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 and all, as the cliché goes.
So when Serj Tankian’s Elect the Dead Symphony showed up in my mailbox and I sat 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 ruined the whole thing. There were fade-outs between almost all of the tracks. Many songs led in with the audience reacting to something that Tankian had 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.
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 was a decent idea, very poorly executed.
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