MUSIC IN THE AGE OF TRUMP, PT. 2: Queensryche’s “Operation: Mindcrime.”

Operation Mindcrime

Fake news. Collusion. Distortion of the truth. The 1 % running the government from behind the scenes. An effort to turn everyday citizens into sheep at the expense of an uprising against the status quo.

Think all of these came about because of the election Donald Trump? Think again.

In 1987, the big story was Iran-Contra, in which the American government secretly sold arms to Iran despite an embargo, a violation of several standing laws and treaties. Iran was certainly not a friend to the U.S., much like Russia now. A Supreme Court vacancy went a record amount of time without being filled (albeit for different and more ethical circumstances than Mitch McConnell’s rejection of Obama). Black Friday drove a stake of any economic confidence the country may have had.

Sound familiar.

Queensryche, the Seattle based metal outfit who had two moderately successful albums with The Warning and Rage for Order (both great records, by the way) were certainly abreast of these issues, and singer Geoff Tate and guitarist Chris DeGarmo became the primary architects behind Operation: Mindcrime, an ambitious concept album tackling government corruption, media manipulation, religious hypocrisy and numerous other topics via the story of Nikki, played on the record by Tate.

The album begins with the dialogue snippet, “I Remember Now,” which finds Nikki coming out of a deep sleep unable to recall his past, left to piece everything together throughout the record.

The instrumental “Anarchy-X” follows as a sort of overture, but it’s the third track, “Revolution Calling,” that really sets the record in gear. It’s the story of a man disillusioned with the world, unable to trust the media, the government or anyone, really. Take a look at these lyrics:

“I used to trust the media
To tell me the truth, tell us the truth
But now I’ve seen the payoffs
Everywhere I look
Who do you trust when everyone’s a crook?”

Pretty damn cryptic, eh? Now read this verse:

“I used to think
That only America’s way, way was right
But now the holy dollar rules everybody’s lives
Gotta make a million, doesn’t matter who dies”
Now think about the health care debate raging on today.

The eponymous next track details Nikki’s recruitment by the mysterious Dr. X, a demagogue of the highest order hell bent overthrowing anyone who gets in the way of his own ideals, which hinge on radical political and religion upheaval. Dr. X becomes quickly aware of Nikki’s political radicalism as well as his heroine addiction, both of which he uses to control Nikki mentally, physically, emotionally. X’s primary mission is layed out in the following track, “Speak”:

“Seven years of power
The corporation claw
The rich control the government, the media the law
To make some kind of difference
Then everyone must know
Eradicate the fascists, revolution will grow

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.”

At this point, it had indeed been seven years since Reagan was elected, and while he is remembered as being a largely beloved and popular president, a significant number of blue-collar Americans faced serious hardships due to the failure of his trickle-down policies that ultimately benefited the rich. It was Reagan who ushered in the influence of the religious right, refusing for years to provide any medical funding towards AIDS treatment out of fear of alienating that particular base due to the stigma of it being a ‘gay disease.’

The attitude towards Donald Trump, justified or not, has been similarly intense: people have destroyed property both in support and opposition of him, he is heavily involved with big business, he doesn’t seem to care the poor, and there have been threats against him.

“Spreading the Disease” follows, and introduces the character of Mary, a former prostitute who has been ‘saved’ by the corrupt Father William, and is now a nun. The song doubles as an indictment of religious corruption, particularly how it interplays with politics:
“Religion and sex are power plays
Manipulate the people for the money they pay
Selling skin, selling God
The numbers look the same on their credit cards
Politicians say no to drugs
While we can pay for wars in South America
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”

“The Mission” begins with a televangelist asking for money as Nikki asks for God’s forgiveness. It brings us back briefly to the beginning of the album, with Nikki vaguely being able to recall Mary and his relationship to her. The next song, “Suite Sister Mary,” begins with this chilling bit of dialogue:

“Kill her. That’s all you have to do”
“Kill Mary?”
“She’s a risk, and get the priest as well”

This is the mission he sang about in the previous track, and also the turning point of the record, a 10-minute detailing of Nikki going back on his mission when he falls for Mary and instead tries to save her by convincing her that the monastic life she chose is hollow and mired in corruption:

“Mary, Mary just a whore for the underground
(They made you pay in guilt for your salvation)
Thought you had them fooled? Now they’ve sent me for you
You know too much for your own good
Don’t offer me faith, I’ve got all I need here
(My faith is growing, growing tight against the seam)
What we need is trust, to keep us both alive
Help us make it through the night.”

After having killed the priest, Nikki realizes that Dr. X is the real villain, in his manipulation and mind games:

“No time to rest yet
We’ve got to stop his game
(Before madness has the final laugh)
Too much bloodshed
We’re being used and fed
Like rats in experiments
There’s no final outcome here
Only pain and fear
(It’s followed us both all our lives)
There’s one thing left to see
Will it be him or me?
There’s one more candle left to light.”

“The Needle Lies” is another fast-forward, with Nikki in his cell recalling his heroine addiction and how Dr. X preyed on it. The song is basically a realization of how any peace he may have achieved in his addiction was false. “Electric Requiem” takes us back, to when Nikki finds that Mary is dead, leading us into “Breaking the Silence,” realizing how bleak and empty his mission was and how it stood in the way of what really mattered:

“They told me to run, but just how far?Can I go wearing the black mask of fear?
The hate in my eyes always gives me away
The tension building slowly
Now I lost everything I had in you
Nothing we shared means a thing
Without you close to me
I can’t live without you.”

“I Don’t Believe in Love” continues on this theme, and was also one of the album’s major hits. It is the culmination of how severe Nikki’s paranoia and isolation has become, leaving him unable to feel, to trust, to love, while trying to convince himself in vain that he never loved Mary:

“No more nightmares, I’ve seen them all
From the day I was born
They’ve haunted my every move
Every open hand’s there to push and shove
No time for love it doesn’t matter
She made a difference
I guess she had a way
Of making every night seem bright as day
Now I walk in shadows, never see the light
She must have lied ’cause she never said goodbye.”

“My Empty Room” is a prelude to the album’s final track, “Eyes of a Stranger,” the album’s best known song. Nikki is now fully aware of what has happened. He is alone, feeling like a stranger, unable to go back to what he once was in lieu of the chaos that has occurred in his wake. The album’s last sound is an ominous drone with Tate as Nikki reaffirming the album’s opening: ‘I remember now.’

Operation: Mindcrime is a brilliant record, filled with great songwriting, musicianship, and outstanding vocals from Geoff Tate. The songs are deep and complex, but also completely accessible, with powerful hooks, riffs and choruses that draw the listener into the story without sacrificing the depth of the lyrics. Its top-class craftsmanship combined with its searing relevance to this day make it an essential listen in these times.

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