excellent album, and has not lost one iota of power in 2018 that it had in 1988 when I first listened to it.
If you for some reason have NEVER heard this album, I urge you to go get it. BUY IT BLIND EVEN – it’s that good. Don’t need to listen to it to samples, and don’t stream it. BUY IT. You can do that by clicking on the cover art to the right here. You won’t regret it.
I work from home, so I slowly worked on this piece in-between work stuff all day long. Given it took all day, I was able to go through this album a few times, plus hit the Mindcrime at the Moore release as well. So this was all written with the tunes going in the background.
Now that I’ve finished this piece, it’s time to listen to Mindcrime a third time today. ;)