As far as urban legends go, the story of how System of a Down’s latest album leaked to the internet is a pretty good one. After the Toxicity sessions wrapped up, the band ended up with close to 30 songs recorded. The strongest ones made up the album, but the remaining songs were shelved, to be used at a later date. According to the rumor, vocalist Serj Tankian slipped a copy of the tracks to a few fans at a California show on CD-R, which is how the unreleased tracks supposedly hit the internet. The band’s camp has since strongly denied that this ever happened, and instead claims that “hackers (may have) broke into computers in the studio and pilfered the material.” A much more likely scenario is one where an unscrupulous engineer, janitor, or friend of the band ended up with the tracks on CD-R and eventually leaked them online.
Regardless how, soon over a dozen new System of a Down tracks were floating around on every file sharing program known to man, and the band was forced to react. After finishing mixing and mastering 16 tracks, Steal This Album, a tongue-in-cheek reference to the entire internet debaucle was released in November of 2002, barely a year after Toxicity, their sophomore release, hit stores.
The tracks that appear here don’t sound like outtakes or throw away tracks to me. In fact, I think you could throw these tracks together with the Toxicity tracks, jumble ’em all up, and divide ’em into two CDs randomly and no one would notice. There’s no big themes, formulas, or sounds that seperate these tracks. It’s just more of the same — which is great for those of us who like SoaD, and bad for those who don’t.
“Chic n Stu” starts of the madness with Serj screaming out pizza toppings at the top of his lungs. “Innervision” contains SoaD’s trademark bouncy guitar riffing over huge vocal choruses. “Bubbles” reminded me of “Sugar”, changing volume and guitar sounds on a whim. “Highway Song” and “Fuck the System” both attack the establishment in typical System fashion. “Ego Brain” and “Mr. Jack” are both more straight forward rockers, with most of the band’s trademark gimmicks pulled out (although there would be no confusing these with any other band). Describing SoaD’s songs are like talking about a bag of jellybeans. “There’s a red one, a blue one, a purple one, a kinda deformed orange one …” You either like jellybeans or you don’t. You get the idea.
For what’s little more than a compilation of songs that the band has been working on over the past five years, Steal This Album fits together pretty well. There’s a few tunes that stick out and slow the momentum down a bit (“Roulette”, a Serj-crafted acoustic track, for one), but for the most part the disc feels like a genuine studio effort, and that’s not bad for a bunch of songs intended to be “b-sides and soundtracks”.
System of a Down fans should definitely steal, er, buy this album. As with most bands with established fan bases and unique sounds, there’s not much here to win new fans or turn old ones away.
01. Chic n Stu
06. A.D.D. (American Dream Denial)
07. Mr. Jack
11. Highway Song
12. Fuck The System
13. Ego Brain