Thursday, February 27, 2014

The Prager Experiment, Stage One



CRYPTIC WRITINGS
5/30/1997


Twelve years, five platinum albums--but Megadeth still had not hit number one on the venerated Billboard charts.  Dave Mustaine thought long, thought longer, then figured there's no better way to get to the top than to reach out to people who have been there.

Enter ESP Management and Bud Prager, perhaps most known for his success managing Foreigner.  Did Dave rock out to "Double Vision" or slow dance to "Waiting For a Girl Like You"?  Most likely not.  But millions of people rocked and/or chilled out to Foreigner's music.  Most importantly, millions of people bought Foreigner's music.  Dave didn't have to agree that their success was well-deserved; he just knew that they were, outlandishly so, and he envied those heights.  Stinking of commercial desperation, Dave Mustaine handed his heart, soul and balls over to Prager and session musician/"big wheel at the cracker factory" Dann Huff. 

This thirst for the top led Dave to do things that old Dave would've found unacceptable:  when Prager told him to change lyrics, he did; when the manager deemed certain songs unsuitable for the album due to unpalatable subject matter, Dave acceded; when he discovered that Prager and Huff were tinkering with the music without his foreknowledge, he permitted it, confident that their respective touches of Midas would pay off handsomely.  The end justifies the means, after all.

Or it means the end is near.

The least any artist can do is make their sellout bait visually interesting, so's we have something nice to gaze upon while listening to your integrity expel its last few puffs.  The symbol on the cover is a veve, a design that, when drawn on the floor using a powdery substance, acts as a representation for a spirit during voodoo ritual.  The first half-million copies used the silver backdrop, all others the black.  Or you can buy the remastered Cryptic Writings and get both!

"Trust"--The big hit from the album reached the top five on Billboard's Mainstream Rock Tracks chart, and snagged a Grammy nod to boot.  This is mature heavy music that avoids sounding maudlin.  If Dave and co. coulda rustled up eleven of these, they'd be gold-plated God status.  Or at least able to look at themselves in the mirror without squinting.

It's not just down to the subject matter--probing l'affaire d'amour has never been alien to Megadeth.  The build-up is sublime, damn near, bass and strings dancing expertly together despite their mutual enmity.  Well-produced, rock-solid, radio-ready. 

"Almost Honest"--This is for anyone who's ever listened to "Fooled Around and Fell In Love" by Elvin Bishop and wondered, Hmm, mellow tune.  Kinda one-sided, though.  It would be funny if this amazing chick didn't feel the same way about him that he so clearly feels about her. 
"Use the Man"--Diminishing returns, babe.

(Original pressings feature a 30-second sample of the Searchers' "Needles and Pins" at the start; it was excised for the reissue in 2004, possibly so listeners wouldn't be reminded of a better song.)

"Mastermind"--So laughably terrible that if you threw it up on a screen you'd see three silhouettes at the bottom.

"The Disintegrators"
--"The slayer's arrived" and "live by the sword" are right there in the first verse.  Y'ask me, I'd say Davey baby has saddled up and focused the crosshairs!  Or is it tribute?  I dunno, but it whips me up into a profound agitation that can only end in vasovagal shenanigans. 

"I'll Get Even"--Don't tell me about your oddball life over a doped-up instrumental.  Tell me about your doped-up life over an oddball instrumental.  (Make sure to use a tolerable vocal take.)

"Sin"--Starts off sounding like "I'll Get Even."  As it progresses, differences become discernible.  Personality and passion are strikingly absent in both, however.

"A Secret Place"
--Ah, who doesn't yearn for a place of one's own, a place to sit back and sing along to Journey's Greatest HitsIt's been a mystery...and still they try to see...why somethin' good can hurt so bad!  This isn't quite as scrubbed as those touchstones of pop magnificence, but I admire effort and risk from even the squeakiest of mice and men.

"Have Cool, Will Travel"--As non-probing a look at the phenomenon of school shootings in America as you will find outside of the Internet.

Dave has by now become born-again Christian, and I don't mind that, just that he has also become the man who tells MTV, "They're taking God out of the schools, to dumb us down."  Because not being able to force a single system of values down someone's throat leaves them so intellectually bereft. 

This is doubly annoying considering the track itself is a decent throwback to the days when Megadeth could stitch together good albums.

"She-Wolf"--Give any woman a considerable amount of power, and one of the first things she'll say is--"Get on your knees."

Every bitch needs a metal song, especially the mother of all that is evil and especially one that scratches bare backs with rusted claws while filling the air with its deliciously horrible cries.

Thanks for the bone!

"Vortex"--Wherein the alerted humanoids respond to the atonal bloops with promises of curvy women and vats of experimental chemicals for the enjoyment of all.  If you'll just stop the blooping!

Marty and Dave are two gifted, but still very different, guitarists.  Marty can make a solo sound like a Shakespearean soliloquy.  Dave can make it sound like a really smart bum raving outside 7-11. 

"FFF"--Fiending for falafel?

Flan flan filth?

Ohhh--fight for freedom!

Fuck fuck fuck, but does this remind me of "Motorbreath."  The production is unusually dry, and thus ideal for a slice of the examined life worth fighting for.  Heavy fuckin' metal imbued with the punk spirit, just like they used to do. 



Cryptic Writings has some of the best production of any Big 4 album, but suffers ultimately (ironically?) from a deficiency of detail.  This was clearly a "brainstorm" project, in both definitions of the term.

Stage One of the Prager Experiment resulted in the first Megadeth album of the decade to not reach platinum status.  Mustaine understandably panicked and--

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