Artist: Serj Tankian
Album: Elect the Dead
Comments: Back in 2001, when their second album Toxicity was tearing up the radio, System of a Down’s lead singer Serj Tankian stated in an interview that his lyrics were not political. Despite references to prisons, evil governments, suicide, and child abuse, Tankian maintained that his lyrics were strictly auditory; he said this stuff because he liked the way it sounded, not because the words were symbols for something else.
Six years later, Tankian completely balks on this claim with his hyper political solo album Elect the Dead. To go through all the personal politics on this album would be an exercise in futility; there are so many causes being taken up on this record that it would confused even the most staunch political observer. With titles like “The Unthinking Majority” and “Praise the Lord and Pass the Ammunition,” it’s safe to assume that Tankian slants pretty well to the left. Because every song is it’s own little public service announcement, Elect the Dead suffers under its own bombast. No one likes being preached too, at least not on a hard rock record.
However, those who can find their way past the soap boxing and propaganda will find a pretty decent hard rock record that fits in somewhere between Toxicity and Hypnotize /Mesmerize. Tankian has always had an interesting voice; it was made for the quite/loud mentality of System of a Down’s spastic throat rock, and he is belting out the jams all over this record. The majority of the songs just have him in his usual fast-talking speak sing; this trope is used best on the album opener “Empty Walls.” Still, he shows his chops on tracks like “Sky is Over” and “Praise the Lord and Pass the Ammunition” which allow him to do more than just pontificate over power chords.
Fans of System of a Down’s earlier albums will find a lot to like here. The crazy time signatures are back, as well are songs that seem to slow and speed up with almost no warning. Still, where the album falters is not in Tankian’s self righteous politics but in the music itself. The studio band that Tankian grabbed for this record is no doubt accomplished; they are able to handled his blinding time changes with relative ease, but the band never establishes themselves. What makes SOAD so good is how no one part of the band is ever the main focus, the sum of the parts is greater than the whole. On Elect the Dead, it’s all Tankian. But then again, this is his solo album.
At the end of the day, Elect the Dead is a hard rocking album that will leave the listener confused. Sure, the songs are good and yes, Tankian sounds as good as he ever has, despite his recent foray into vocalizing his politics. Still, one has to wonder what these songs would sound like with a proper band belting them out. If the rest of SOAD came along for the ride, I have no doubt in my mind that this album would be in a completely different class. As it stands, Elect the Dead is a good album to waste time on while people wait for the next System of a Down album.
Rating: 6 out of 10
Key Tracks: Empty Walls, Praise the Lord and Pass the Ammunition
Buy, Steal, or Skip: SOAD fans won't regret buying this record