I was unsure what to expect from Geoff Tate’s self-titled first solo album, released ahead of schedule during the first week of September, the Queensrяche frontman was always instrumental in pushing the band in new, experimental directions. The press release accompanying this disc was also somewhat vague, ‘Geoff Tate’ (the album and the man) contains songs that are described as being “…rooted in modern rock, electronica and even a bit of acoustic styling and world music.” So it’s Marilyn Manson fused with Moby, John Williams and the throat singers of Tuva …or maybe not.
It is true that Tate deliberately set out to create an album full of diverse and previously untried styles. Over the course of ten months, he penned eleven tracks that break away from the heavy metal/rock mould and introduce us to a style of rock that is all grown up, polished and beautifully composed in both senses of the word. The musicians put together to bring the songs to life were also deliberately drawn from outside of the Queensrяche genre; Tate selected his band from artists with pop, jazz and even classical backgrounds. Members include Jeff Carrell, Scott Moughton (guitars) Evan Schiller (guitar/drums), Howard Chilcott (synthesisers) and Chris Fox (bass), with additional contributions on this album from Ryan Hadlock (marsona 1200) and Eyvind Kang (viola).
‘Geoff Tate’ (the album, not the man) was first released as a CD in mid 2002 and has since been the subject of heated debate amongst fans. Those approaching it from a Queensrяche point of view might be disappointed at first because it is definitely softer and more thoughtful than classics such as ‘Empire’ – also available as a DVD-Audio title – it’s by no means a Queensrяche clone, but those with fresh ears and those who appreciate the ever-evolving music Tate creates, are unlikely to be disappointed. For the uninitiated, Tate’s unmistakable vocal style is somewhere between David Bowie and Steve Perry at the low and high ends of his registers respectively, and wouldn’t you know it, after I’d struggled to come up with that description I noticed in Tate’s biography that he lists David Bowie as one of his favourite artists (alongside Radiohead and Jeff Buckley).
The idea of a DVD-Audio, multi-channel version of the album initially gave Tate a sense of trepidation. Producers John Trickett, Jeff Dean and Bob Michaels explained that because of the way the two-channel CD had been mixed, a complete disassembly then re-assembly would be required in order to create a convincing surround experience. Tate thought this would be “an ordeal”, but gave the go-ahead all the same.
Tate’s opinion was to change once a demonstration mix had been created, in fact judging by the enthusiasm he exudes throughout the disc’s behind-the-scenes interview, a return to boring old two-channel is not likely to be in his foreseeable future. Surround gives an “…amazing dimension you just can’t get in stereo,” he says, before mentioning how much more creative scope the additional channels give to both performers and composers.
Officially the multi-channel version of ‘Geoff Tate’ (the album not the man) is credited to Mr. Haynes, otherwise known as Chris Haynes, who just happens to be chief engineer at 5.1 Entertainment, but Tate was also involved, and far beyond simply approving the final mixes.
The finished result positively shines. As surround mixes go, that created for ‘Geoff Tate’ (the album and the man) is amongst the very best. The multi-channel pallet is used adventurously throughout, but never crosses the line into the realm of gimmickry. The entire album, without a single exception, is a thoroughly engrossing experience that manages to occupy my full attention every time I listen. There is never anything formulaic about the mix, which means the surround presentation is always captivating and wholly appropriate for the track.
The highlights are too numerous to mention, but listen out for a particularly impressive trick 1:50 into ‘Helpless’ – a phase shift applied to the line “all I know” that causes Tate’s voice to become detached from the front soundstage and roll out into the room. At 3:30 during the same track, the word “waiting” also leaps out of the soundstage, but this time subtly moves around behind the listener. Guitars are pushed to the sides of the room, small synthesised elements dart from one channel to the next and just when you least expect it, the backing vocals that have previously been wrapped around into the surrounds appear in the centre channel midway through ‘Over Me’, the disc’s closing track. Excellent. Fantastic. Insert your own superlative here.
