I don’t think we should fault a band for taking a stab at commercial success. Unless of course said stab is a shameless, pandering “sell-out” that insults our intelligence (re: Turbo). Queensryche’s Empire was an openly commercial overture, but to the band’s credit they did not pander to the lowest common denominator in the process. Coming off the breakthrough success of Operation: Mindcrime (1988), Queensryche were poised for crossover success. Rather than repeat the Operation: Mindcrime formula, Queensryche instead made a slick modern rock album, and reached for the golden ring. Their heavy metal leanings were now a thing of the past, but their music was still complex and progressive. It seemed Queensryche were quite comfortable with their new approach. A scan of Empire‘s liner notes shows writing credits spread amongst the band members, a sign that the entire band was on board for this new direction. The decision paid off for Queensryche, as Empire wound up going 3x platinum — the best-selling album of their career.
All that being said, this is not a great album at all. I’m actually shocked that Empire sold so well. I find this album to be quite boring actually. It certainly doesn’t rock hard, which is okay if the songs have great hooks — which they don’t. Except for Jet City Woman and the excellent Silent Lucidity, there’s not much here worth revisiting.
Sure, Empire sold tons of copies by being able to pique the interest of the casual fan, but at what long-term expense to the band? Casual fans are fickle, and they disappear once MTV and radio tells tells them to listen to something else. In the long run, Queensryche may have done themselves a disservice by abandoning their metal roots (and their loyal metal followers) with Empire and subsequent albums. If Queensryche stuck with metal, they could very well have become a legacy band. Instead they slowly sank into obscurity over the next couple of decades — eventually reaching the sad state we have now, where their are two versions of Queensryche limping around. My score: C+