Album addresses current political issues facing society through words, action
October 7, 2010
It was about five years ago, that a friend of mine told me that protest albums and songs of the past are dead. “We’ll never have another protest album like we had in the 60s, because musicians today aren’t like Bob Dylan; Peter, Paul and Mary or John Lennon.
They don’t care about humanitarian issues or anything like that, they care about money, women, sex, drugs and rock and roll.”
I respectfully disagreed with her opinion reminding her of “American Idiot,” an album that had recently been released by Green Day.
While writing this review I sat down and tried to think of other protest albums in the 21st century, I came up with three or four handfuls of decent albums in that category.
One I though of, was Serj Tankian’s 2007 release “Elect the Dead.” There was something dark and chaotic about it, yet there were some brilliant melodies and fantastic tracks like “Empty Walls” and “Lie, Lie, Lie.”
I was enthused to see that Tankian’s new album had arrived to my desk at 88.7 WRFW. This new album — titled “Imperfect Harmonies” — I thought might be another album I could add to that list of greats. Then again, maybe not.
For those of you who are not familiar with Tankian, you may be more familiar with the work he did with the band System of a Down in the late 90s and yearly 2000s.
Tankian was the lead singer for the Grammy award winning group, until it dissolved in 2006.
Tankian started his own solo career, and several of the other members formed a band called Scars on Broadway.
(Tankian-born of Armenian descent wrote several songs about the Armenian Genocide between 1915 and 1918, but many of the tracks on “Elect the Dead” were focused around the Iraqi War and other conflicts in the Middle East.
“Imperfect Harmonies” is also challenging some U.S. politics of more recent influence.
“Borders are…” speaks out against U.S. immigration polices.
The first verse blatantly explains Tankian’s opinion on the matter: “Borders are, the gallows of our national egos. Subjective lines in the sand, In the Water Separating everything.”
Then he addresses wire-tapping and other policies that he believes threatens U.S. freedoms in the song, “Reconstructive Demonstrations.” (“They say that men die, when laws retire, when laws retire,”).
The rest of the track is filled with symbolism and allusion, so its hard to say if I am diving to deep into the meaning of the song, but with lines like “No one seems to understand, We are falling to our knees,” I think I may be on the right track for this one.
“Yes, It’s Genocide” is definitely another war protest song on the album, and the whole track repeats the same four lines several times: “I want you to die for your terror, I want you to die for your fear, I want you to die for your life, I want you to die for your life.”
Whether or not you agree with Tankian’s point of view or his lyrics, it’s important to focus on the music, which is, well, music.
There are a few very interesting tracks that incorporate Arabian instruments and riffs, and most songs use a full orchestra to give them a dramatic, sound.
That being said, the first track, the orchestra is vibrant and appealing, but by the time you finish the album, you’ll be done with orchestrated music for a while.
Fans of Tankian’s previous work will definitely hear the voice that made System of a Down famous, but if you come into this album looking for heavy guitars and ferocious drumming, you’re going to be disappointed.
There are a few tracks that utilize some talented guitarists-and drummers too for that matter but on the whole, “Imperfect Harmonies” lacks the interest and diversity of sound that I’ve seen both Tankian, and System produce in the past. Not to mention, the high pitched voice that Tankian has been using since System of a Down’s “Mesmerize” album makes more appearances on this album then ever before.
Although it worked on occasion with System, it doesn’t work when Tankian plays sol (when he raises his voice several octaves like this, it reminds me of that song “Living in the Sunlight, Loving in the Moonlight” from Tiny Tim. Yuck).
In summation, the lyrics are strong and interesting, but the music is decent at best.
System of a Down fans were heartbroken when the band decided to go their separate ways four years ago, and many were very happy to see Tankian return in 2007 with a solid debut solo album.
“Imperfect Harmonies” is certainly one of those “sophomore slump” albums, so don’t despair fans: he’ll be back with better stuff in the future.
In the meantime, you can always check out work from the other half of System by listening to Scars on Broadway, or you can do like the rest of us, and pray that the rumors of a possible reunion are true.
Jon Lyksett is a student at UW-River Falls.