It’s difficult to distinguish where Scars On Broadway, the self-titled debut of System Of A Down’s Daron Malakian’s new project, moves from tolerable to irritating to painful. In fact, it’s one of the hardest things I’ve had to listen to as a reviewer in recent memory. Where SOAD bandmate Serj Tankian’s solo album (which is what Scars On Broadway is for Malakian—despite having John Dolmayan on drums, this is essentially a Malakian solo release) was reasonably passable if expectedly heavy-handed, this unchained-besides-for-Rick-Rubin debut is downright annoying.
Truth is, I was ready for this. Taking a higher profile on the Mezmerize/Hypnotize releases, especially vocally—which isn’t his strongest attribute—Malakian had effectively decided that he was in charge, and while I’m not stoking any fires about the hiatus of SOAD, it’s obvious that his ego was a deciding factor. After all, it’s not like he started a comic book store after the hiatus or took a break. He went right to work on a project of him.
But the songs themselves aren’t “bad,” at least from a technician’s point of view. Malakian has always been a competent arranger, despite delusions of grandeur, always able to turn on a dime. And he sure knows how to write a chorus. There are dozens of excellent moments here, but moments don’t an album make. Self-criticism doesn’t seem to be his strong suit. After starting off Scars On Broadway with the middle-of-the-road punky cut “Serious,” Malakian gets arpeggiator-meets-introspective classic rock on “Funny.” “Exploding / Reloading” is a throwaway fast cut aside from its Queens Of The Stone Age chorus. A recycled SOAD powers “Stoner-Hate,” then “Insane” gets back to that Police-style introspective rock.
To there, fine. But right when the next track, “World Long Gone” peaks, with an excellent chorus, Malakian manages to screw it up something awful with a sneering doubled vocal of himself mixed in the back. From there, things start to get really shaky.
The cleverly arranged “Kill Each Other / Live Forever” is likely the strongest track, even given the obnoxious simplicity of it. But then “Chemicals,” two songs later, is Malakian at his most juvenile ever and is completely without merit. The otherwise so-so “Enemy” is bridged by the rendition of “We’re On Drugs” that was such a popular illegal download for System Of A Down, and probably the one smiling moment for older SOAD fans here.
“Universe” is brought down by a hammed-up chorus and a drooling Dylan-style sung verse. “3005,” one of the most out-of-place songs here, sounds like Malakian playing a Corrosion Of Conformity cut, and is strong, despite his lack of care for the solo/lead.
I could go on, but there’s only a few more songs, and as you can probably tell, there’s not much redeeming about them, either, including the single, “They Say,” which is, of course, on the end of the album. On a whole, besides for the detailed missteps noted above, the most frustrating aspect of Scars On Broadway is Malakian’s attitude. For all his posturing as an agent of change, particularly politically as in his former act, his insipid apathy is inexcusable. If it’s sarcastic, then he’s still missed the point, even if I have as well.