By JAY ROBERTS
The Cassette Chronicles is a continuing series of mini reviews and reflections on albums from the 1980’s and 1990’s. The aim of this series is to highlight both known and underappreciated albums from rock, pop and metal genres from this time period through the cassette editions of their releases. Some of the albums I have known about and loved for years, while others are new to me and were music I’ve always wanted to hear. There will be some review analysis and my own personal stories about my connection with various albums. These opinions are strictly my own and do not reflect the views of anyone else at Limelight Magazine.
QUEENSRYCHE – Operation: mindcrime (1988)
I love stories. I’ve always been interested in reading or hearing stories, especially when a long thoroughly conceived tale is to be had. TV’s Babylon 5 was described as a five year novel for television, there’s the entire Star Wars movie franchise and in my mild-mannered guise as a reviewer for the noted Mystery Scene magazine, I get the chance to read and review a number of stories. So you can imagine that the notion of a concept album where all the songs are geared towards telling one single story would be right up my alley.
There’s been many examples of great concept albums over the years, with metal being a primary source of this for my own personal enjoyment. Iron Maiden’s Seventh Son of a Seventh Son and W.A.S.P.’s The Crimson Idol being two album that immediately come to mind.
But for what started my love of conceptual rock and metal albums, it really begins and ends with Queensryche’s Operation: mindcrime. It’s been nearly 31 years now, and I still get goosebumps whenever I play the album. And I’m kind of obsessed with it as well.
Before I get to that, let’s go back a bit further in time. The fandom I have for Queensryche (even a bit tattered as it is given all the controversies surrounding the splitting of the band a few years back), can first be traced to before I was a metal fan. I had a much older uncle on my father’s side. He lived in Vermont and was married to a woman that had an adult son that was in the armed services. The son was home on a weekend that my family was visiting the state for a summer vacation. After everyone else had gone to bed, he put on an album that I’d never heard before. I was yet to experience the birth of my metal fandom so I didn’t think much of it at first. But once my metal nature came to the forefront, I thought back and it turned out he had been playing the Queensryche EP that night.
But let’s get back to Operation: mindcrime, shall we? Spoken word intros, set pieces, actors performing roles of the characters “Nikki”, “Dr. X” and “Sister Mary” in the stories combined with some incredible metal music, how could you not like this album?
I was about 17 or so when the album came out and I remember that I received the cassette (which I still have and was listening to for the purposes of this article) as a Christmas present from my parents. (A far cry from when my mother wouldn’t buy me metal albums for gifts, no?) Anyway, I remember everything about that first listen in the mid-morning of Christmas Day. The way my bed was situated in the room I shared with my younger brother at the time, the shelf on the bookcase where my stereo of the moment sat and reading along to the lyrics sheet as Queensryche rocked their way through a dark and somewhat apocalyptic tale of conspiracy, corruption, death and destruction and murder and mayhem. For me, it was the best present I could’ve received.
The album’s production, the songwriting and the performances from singer Geoff Tate, guitarists Chris DeGarmo and Michael Wilton, bassist Eddie Jackson and drummer Scott Rockenfield fueled the story and provided this lover of stories with a tale that I just can’t ever seem to get enough of.
I mentioned that I’m kind of obsessed with the album. Hell, for a long time I identified Queensryche as my favorite band. I would listen to Operation: mindcrime as often as possible. I own it on LP, cassette and I have both the original CD release and the 2003 reissued edition as well, plus the version that came with their Revolution Calling box set. Hell, as a member of their official fan club, I was even able to buy a cassette tape that they were selling that contained an update from “Dr. X” himself on the state of the campaign. I still have that too. I still have the bumper stickers that came when you joined the fan club, for goodness sake! I even had a separate jean jacket that was dedicated solely to Queensryche with an Operation: mindcrime backpatch as the focal point along with the band’s name done on the shoulder blades of the jacket by my mother.
When the band announced that they were going to perform the entire album on their tour for the Empire album, I knew that I HAD to be there! And I was…TWICE! It is still one of the greatest concerts I’ve ever seen. They were simply on fire at this point in their career. When they released the live album Operation: Livecrime I bought both the cassette and CD editions because I just HAD to have them both!
I’ve imagined a movie for the story (writing the screenplay would be the ideal for me) and as a Dungeons & Dragons player, my friend Fred and I even started coming up with a game setting where the Operation: mindcrime setting was a reality, we were in the middle of it and Geoff Tate was actually revealed to be an elf! Remember, I did cop to this particular obsession!
Most of my articles in The Cassette Chronicles contain some bit of review analysis about what I did and did not like about the album. But a song by song breakdown isn’t really necessary for this album. From “I Remember Now” to “Eyes of A Stranger”, I love it all! Every bit of music and lyrics serves the story and heightens my appreciation even to this day. I can’t walk away now…nor would I want to.
Of course, due to a bitter split between Geoff Tate and the rest of the band, the lineup that recorded the album no longer exists and it is a case of where I believe there will never be any possibility of a reunion. But that doesn’t sour the greatness Queensryche achieved in their heyday.
Simply put, this is my story and I am sticking with it: Operation: mindcrime is my all-time favorite album ever…period…end of discussion!
NOTES OF INTEREST: Geoff Tate has been performing the entire album on tour as part of the 30th anniversary of the release. He’ll be playing the The Vault Music Hall & Pub on June 23rd and 24th (just a few days after this article goes live) in New Bedford, MA. He’s announced plans to perform the Queensryche album Empire in its entirety during his tour for 2020.
Queensryche recorded a sequel album in 2006, Operation: mindcrime II. Ronnie James Dio performed the role of “Dr. X” on that album. The live release Mindcrime at the Moore is the only live recording of Dio performing the role on the song “The Chase”.