To begin, I would like to say happy Independence Day to everyone out there. Okay, that’s out of the way. I recently listen to Harakiri by Serj Tankian, the third solo album from the lead singer of System of a Down. If you look into this guy at all, you will see that he is a poet, a political activist and producer. Of course, he is also a musician but it appears that he is constantly trying to prove that he is more than that. This album is an interesting listening, and yes I understand that ‘interesting’ is the kind of word that is just ambiguous enough that you feel compelled to read the rest of the review.
When I grew up, I was in a number of bands. Because of this, I knew a lot of other people in high school that were in shitty little punk bands. This means that everyone wrote their own lyrics, which when you are in high school is something that should actually be outlawed. However, there was always something charming about the dead-seriousness and lack of subtlety with which everyone plowed through their songs that makes me smile when I look back at those shows. Serj Tanakian never grew out of this phase of his life, and it shows in a major way on Harakiri. And while it may suck for him as a person, it doesn’t totally suck on this album.
There are moments on this album where lyrics will jump out at you and you will cringe. There are also moments, albeit many fewer, that lyrics will jump out at you and you will be impressed. Such is the paradox of this album; Tanakian wants to branch out from the bro-down ho-down that is System of a Down and follow different roads. The odd thing is that he doesn’t even know what roads he wants to follow. Rather than feeling like a pointed effort to stretch his musical wings, Harakiri feels like a man chasing butterflies down a road that divides 5 or six times and he is constantly trying to go down all of them at once. This leads to an album that feels ambitious but falls short of its own good intentions.
On the flip side, I found myself smiling a lot when I listened to this album. There are songs that are in major keys and there are hyper-traditional pop choruses that come out of nowhere. This album was not great but it constantly surprised me and made me think that Tanakian is a dynamic and interesting talent. There are moments on this album where he sounds like a confident and cool rock star (listen to “Ching Chime”) and then there are songs that sound like he’s taking a Tenacious D song and making it over-the-top cheesy and serious (listen to “Figure it Out”). The killer thing about it is that “Figure it Out” is directly followed by “Ching Chime”, so you end up getting the bitter with the sweet.
This album is uneven. It has highs that are nostalgically great and even a couple of moments that are legitimately cool and fun, which is the entire point of this project. When you are in a band like System of a Down, you aren’t really allowed to play too many slow songs with keyboards and studio tricks, and if you do, it better be heavy as fuck. With Harakiri Serj has the freedom to show his lighter side, and while it doesn’t always work, there is something about this album that makes me smile. Maybe it’s because his swagger is ubiquitously sprayed on this album when it isn’t always earned or necessary. Or maybe it’s because guitars and passion are rad when they aren’t covered with egotism and bullshit. Whatever it is, this album has a punk rock charm that I cannot deny and while I cannot recommend it fully, I would say that anyone listening to it might not be upset that they did.
Track to Dig: “Ching Chime” – This is Tanakian’s confidence coming out and shooting a load all over your ears. And the crazy part is that your ears will say thank you.
Track to Miss: “Cornucopia” – It’s usually a bad sign when the first track on the album is the one to miss, but musically it sounds like a fucking Yellowcard song with lyrics written by a sad 17 year old boy that wants to be edgy with lyrics like “We fuck the Earth and don’t know why it cries”. Yeah, this song just makes me want to pull Serj aside and say, ‘Really dude? Really?’
And hey, feel free to email me and tell me how right I am, or to show me how incorrect you are at firstname.lastname@example.org Do it, if you’re not a puss.
Jason R. Noble