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Music Review: Serj Tankian – Elect The Dead Symphony

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They keep sayin' that the album is going to go away, and that digital singles will take over. Hey, that's the way things started, with people discovering tunes like "My Baby Does The Hanky Panky" at the beach on their little plastic transistor radios. If that is indeed the future, so be it. But let the record show that I will miss both 'regular' albums and the unruly cousin: the live album.

I've always been a big fan, despite the typical music critic's dismissal. For every 'superfluous' and 'unnecessary' recording, there are things like Little Feat's Waiting For Columbus and The Rolling Stones' Get Yer Ya Ya's Out. When a live recording is done right, the energy captured not only illustrates what the band is really like, but also pushes the tunes to a higher level. Check out the version of "Dixie Chicken" on that Little Feat album. The studio recording just can't compete.

For those of us in the LiveAlbumLovers™ Club, there is one little-known rule that very important to us. It's the "Rule of the Complete Show." That is, even though a show may have had some screw-ups in it, it's always better to present the recording in its complete form: no overdubs, no changes to the sequencing, and no cobbling together of songs from different nights on the tour. It is possible to overcome some of these flaws (The Stones' Ya Ya's manages to rise above its flaws in a big way), but mostly the edits just drain energy from the album. Give us the whole thing, warts & all as the cliché goes.

So Serj Tankian's Elect the Dead Symphony shows up in my mailbox and I sit back to think of the possibilities. I'm not so hot on the whole rock-goes-symphonic thing (Metallica's attempt was more fun to watch than listen to), but Tankian's voice is so powerful and flexible (and I enjoyed the hell out of Elect The Dead) that I figured there might be some surprises in store.

I was right. Strings fly away from Serj's voice, extending his upper range into the stratosphere. The power of the Auckland Philharmonia Orchestra is a perfect match to Tankian's electrifying vocals and songs. There are some serious moments of spine-tingling lift-off.

However, an incredibly poor editing job ruins the whole thing. There are fade-outs between almost all of the tracks. Many songs lead in with the audience reacting to something that Tankian has said, but his words were left out. For a performance that was planned out, filmed in HD, and was a one-off show, the decision to release the audio in this shape is puzzling and frustrating. Did Tankian actually approve of this? It's hard to imagine.

I sure hope that the accompanying DVD hasn't been butchered in a similar manner. What were they thinking?!

Sorry, Serj. I'm a big fan of both your work and your commitment to the cause. That can't change the fact that this release is a decent idea, very poorly executed.

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About Mark Saleski

  • Josh Hathaway

    I know I’m prone to occasional bouts of hyperbole but I am dead serious when I say someone should be prosecuted to the full extent of the law for perpetrating this fraud on the listening public. The record industry never thinks declining sales and piracy could be linked to shit products being foisted on fans at often ridiculous prices. I’m not encouraging piracy but it seems the record industry refuses to learn the proper lesson at nearly every turn.

  • i really can’t think of a good reason to release a recording with this level of hackery. the first time i listened i could hardly believe it was happening.

    i dunno, maybe there was a ton of between song banter that pushed the length into two-disc territory. even so, that’s no excuse for this.

  • Galeios

    I guess there are some gaps and fades in the audio, because Tankian let the orchestra play their own pieces that weren’t supposed to be put on the CD. But that’s just my theory and isn’t really a good overall excuse for the editing job.

  • Ed

    I think its quite good and from a man who previous band told us to “steal their album”. your lame, spend money on stuff if you like it..im all for downloads but if you like it, buy it. simple. if not, then delete it. in the middle, itunes it. let something get back to the artists.