The good news continues when one considers the disc’s fidelity, it too is outstanding and it certainly helps make the surround presentation all the more compelling. Thanks to the 96kHz 24-bit MLP tracks, acoustic instruments – guitar, piano and strings – are all delivered with finesse and a startling sense of presence, while the percussive elements have great sparkle without being at all hard-edged. Tate’s voice is also crystal clear, whether he’s gently whispering a tune or using the extremes of his range, and even the backing vocals are easily disernable regardless of a song’s volume and energy. Bass is another strong point; it has a tangible ‘kick’ during some tracks, but remains tuneful when required. There are deep notes in all five main channels and the LFE is also put to good use throughout when a particular emphasis is required.
The disc opens with ‘Flood’, an impressive mixture of musical styles and textures that sets the tone for the remainder of the album, although it is perhaps the most conventional song, not withstanding the dark and oppressive bridge that fills one’s room about two thirds of the way through. In comparison, ‘Forever’ initially appears somewhat compressed, especially during the opening verse, but that impression is largely due to another subtlety of the mix, a swirling undercurrent of synthesized low frequency noise that fills the room and slowly moves position from side to side, front to rear.
More low frequency expression is on show during ‘Touch’, while acoustic Latin guitars join the party as part of ‘Helpless’. Tate’s vocal appears slightly more forward during ‘Every Move We Make’ and, to a lesser extent ‘In Other Words’, with the former representing one of the disc’s many superb vocal performances. Beautifully recorded electric and acoustic guitars join pairs of synthesisers in the surrounds and front channels, each element building upon the last. ‘In Other Words’ is reminiscent of the recent Pink Floyd style – think of ‘The Division Bell’ – there are strings, piano and another ominous bass-line. Listen out for the room-filling percussion crescendo midway through and the strummed acoustic guitar that somehow floats around inside one’s head. The mix of moods is a strange one, melancholy and yet upbeat, if such a thing is possible.
‘This Moment’ is the closest thing to a ‘conventional’ rock ballad on the entire album, but one that is elevated in stature by the accompaniment’s rising tension and Tate’s wholehearted vocal.
The two standout tracks amongst so many gems come one after another; ‘Off the TV’, a protest song against couch potatoes begins with a mild-mannered albeit slightly distorted electric guitar that hovers over the centre channel. Ah, relax… Wham! All hell breaks loose – this is actually the heaviest track on the disc, there’s screaming, thrash guitar and splashing cymbals galore. A subdued vocal interlude knocks one off guard, during which subtle synthesised bells flit from channel to channel before… Wallop! Another blast of powerful rock that’s enough to lift the roof of one’s listening room.
‘Grain of Faith’ cemented in place the silly grin I already had on my face, it is a heavy metal track without the heavy or metal parts… the vocal is pure Queensrяche gold but the accompaniment, aside from one rock guitar that plays an infectious riff is an eclectic mixture of drums and bass rather than the clichйd accompaniment one would expect.
‘Save the bass for last’ is obviously Geoff Tate’s motto because ‘Over Me’ literally thunders, but the track is over all too soon and I was left wanting more. Perhaps that’s not such a bad thing from an album!
This being a Silverline disc there are a fair number of supplementary extras onboard, they include a choice of synchronised song lyrics or photo gallery, biographies for all the performers, disc credits, an ‘About DVD-Audio’ section and best of all, a short – six and a half minutes – behind-the-scenes interview with Geoff Tate (the man not the disc) entitled ‘On the Record Off the T.V.’.
Oddly enough the front and rear of the packaging appears to have been designed by two different people, the styles of artwork are completely different, but more importantly black text on a dark grey background makes for difficult reading. Yes, that’s the only criticism I can come up with, and you’re right, training for a gold medal in straw clutching is my next assignment.
So, to summarise, the music of Geoff Tate (the man not the disc) is excellent, the Queensrяche influences are evident but the musical styles presented on this album are original and diverse. The fidelity of this title is highly commendable, but it’s the surround mix that takes top honours, being one of the finest the format has offered to-date. Don’t hesitate; get your copy of ‘Geoff Tate’ (the disc not the man) today!