System Of A Down is breaking up? Serj Tankian is releasing a solo album? System Of A Down is NOT breaking up? Daron and John have a solo project? I love tabloids, don’t you?
I first listened to SOAD after reading about them in an issue of Revolver, and a close friend loaned me a copy of Toxicity and their self-titled LP. Addicted, I soon became to songs like “CUBErt” and “Jet Pilot”, with clever lyrics such as “humans everywhere, canned” or “through the eyes of a horse on a jet pilot” (whatever the latter actually means). So after 10 years, this mecca of Armenian metal decide to approach side-projects. I warmly accept it, and believe no break-up rumors because – well, I don’t read gossip pages due to their uncanny ability to polish bullshit.
First on the roster was Serj Tankian – System’s head lyrical mastermind and lead vocalist. After trying a hand at selling his unique brand of collected poetic works entitled Cool Gardens a few years ago, we find him becoming somewhat of a multi-instrumentalist on his debut solo effort, Elect the Dead. It has been critically acclaimed, politically panned (naturally), and different fans take it different ways – in my case, there was a fraction of filler, but it’s overall a solid piece.
Once this co-founder for Axis Of Justice finished toying with the conservative masses, his lyrical partner in crime, Daron Malakian – the guitarist of SOAD known for his insane presence both on stage and in the videos – took up arms with drummer John Dolmayan for their project known as Scars On Broadway. According to Malakian, the self-titled debut release is more rock than metal, “I don’t feel we’re the mosh-pit band, that’s just where I’m comfortable as a writer right now…”
After a dose of Malakian’s songwriting on the last two System albums, Hypnotize and Mezmerize, I kind of saw where this might go – a lot of loose metaphors and sarcastic humor, with serious undertones (not unlike System, but with less of an abstract approach) and standard nu-rock arrangements. The sound is (and don’t shoot me for saying this) very alt-rock, but still bears a signature sporadic flavor in the recognizable Malakian vocals. Certainly, I didn’t expect it to outdo or overlap anything in System’s catalog, though I did (regretfully) worry that they might sound too much like them. Though I had high hopes, you run that risk when members of well-known bands change groups. The first track, “Serious” does mimic the previous statement, which does not bode well for our opening song.
Once we’ve crossed over to the next few songs, however, there’s a very erratic mood to them. It’s as if Malakian and Dolmayan’s former band mates let the leash off and allowed them to go crazy -in a fashion almost mocking mainstream radio. “Funny” has a modern rock tinge, with potent lyrics like “I saw swastikas on Santa Monica”, while “Exploding/Reloading” comes out swinging with Strokes-like musical bombast and lyrics such as “I like suicide mixed with Jesus Christ, yeah”.
“Stoner-hate” could be called a bragging track, in the spirit of West Coast rap (primarily the chorus), only doused in a sense of humor. “Insane” is about as filler as can be expected from these rockers, and the sad part is this continues a bit on each remaining track – save for “They Say”, which references the homeless preachers of Hollywood claiming the end is near.
It is apparent Malakian is trying to come into his own, lyrically. Scars On Broadway shows us a nu-rock band in its infancy, with some potential if driven in the right direction. I even applauded the track arrangement, putting their first single “They Say” at the end of the album allowing listeners to check out other songs to develop a well-rounded opinion.
Scars On Broadway is most definitely worth hearing – if you’re a die-hard fan of Malakian’s vocals. It’s sadly an overall novelty work, with lyrics that unfortunately toe the line of absolute absurdity in some cases (note the songs “Chemicals” and “Kill Each Other”) , but has shining gems within such as “Cute Machines” and the aforementioned “Exploding/Reloading”.
I don’t say novelty because they do or do not sound like SOAD. I don’t say this because they suck, for it’s obvious they don’t. I am saying this because I don’t think this album will live up to the hype it was given by MySpace or Malakian himself. Something tells me these guys aren’t finished yet, but I doubt Scars On Broadway will be a definitive piece in anyone’s collection.
Sorry, my fellow SOAD fans – it just did not do it for me.
Until next time, check out the video for “They Say”, featuring a Rick Rubin-looking Malakian, and scattered images of violence in the media stapled to grand performance footage of the band in an abandoned warehouse.