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The Boston Phoenix Has-Beens

Queensryche and Sebastian Bach

By Lorne Behrman

DECEMBER 7, 1999:  "My face in the mirror looks like hell/I think I need to see a doctor/I watch the slow hand move line by line/I can't even think of a word that rhymes . . . ," swaggering Queensrÿche vocalist Geoff Tate croons with urgency on "Falling Down," the first track on the new Q2K. Now, you gotta wonder, is he looking specifically for a rhyme for "line"? Or is he alluding to a more general inability to rhyme? Because, you know, "boring" rhymes with "snoring," "cutout bin" with "has-been," and "balding" with . . . okay, okay: Q2K isn't that bad. But it is bad, though not as good bad as Bring 'Em Bach Alive!, the latest party favor from former Skid Row singer Sebastian Bach, which features Bach and "Friends" victimizing the Skid Row oeuvre on stage in Tokyo and tacks on five new studio tracks for a shits-and-giggles bonus.

I'm not up on the classics or nothin', but I think it was someone in the Bible who said, "Love thy neighbor." Now the 'Rÿche, who headline the Orpheum this Friday, are from Washington state, and Q2K is basically a grunge record. So you'd think that Eddie Vedder, who's rumored to be a nice guy, would have thrown a little tough love Queensrÿche's way, you know, like a note or something: "Thumbs down on the grunge thing, dudes, it just ain't selling. Love, Eddie." Well, maybe Pearl Jam aren't big on the Bible. Whatever the case, as part of their rapid descent into the where-are-they-now file, the 'Rÿche have taken the low-slung riffage and robust baritone touchstones of grunge and exposed them to lethal doses of wanky musical chops and studio wizardry, overloading the mix with heavily processed guitars and multi-tracked lead vocals until the whole damn thing is so slick that there's just no way for today's moshers, headbangers, and goatee tuggers to grab hold of anything. "Falling Down," for example, cops Alice in Chains' "Man in the Box" riff but just can't manage to work up to a churning groove, and the grind of "Breakdown" is far too atmospheric to induce the necessary whiplash. As for "How Could I?", well, that is the question that any self-respecting disaffected teen would ask upon hearing such a tune, as in "How could I possibly stroke the patch of peach fuzz under my chin in wistful or pensive repose when Queensrÿche can't even get their mushy guitars around a wistful and pensive minor-key melody?"

My best guess is that the 'Rÿche would like to imagine themselves as a cross between U2 playing "Where the Streets Have No Name" and a grunge band, and the two impulses keep canceling each other out. During the first 37 seconds of "One Life," a delicate film of guitar feedback and airy synths flickers above a thick, springy bass line and rimshot drumming. You're waiting for Bono to croon "I wanna run . . . ," so imagine your disappointment when it just turns out to be Tate yelping some bullshit about life and love. But if that's what it takes for Tate to get laid in '99, then so be it.

Speaking of getting laid, I wonder whether Bring 'Em Bach Alive! is getting our old pal Sebastian any sympathy nookie? You know, something for old times' sake? After all, this nostalgic romp is heavy on the Skid Row, and anybody reduced to gigging Japan to revive his career deserves a little comforting because, as Johnny Rotten once explained, "Japan is a dishpan." (Now there's a guy who knows how to rhyme.) The new material here -- a pair of sterile grunge clunkers, something that resembles Foghat's "Slow Ride" welded to the Manic's "Slash and Burn," and two other tunes that resemble songs you've heard done better elsewhere -- is for masochists only. I recommend that you follow my lead and program tracks 8, 15, and 16 to repeat over and over in sequence. That would be "18 & Life," "I Remember You," and "Youth Gone Wild," all three of Skid Row's greatest hits.

Actually, Bring 'Em Bach Alive! is far better than a greatest-hits comp because you get to hear the Tokyo crowd chant, "Youth gone wild! Youth gone wild!" With punctuation provided by the thunderous thump of the kick drum, Bach rasps, "Alright Tokyo, this is for all of you . . . I said Tokyo, this is for all of you!" Two more thunderclaps and then -- "whhhhhhhhhhaaaaaaahhhhh . . . " -- the tune screeches forward. It's quite an exciting moment, though you may find it hard to keep a straight face when Back gets to the tune's signature line, "My nasty reputation took me everywhere," because he substitutes "to Tokyo, Japan" for "everywhere." And, you know, apart from my little brother's bar mitzvah, "Tokyo, Japan" is the only place Bach's nasty reputation is going to take him these days.


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