It seems only appropriate, in the wake of ex-System Of A Down frontman Serj Tankian’s newly released Elect the Dead Symphony, that the next album in my lineup of bargain bin also-rans should be the original (non-symphonic) Elect the Dead from 2007. To be totally honest, I’m kinda mystified as to why this album got the royal treatment. Not to knock Serj’s skills as a composer, but… Elect the Dead Symphony? Really? I don’t mind when a rock artist tries their hand at neo-classical composition (Frank Zappa, Scott Walker, and Jaz Coleman of Killing Joke have all proven themselves worthy), but it’s quite another thing when a bunch of straightforward rock songs are suddenly deemed epic enough in scope to warrant a symphonic overhaul.
Anyway, that’s not the album I’m supposed to be reviewing wait no BUT SERIOUSLY. Am I being a snob? Am I? I feel like having access to an orchestra should be like executive bathroom of musical instrumentation — that is to say, you don’t just saunter in after releasing one freakin’ solo album.
Okay, okay, fine. Ignoring the fact that it’s not quite orchestra-worthy, this album isn’t bad – the first time I’ve been able to say that in this wretched excuse for a series, actually. It’s not great, mind you: some of the lyrics are shockingly banal and he has a bad habit of using elaborate arrangements to frame otherwise uninteresting musical ideas. However, Serj puts his rubbery voice to good use (The harmonies, man!) and there are definitely some songs that could have easily pushed out some of the weaker tracks on System of a Down’s last two albums. In fact, the strongest songs are all sandwiched together at the end: the disorienting, demented “Praise the Lord and Pass the Ammunition,” the regrettably titled” Beethoven’s Cunt” (which boasts the strongest chorus melody on the album), and the moving, hopelessly sad piano dirge of the title track. The rest of the material is bombastic, theatrical hard rock that shows Serj Tankian uneasily caught between his metallic roots and his more eccentric leanings. I would have welcomed more weirdness, myself, but as an initial statement of solo intent this album works just fine. Let’s just hope that whole symphony thing is a self-indulgent pit-stop and not symptomatic of Serj’s… (*gulp*)… “artistic evolution.”
Final Verdict: Not as good as his work in System, but at least we don’t have to hear Daron Malakian sing this time.