No, it’s true. Queensryche’s Empire turns twenty this year and EMI would like you to join in the celebration. This 2-CD edition features the album, three extra tracks originally released as B-sides, band photo postcards, a fold-out poster and a second disc chronicling a tour stop at the UK’s Hammersmith Odeon. If any Queensryche release deserves the fuss, it is this. That might not sit well with die-hards that consider Operation: Mindcrime to be their best outing, but Empire managed to one-up the previous effort in a few significant ways.
Empire was able to be as topical as Mindcrime on the title cut but wasn’t tied down to a heavy conceptual backdrop. The songs stood alone and did so very well. Tracks like “Silent Lucidity” and “Another Rainy Night (Without You)” were major charting hits and, perhaps most notably, the album was the last truly big hard rock album of its kind. After it, the sounds of Seattle would drive the glossy, big guitar/big hook rock song underground for awhile. Whitesnake was passe, G’N’R was disintegrating and Def Leppard’s star was on the wane. Empire seems like the last great campaign of a very particular sort of rock.
Is the set worth the money though? Here’s where things get itchy. During this time in CD technology, the releases were getting a fairly decent shake on the mixing and mastering. Labels realized they could increase the volume and the bass but weren’t yet forsaking the highs in the audio spectrum. That distinction surfaced around the time of the iPod, which is to say that the original CD release didn’t sound so bad that owners demanded a remastering. Therefore, your choice to buy hinges on the extras.
The bonus tracks on disc one are “Last Time In Paris”, “Scarborough Fair” and “Dirty L’il Secret”, none of which are truly awful but all immediately identify themselves as B-side candidates. That they’re here is neat, and should make completists happy, buy they all are somewhat inessential. The second disc is more substantial, offering up a large chunk of the Empire tracks recorded live, but also feature some of their back catalog like “Take Hold Of The Flame”. Because it ties up the album in a neat, compact package, the 20th Anniversary set gets a passing grade, but if you’re satisfied with your original copy and have no great interest in the live disc, you’re not missing out considerably by letting this edition go by.
Empire (20th Anniversary Edition) is available from Amazon.Com.