Risk (Megadeth, 1999)
Megadeth's eighth album, Risk, was an ill advised misadventure into the realm of top 40, disposable hits. Everyone hated it, and it was never heard from again. Despite this, the album isn't as bad as it is made out to be- it is certainly no Saint Anger- but it is far from Megadeth's best, and it is fairly obvious that the band is outside of their comfort zone. The album is plagued by too many slower, non descript songs, especially in the second half, though the opening tracks are surprisingly strong. Additionally, it scraps many of the things that Megadeth does best (blistering guitar solos, technical rhythm sections, great choruses) while mostly failing to improve on their glaring weak spots (Mustaine's voice, lyrics.)
The album starts off with two excellent tracks, Insomnia and Prince of Darkness. Insomnia is one of the few up tempo, aggressive songs on the album, and it works really well as a sensible departure from Megadeth's customary style. Prince of Darkness, on the other hand, features some of the best lyrics on the album, and has a fantastic chorus. My one complaint about this song is that it is a poor song to place after something like Insomnia. Prince of Darkness starts off very slowly, which kills the momentum from the previous song. Other than that though, this is about as good of an opener as could be expected.
The second set of songs, Enter the Arena and Crush 'Em are far more forgettable. Enter the Arena is nothing more than a lead in to Crush 'Em, and can barely even be considered a song. Crush 'Em is one of the most mainstream friendly songs on the album, but it is far from the best. The lyrics are quite embarrassing, and definitely feel like the kind of song intended to be played at sporting events and the like (couldn't help but think of Faith Hill's Sunday Night Football theme song as I listened to this.) Unfortunately, the next four songs are completely forgettable, and represent Megadeth attempting a more mellow style and mostly failing. Breadline starts off the trend, and here we definitely see the "modern rock" trappings come into play. The song is very much driven by Mustaine's vocals, a trait shared by many of the songs in the second half of album.
Stripping down and simplifying the music only works when you have the voice to back it up. What worked rather well for James Hetfield on the Black Album, Load, and Reload doesn't work for Mustaine on Risk. His trademark growling is suitable, great even, for songs like Peace Sells..., Lucretia, and Good Mourning, Black Friday, due to the atmosphere and complexity of those songs. Stripped down songs like the aforementioned Breadline, I'll Be There, and Wanderlust just do not work with Dave's voice.
The album concludes on a slightly better note, however. Seven has some of the better guitar work on the album, including a really cool riff and an excellent solo during the outro. Time- The Beginning is the rare example of both strong lyrics and Dave's voice suiting a slower song. The Beginning is also one of the only truly atmospheric pieces on the album. Most of the songs on this album are overproduced and dulled, lacking none of the raw, blunt qualities that made the earlier albums work, and not creating a sonic atmosphere that compliments the material like this song and Prince of Darkness. This is an example of what this album could have been, with more focused songwriting and vocals, in addition to a more careful production process. The follow up, Time- The End is a quality companion piece to the previous track, but a bit flimsy on its own.
The bottom line is that, if anything, this album wasn't enough of a risk for Megadeth. In some ways, most notably lyrical content, the album feels very half hearted, and Dave's unwillingness/inability to change his style to accommodate the songs kills much of the second half of the album. They play it safe with more "commercial" compositions, and mostly fail to put their own touch on the genre. Solos are only seen on a handful of songs, and the rhythm section is generic throughout. There are some stand out tracks, but overall this is a weak album, metal or not.
Prince of Darkness
Time- The Beginning