By Carl Begai
If you cut your teeth on ’80s Queensrÿche, be honest: you’ve been prepared to shitcan vocalist Geoff Tate’s new solo outing since word came down he was putting one together. Guilty as charged in this corner, especially considering the last 20 years of Tate-led ‘Rÿche sludge has barely made a dent in my grey matter. Hell knows many fans have given the band’s music post-Empire years more than a fair shake, but the hookless meandering metal of the last two decades castrated the band’s credibility beyond a nostalgia act in this office long ago. With all that in mind, it came as a surprise to discover Kings & Thieves is actually a decent listen in spite of some mid-album filler.
Unlike Tate’s 2002 solo debut – one man’s “experimental” is another man’s “directionless” – Kings & Thieves is a rock album. His vocals are gold, as expected, though he never hits that high-end metal register he’s known for (which would stick out like a nail in the eye here), and the wealth of hooks and memorable melodies is a welcome surprise. In fact, the album is very reminiscent of the softer shades on Empire like ‘Another Rainy Night’, ‘Hand On Heart’, ‘One And Only’ and ‘Jet City Woman’, making the whole experience oddly satisfying. The guitar work is simple yet strong (great meaty solos to be had), and the use of Hammond organ on some songs is a nice touch. I can do without the Led Zeppelin chug of ‘Evil’, the über-dood silliness of ‘The Way I Roll’ (although the piano / sax exchange is cool), and the plodding ’Tomorrow’, but this trio of ho-hum is book-ended by the aforementioned Empire-isms. Lead-off track ‘She Slipped Away’ is the lone mover on the record, one of the standout tracks alongside ‘Take A Bullet’, ‘In The Dirt’ and ‘Dark Money’. An extra point goes to Tate for not turning ‘Change’ in as the Part 2 of the lonely housewife ballad ‘Silent Lucidity’ even though he could have phoned it in to the bank.
Not too keen on the majority of the tracks sharing the same tempo, and hearing Tate going S&M on ‘Say U Luv It’ is straight-up icky (his aftermath to Dalbello’s ‘Gonna Get Close To You’, perhaps?), but the surprising truth is that Kings & Thieves may be some of his best work since Empire. He clearly enjoys this direction and working with the musicians in question, making it a step down the right path now that the Queensrÿche name has been mired by He Said – They Said bullshit.