Queensryche’s Operation: Mindcrime – 25 years on
“Just like any idea, it takes time to fully explain the potential of something,” Tate reflects. “A band is always a very political entity. I had to do some wheeling and dealing to make it happen. Once I had one guy interested in my idea it kinda snowballed. And Chris really launched into it with me.”
Among the first songs to be written were Eyes Of A Stranger and The Mission, while the military-flavoured opening clarion call Anarchy X was developed from an idea already worked up for Rage For Order but then abandoned. Slowly but surely, the concept fell into place.
The central character of the storyline was Nikki, a street kid left to fend for himself who ends up bitter and strung out on heroin. Enter the sinister Dr X, who moulds the anger of his young protégé to his own revolutionary ends, getting him to assassinate the city’s political and religious leaders. Sister Mary, a former hooker-turned-nun, then joins the plot. She’s been hired by Dr X to be Nikki’s conscience, thereby enabling his killing spree to continue. Inevitably, Nikki and Mary become lovers. But when Dr X realises Mary’s usefulness is over he orders Nikki to kill her.
In the best storytelling style, Queensrÿche leave the listener to make up his own mind about the conclusion. But we are at least given a few final clues: Nikki refuses to kill Mary; he finds her hanged by her own rosary. By that time Nikki has already been committed to State Hospital and is being detained under extreme security; meanwhile he struggles to piece together his muddled memories: did he really kill Sister Mary, or did Dr X indoctrinate somebody else to do it? Just to complicate matters further, Queensrÿche opt to tell the tale in flashback form, Nikki kicking things off with the dramatic proclamation: “I remember now…”
“Geoff had wanted to write about the moral decay of society,” Michael Wilton explained several years later. “It could easily have backfired on us if we’d done a sloppy job. We didn’t record it in the sequence you hear it on the album, so we had to make sure the songs fitted together correctly. It was like reading a movie script.”
Looking back, the band say that they experienced moments of inspiration and frustration during the making of the record.
“Some parts were easy, others… were not necessarily difficult, more time-consuming,” Tate says. “Communication-wise, we were on a roll. Having made a couple of records by then, we had a good system in place. The segues between the songs, for instance, required quite a lot of planning, but you don’t mind that when you’re enjoying your work.”
The brainwave of introducing a hooker-turned-nun character to the tale dawned upon Tate in, of all places, an Amsterdam nightclub. “It was a late, late, late night, and in my party-influenced stupor I happened to see this woman dressed as a nun – I’m not sure whether or not she really was one,” he explains. “She was clutching this teddy bear and dancing to really loud, pummelling techno music. She seemed mesmerised by her own sadness. That image stuck with me, and she became our Sister Mary.”