WagTunes: Operation: Mindcrime is a scarily resonant piece of Reagan-era anger

Just so you know, I like a lot of things. While I’ve written and will continue to write about film and television, I also love music. And as with all thing  I love, I have a lot to say.  So, from time to time, when the muse strikes me, I’ll write here about the albums I love with WagTunes. 

As time moves forward, so ever does our nostalgia move along with it. America loves to live with one eye looking back, pop culture is guilty of this in particular. Perhaps it’s due to the nature of the creative, drawing from one’s own experiences is going to induce a certain amount of mythologizing of your own history, and we’re now in the era where the children of the 80s are the creatives with power.

I also think that we tend to look back at eras that feel remarkably similar to our own, out of a need to feel that we survived it and that we can turn their art and culture and history into a mythology that makes us feel better about our own. The 80s feel remarkably resonant to an era where the threat of apocalypse looms large and where the men of power feel insular and arrogant in a way that induces a begging for them to come crashing down. So we take a little neon and some synths and hope that reflects a world we’ll make it through.

This looms large to me right now thanks to the recent rediscovery of Queensryche’s Operation: Mindcrime.

For those of you unfamiliar with the band, they’re a progressive metal act from the 80s that had the fun of existing in a space between the hair metal groups and the guitar nerd metal acts before thrash metal and grunge brought the whole MTV metal thing crashing down. Based out of Seattle and boasting the chunky, catchy guitar work of Chris Degarmo and Michael Wilton and (most notably) the expressive air-raid siren pipes of Geoff Tate, the band rode an inconsistent wave of radio success and critical acclaim to cult classicdom.

For those of you unfamiliar with the album, it’s the album that launched the aforedescribed band to success. A concept album about Nikki, a drug addict who’s manipulated into joining a revolutionary political organization by Dr. X, an enigmatic cult figure. Dr. X uses Nikki’s addictions as well as some good old-fashioned brainwashing to turn him into an unquestioning puppet assassin.

But the love of nun/prostitute Sister Mary induces Nikki to fight back against Dr. X and try to break free of the control he has. Spoiler: It doesn’t go particularly well for anyone.

Yeah, not the best storyline, but it’s got a certain kind of punch to it. The Manchurian Candidate, but with an 80s metal sheen. Kind of surprised we never saw someone like Brian De Palma do the movie version of it, it feels up his alley.

This is a great album, let me make that much clear. It’s catchy and thought-provoking all at the same time. It’s got some of Geoff Tate’s best vocal lines, rock-solid drumming, and kickass riffs. “Speak” and “Spreading the Disease” get me belting in the car like nothing else, and “Eyes of a Stranger” is sheerly epic.

But this isn’t a review. Rather, I want to talk about what ended up being weirdly prescient about this album, which is the sheer furious anger it has against a society that feels resonant now.

Let’s just let a few lines speak for me:

The rich control the government, the media the law
To make some kind of difference
Then everyone must know
Eradicate the fascists, revolution will grow


And the poor stay poor
And the rich get rich
And the cops get paid to look away
As the one percent rules America

“Spreading the Disease”

I used to trust the media
To tell me the truth, tell us the truth
But now I’ve seen the payoffs
Everywhere I look
Who do you trust when everyone’s a crook?

“Revolution Calling”

It isn’t as though anti-government sentiments are a new thing, nor is it as though it’s uncommon to be dissatisfied with the direction of the country or the media.

But there’s a specific palpable anger that we see brewing again as of late. A resurgence of the idea that our institutions are working against us selfishly, that they’re out for their own interests and specifically screwing us over.

It’s the language of revolution too. The idea that the action that needs to be taken is to overthrow the system. Violent or not, it’s the words that pass from the mouths of Sanders and Trump, the idea that someone needs to come in and overthrow the system. Although it’s definitely much closer to Sanders with Mindcrime, given the album’s noted disdain for the wealthy and the media.

Religion factors in heavy too, which is perhaps more a product of the Moral Majority 80s than one that necessarily resonates with our own time. It’s easier to believe that the church is a part of the same corrupt institution with the televangelist movement of the 80s as well as the host of scandals. It’s the same anger of Leper Messiah.

But it’s that distrust of institutions and the idea that the overthrow is coming soon. Operation: Mindcrime feels eerily relevant today, there’s an anger coursing through its veins that’s all too real. I encourage you to give it a quick listen and know that this was not the first time we’ve felt this, and I can’t imagine it’ll be the last time.