Great concept albums, such as THE WHO's "Tommy", PINK FLOYD's "The Wall" and, yes, QUEENSRŸCHE's "Operation: Mindcrime", are great because they're made up of superb songs first and foremost, which are then linked together to tell the story or provide the overall theme. Most of the songs on all of those albums can be listened to and enjoyed over and over without ever having any idea that they're part of a rock opera. Sadly, this is not the case with "Operation: Mindcrime II", QUEENSRŸCHE's attempt to recapture the former glory of the band's finest hour.
Ironically, the band is in a similar position now to the one it was in when the original "Mindcrime" was conceived. Having attracted a loyal audience of metal fans with a stunning debut EP and first full-length album, "The Warning", the band took a nearly disastrous turn with 1986's "Rage for Order", in which both the group's image and music was warped into sort of a mutant metal-new wave crossbreed. Disposing of that baggage, the band made the bold move of writing a rock opera, a form that had fallen into disrepute during the Eighties. But "Mindcrime" was not only a concept piece with a compelling sci-fi storyline, it was also a lean, hard-hitting heavy rock album loaded with killer songs like "Revolution Calling", "Eyes of a Stranger", "I Don't Believe in Love" and the title track.
Twenty years later, QUEENSRŸCHE stills commands a loyal (if smaller) following but has drifted musically with albums such as "Q2K" and "Tribe". For that reason alone, "O:M II" seems like a desperation move. But although it carries slight musical echoes of the original piece (which benefited from the contributions of long departed co-writer and guitarist Chris DeGarmo), "O:M II" feels longer, moves slower and doesn't contain a single song with the power of anything on the original.
Opening track (after an instrumental intro) "I'm American" rocks along at a swift enough pace, but every song after that seems to belabor its point endlessly, flailing through a not very memorable assortment of riffs and angst-ridden vocals from leader Geoff Tate, who still has a strong, fine voice but needlessly overdramatizes everything here. Songs like "Speed of Light" and "If I Could Change It All" are perhaps the worst examples of this, with the latter featuring nearly two minutes of choral voices that go nowhere (although it does also include some sterling lead guitar work).
"O:M II" sounds like the band thought more and bigger would be better, but in fact the album proves the exact opposite. Even a guest appearance from Ronnie James Dio, playing the character of Dr. X, fails to create the potential excitement that could be generated by a duet between two of traditional metal's most respected singers.
As hungry, angry and urgent as the original "Mindcrime" was, this sequel just comes across as uninspired and muddled. The musicianship and production throughout the album are both first-rate, for sure, but somewhere along the line, QUEENSRŸCHE literally lost the plot.