Album Review: Serj Tankian - "Imperfect Harmonies"
There are a certain number of things that must be said in regard to Serj's album, and they relate to both the man and the music. He possesses a nearly flawless sense of the dramatic. Sometimes teetering on the precipice of melodrama, Tankian has an innate talent for crafting music of grand context. This album, not unlike any of his solo adventures, would be well adapted for stage, complete with larger-than-life characters, exotic sets and resplendent costumes.
His music is always couched within a deeper metaphor. All of Serj's songs are about something, even if Serj might be the only one who understands what that something is. The resultant speculation as a listener adds a layer of surprising depth to pieces that otherwise might appear superficial.
Serj himself is not a man afraid to expose his ideas to consumers, as each of his solo projects has been both personally indulgent and impossibly decadent. Each track is stamped with Serj's own personality, and only some of that feeling comes from the unique qualities of his voice.
Speaking of, Serj's voice is on the proverbial button for this work, although perhaps not as end-to-end strong as we've seen him before. The more emotive parts of his singing feel just a shade forced, especially as he pushes into note ranges that he does not appear entirely comfortable in. “Peace be Revenged” is a prime example of this. Still, his strong and individual vocal presence is both the focus of the album and the load-bearing pillar that supports it.
All of those things lend to what it supposed to be a complicated web of musical and emotional themes. This is where “Imperfect Harmonies” falls a little short. While the mix of rock and classical instruments creates a theatrical affect for the songs, the overall content becomes repetitive.
No one can doubt the strength of Tankian's voice or the conviction he dedicates to his songs. Rather, one can only sing so many songs of defeat and longing before the listener begins to get the idea. The orchestration and production of the album is full-bodied and powerful, but the second half boils down to a collection of similar songs about similar ideas.
It is in the first half where the groundbreaking takes place, as Serj confronts the listener with a first-note heavy assault in “Disowned Inc” that lacks any sort of preparatory preamble. It is that kind of dissonance and penchant for knocking people out of their comfort zone that Serj could have rolled forward into an epic work. Regrettably, the album gets bogged down and doesn't really churn that initial shock into something more substantial. It isn’t until “Left of Center” that the album again reaches its apex of jovially haunting and strangely catchy that could have colored the entire experience. “Imperfect Harmonies” has poppy, almost dance beats in a number of tracks (“Gate 21” and “Borders Are…” to name two,) which are a nice flavor, but don’t do enough to separate the tracks from each other.
“Imperfect Harmonies” is by no means a dud. The album is concurrently inventive and exploratory, and it gets full marks on that front. It's just not quite as deep as its creator wants you to believe, and while it would be well suited to be told as a live action play, it loses effect without those visual cues.