Prime impressionable/adolescent years.
Progressive metal laden with heavy hooks, complex guitar solos, and political messages.
Everyone’s “greatest album ever” is usually indelibly linked to the most emotionally-impressionable times in someone’s life: usually mid/late high school, though it obviously varies.
This emotional connection can obviously bias listening– maybe I wouldn’t like Operation: Mindcrime if I heard it for the first time today.
But the fact is– I did hear it for the first time, on cassette, after a glowing review of it in People magazine –of all places– in 1988.
If I absolutely had to pick– was forced to at gunpoint to– just above Master of Puppets, I’d have to place Operation: Mindcrime as my Greatest Album Ever.
“I Remember Now,” the spoken into to the concept album that Mindcrime describes, then “Anarchy X,” a rousing militaristic instrumental… and then–
“Revolution Calling” and its clarion call to action… nearly 25 years later and it still gets me the same way it did in the late 80s… at 0:32 Chris DeGarmo and Michael Wilton’s solos still represent to me the Ultimate Musical Statement of Revolution….
I know every Goddamn note by heart. Seriously. Not a single sound coming from this record –bass, guitar, drums– do I not know like I know my own dick.
“I used to trust the media to tell me the truth, tell us the truth… but now I see the payoffs everywhere I look… who do you trust when everyone’s a crook…? Revolution Calling…!”
My teenage world was completely rocked.
Ideologically, musically, in all ways, really….
Maybe for old(er) readers Crosby Stills Nash & Young represent what I’m talking about… maybe it’s Hendrix, or Dylan… for me, Operation: Mindcrime was the last gasp of angry political comment or activism (one that to this day makes me angry about political deception… makes me worry that the current generation is too hip/ironic enough to be angry about these political maneuvers….)– one that taught me, whether intentionally or not, that we (as plebians, as groundlings, as common citizens) were consistently being lied to, and we had to, as a People, respond with anger and outrage to effect legitimate change in the political system….
“Operation Mindcrime,” the title track, with its minor third Riff of Riffs (unusual for a progressive band to have a riff like this): F# to C# or D, and back again….
“I’m gonna take away the questions, yeah– I’m gonna make you sure….” Exactly what you did, Geoff Tate and Company….
“Speak” with its Epic lick and riff… a guitar solo worthy of any other, anywhere….
“Spreading the Disease,” with its innocence-shredding lyrics and verse riffaliciousness…. This song made me angry I wasn’t an assassin in Service of the Truth… “He takes her once a week, on the altar like a sacrifice… 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….Fighting fire with empty words, while the banks get fat, the poor stay poor… the rich get rich*, the cops get paid, to look away– as the one percent rules America….”
It pierces that facade of irony, even now– it makes me angry, it makes me wanna find a way to effect change and impact the political system….
“Suite Sister Mary,” the greatest metal ballad ever. It begins with:
“Kill her. That’s all you have to do.”
“She’s a risk. And get the priest as well….”
“The Needle Lies,” perhaps the most rocking/metal tune ever, describes the narrator’s struggles with heroin after his beloved dies… “Now, every time I’m weak, words scream from my arm….”
In all seriousness: my most perfect album ever.
*Which references several literary allusions, from Adam Smith’s The Wealth of Nations, to Shelley, who also applied the idiom (scylla and charybdis) politically in an analogy of how society is poised between anarchy and despotism in his essay A Defence of Poetry (1820). The passage reads: ‘The rich have become richer, and the poor have become poorer; and the vessel of the state is driven between the Scylla and Charybdis of anarchy and despotism’.