Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Megadeth - So Far, So Good... So What?

So Far, So Good... So What! is the third L.P. from Megadeth, and it is a very unique album. It is peculiar in many ways, yet criminally underrated. Following the much-praised Peace Sells... but who's Buying? and preceding fan-favourite Rust In Peace, this record is often overlooked or just outright ignored. It was surrounded by controversy, from the very beginning, as line-up problems threatened its very creation. Drug abuse had run rampant within the band since the beginning, but by 1987 Gar Samuelson and Chris Poland were ejected. Mustaine later made it clear that, as far as the former guitarist was concerned, it wasn't so much the drug use as it was the actions that resulted from it... such as stealing and selling off band equipment to pay for drugs. Dave and Junior were then joined by Chuck Behler and Jay Reynolds, on drums and guitar, respectively. By the time the album was set to be recorded, they discovered that theur new guitarist was incapable of handling the material, so they ended up replacing him with his own guitar teacher, Jeff Young. During the recording, the band also clashed with the producer, ending up with him being tossed out and the whole thing remixed, just as with the last effort. Despite all of this, by January 1988, Megadeth released their third album through Capitol Records.

Side A opens with "Into the Lungs of Hell", which is an incredible instrumental track. Clocking in at over three minutes, it really gives the listener the feeling of having been taken on an epic journey. Several of the riffs that are present here could have been used to sustain individual songs, and this was merely the beginning. It is almost reminiscent of the instrumental that starts out Iron Maiden's Killers album, just far more vicious. The feeling that is conjured up takes one to an earlier time, and sounds like something that may have been developed prior to the first album, with a good Speed / Thrash approach.

This leads right into "Set the World Afire", which was the first song that Dave Mustaine wrote after being fired from Metallica. Surely, it went through some sort of development in the five years that it took to make it onto a full-length, but it still captures a very raw feeling. Following the nuclear explosion, one hears the sound of razor-sharp guitars that slice right through you. Many say that the production of this album is somehow less effective than that of the others from Megadeth's classic era, yet the sound suits the material, perfectly. In fact, given that some of the songs pre-date Killing is My Business..., it is only appropriate that the production is a little more raw and ugly. This track is one of the highlights of the album, and features a variety of tempos and a good mix of Speed and Thrash riffs, along with wild solos and hateful vocals.

The next song is a cover of "Anarchy in the U.K.", by the Sex Pistols. As a matter of fact, Steve Jones even plays a lead solo on this version. Unfortunately, the song really kills the momentum of the album. It is well done and enjoyable enough, but the placement couldn't have been worse. It should have been buried somewhere on Side B, as with the previous cover tunes. At this point, the record has not been able to establish any particular feeling and the listener already begins to sense a feeling of disunity within the material.

This is followed by "Mary Jane", which starts with a rather eerie melody. The pace is considerably slower than the previous songs and really would have worked well as the second proper song. Some of the haunting guitar work and vocal effects are slightly reminiscent of Mercyful Fate, and the lyrics seem to deal with dark topics. Initially, I was a little annoyed with the song, thinking it was a reference to drug use and thinking such a thing to be immature and pointless to write a song about. It may very well be that, but the lyrics don't make it as obvious as the song title would have one expect. As the song continues, you can really see the chaotic nature of the record and it is actually a breath of fresh air when one considers how most of Megadeth's peers were getting farther from their roots, by this point.

Side B kicks off with "502", which loses the dark feeling that was present on some of the earlier songs. It's more of a straightforward song, being one of the faster tunes on the record, though never really reaching full speed. It lacks the intensity of some of the band's older material and the non-serious subject matter, once again, kills any sense of cohesion that that could have existed. I wouldn't go so far as to call it a "throwaway track", but it could have used a little more work. All in all, not a bad song.

Next up is "In My Darkest Hour", one of the band's best-known songs of all time. The music was inspired by the death of Metallica bassist, Cliff Burton, while the lyrics seem to deal with something altogether different. The mixture of clean and acoustic guitars start the song out, before a mid-paced riff carries this miserable dirge toward the shadows of despair. It doesn't quite compare to a song like "Fade to Black", but it's about as close as Megadeth ever came to making such a song. Later on, the pace picks up and some nice solos are included, though not measuring up to those found on the previous record. Following an intense crescendo, the song returns to the slow and depressive riff that introduced it, before stepping forward and collapsing into an open grave.

"Things will be better when I'm dead and gone..."

"Liar" picks up the pace, as an ode to the band's former guitarist. Again, this sort of thing is not my cup of tea and manages to lose the feeling that has been conceived by several of the other songs. Musically, it's got some decent ideas, but none that are particularly brilliant. It is at this point that one gets the clear picture that So Far, So Good... So What! is very inconsistent.

The album ends with "Hook in Mouth", which is a little annoying until the second verse, since the first has no guitars. This song deals with censorship of music, most notably the P.M.R.C. This was a big issue in the late 80s, and is the only real example of anything political on this release. Naturally, as with the last song, the lyrical concept is less interesting but the music increases in feeling as the track progresses. There is also a decent amount of shredding tossed in. Going from heavy-as-hell Thrash riffs to more intricate Speed Metal passages, this features some of the best solos heard since the beginning of Side A, and at least ends the journey on a positive note.

Here we have an album that is made up of a few old songs that didn't make it onto either of the first two records, a cover song and a couple tracks that never really live up to their full potential. Combined with a somewhat more raw production job and an inconsistent feeling throughout, So Far, So Good... So What! is often discounted and largely forgotten. The fact of the matter is that there is a good deal of worthy material here, despite the album's flaws and anyone that likes the old Megadeth material would be doing themselves a disservice to overlook this collection of songs. While the whole may fall short of being greater than the sum of its parts, some of the individual tracks represent a few of Dave Mustaine's career highlights.