posted on 11/2011 By:
The narrative arc of Megadeth’s career over the past decade has been your standard, steady upward climb from a series of miscalculations and baldly embarrassing albums. With their career arguably hitting a soul-deflating nadir with 1999’s Risk, Dave Mustaine and Company have clawed their way back to respectability, albeit in fits and starts, with 2001’s The World Needs a Hero and 2004’s The System Has Failed showing glimmers of improvement amidst held-over awfulness and extremely uneven writing. Then, with 2007’s United Abominations and the lightning-quick (and seriously intense) follow-up a year later with Endgame, Megadeth had begun to resemble a newly hungry version of its younger self, with Endgame easily erasing much of the ill will accumulated over the sixteen years since 1992’s still-controversial Countdown to Extinction. Not every Cinderella story ends happily, however, and with newly-minted album Thirteen a perfect opportunity for Megadeth to prove that this recent upward trajectory is the real thing, instead we are treated to a sodden mess of an album that is aggressive only in its mediocrity.
After Endgame served notice that Megadeth still had plenty of fire in the gut, the return to almost exclusively chorus-heavy songwriting is disappointing on its own, but what really sours the promise of Th1rt3en is that none of its choruses are particularly memorable. Th1r|33n also marks the return of founding bassist David Ellefson (absent from the last three studio albums), but he has co-songwriting credits only on one song (“New World Order”), so his return is clearly more on the lines of a moral victory than a substantive musical one. Thus, in many ways, it’s business as usual for Megadeth, with a frustrating mix of excellent ideas and endless repetition, along with plenty of atrocious lyrics and thematically embarrassing songs. The guitar soloing throughout is excellent, but it is too often used as five- or ten-second snippets to stitch up a rough transition back into another iteration of a chorus rather than to move the song to new territory or, better yet, to simply dig in and kick ass (see Rust In Peace’s “Five Magics” for a stirring reminder of everything this album’s use of soloing is not). Opening track “Sudden Death” is a promising start despite its somewhat faltering introduction that can’t seem to decide on a rhythmic base. Every other part of the song that is not the chorus is devoted to the familiar embrace of guitar heroics and jittery group dynamics, although as the album wears on, the allure of the song is worn down by the over-use of its template, particularly in the use of ascending chromatics which appear elsewhere in “Public Enemy No. 1” and “Guns, Drugs, & Money.”
“Whose Life (Is It Anyways)” is a petulant rebellion anthem that is almost shocking in the feckless timidity of its sentiment. Dave musters a simplistic blast of half-punkish energy to spit out utterly banal lines like “You hate the way I wear my clothes / You hate my friends and where we go.” At least Rage Against the Machine was able to summon enough ire to shout “Fuck you, I won’t do what you tell me.” Given that Megadeth used to be a force capable of banging one million heads screaming in unison “It’s Black Friday! Paint the Devil on the wall!”, finding the band gnashing its baby teeth like a preteen prevented from going to the mall with his friends is supremely disheartening. Even more disheartening is that, musically speaking, the album’s first three songs turn out to contain some of its most interesting moments; truly a terrifying augur given that 7h1r|33|\| drags on for almost an hour of maddeningly mid-tempo drudgery.
It is also basically a given these days that Mustaine will devote a good amount of real estate to spinning yarns of anti-government / conspiracy rhetoric, and while this is a pretty hackneyed approach by this time in his career, it wouldn’t drive me nearly half as far up the wall as it does if he wasn’t so goddamned vague about it. I mean, honestly, a line like “We the people face unconstitutional lies / In greed we trust, in revolution we die” is probably ideal stadium lyric fare due to its ostensible anti-authoritarian bent, but there’s also the slightly nagging fact that IT MEANS ABSOLUTELY NOTHING. At least on a song like “United Abominations” there was a certain amount of specificity in his anti-multilateralism ranting; here, his platitudinous rabble-rousing has all the calculation and emptiness of a smooth-talking centrist politician aiming at all constituencies, and thus, at none.
Curious and frustrating moments abound elsewhere. On songs like “Guns, Drugs, & Money” (which almost redeems itself through the glory of the Oxford comma) and “Deadly Nightshade,” the guitar riffs seem to be doing their damnedest to match the whiny timbre of Dave’s vocals. “Never Dead” opens with a quiet intro of distant snare and acoustic guitar that, it turns out, has absolutely no relationship to the song proper. Despite this completely wasted opening minute, the song finally manages to kick up the tempo to a satisfying speed. But again, listen to the guitar solo around the 4:00 mark – it whips up some nice energy, and the drums kick up some extra spice behind it, and then just when my attention is finally engaged again, the song reverts back to a bland and unmemorable chorus. Why not trade off additional guitar solos and sprint straight to the end?
“New World Order” (apart from being a phrase that Mustaine should be forbidden from ever using again until he is willing to inject it with some meaning) is a less-interesting retread of the already-uninteresting “We the People,” although the last minute or so of the song does exactly what I’ve been looking for by kicking up the speed and letting a guitar solo fly over some sprightly descending riffs. But then, just when they show that glimmer of promise, the band transitions into the utterly abysmal “Fast Lane.” Diplomacy fails me: this song is a great steaming pile of reindeer shit. Nevertheless, a few additional observations seem warranted. First, if you have the temerity to write a song called “Fast Lane,” don’t you think it might be a good idea for the song to move at a pace even slightly faster than an eternally constipated bowel? Second, do you dudes really think it’s a good idea to have another song about driving a car really fast when your previous album had “1320’,” a song on the same subject that actually kicked ass and ticked along faster than, say, 17 bpms?
More broadly, however, the issues with “Fast Lane” are the issues that plague the entire album: it’s more of the same, but much worse. “Black Swan” is a half-decent song, with its nimble opening guitar figure and fittingly melancholy vibe throughout, but it is one of the only mildly redeeming moments of the album’s second half, which is marred by the lyrically tedious and musically unimaginative “Wrecker” and the horrific chugging dreck of “Millennium of the Blind” (the latter of which also features the groaner “At the start of time, many centuries ago / Came the spawning of Christ and the Antichrist” [emphasis added]). Album closer “13” is another head-scratcher, an acoustic-flecked quasi-ballad that features Mustaine striking his most self-aggrandizing, ill-fitting plucky underdog pose: “Thirteen times, and it’s been lucky for me / After everything, you still want me to bleed.” No, Dave, I want you to thrash. That’s all.
In case I’ve been too indirect, let me put it to you plainly: for the vast majority of its bloated run-time, ?+!r73Σn is boring. It might be fair to say that I’m somewhat biased in my interpretation of this album, seeing as I’m the kind of Megadeth fan that is basically just looking to have my body completely thrashed and my face entirely shredded off through the force of unstoppable riffcraft. Still, I’m pretty sure that there are legions more fans like me out there than there are Megadeth fans who want to be serenaded by interminable choruses that don’t even have the common decency to be particularly catchy. Countdown to Extinction was the first step that eased off some of the thrashing fury in favor of more radio-friendly hookiness, but both it and its significantly less-good follow-up Youthanasia packed some seriously infectious tunes. I defy anyone to look me in the eyes and argue that anything on this album will stick with them years down the line like a “Skin O’ My Teeth” or even an “A Tout le Monde.” At its best, τμ?ρτεΣη is pleasant, competent, and passable, with occasional (but all-too-fleeting) glimpses of the brilliance of which we all know Megadeth is capable; at its worst, it is insipid, irritating, and incomprehensibly dull. A major disappointment.
P.S. Even though I clearly don’t much care for this album, if Lulu outsells it I will likely join Dave Mustaine in spontaneously combusting.
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