Megadeth - So Far, So Good... So What! (1988)
There are a couple reasons why I wanted to give this Megadeth album a listen and review. First off, I enjoy Daniel's story of that Megadeth show he went to 30 years before this review, with a slight hint of jealousy because my country banned Megadeth from performing here because the government thought that band's mascot Vic Rattlehead was too edgy. Second is the reason why I chose this album, because it was near the bottom of the 10+ chart list in this site. It's time to see what went wrong for this album...
So Far, So Good... So What! is pretty much the black sheep of Megadeth's classic era. You can SEE why by the somewhat lame cover with a military space soldier and HEAR why by the fact that half of the album is written 5 years prior. Despite this, half the amount of songs work well, and it would take some adjustment to get used to them.
A rare song from the band to hit so hard in the long instrumental overture "Into the Lungs of Hell". Clean tones and distortion overlap in the intro for great otherworldly atmosphere, before a spiral drive into the chaos speedy riffs and killer leads. That is a grand hint to technical riff power that's the most appealing element of the band. That's right, you won't find any groove rhythms and chords, so if you really need them, find them in another album. Those killer leads would soon dominate with Dave Mustaine's soloing that blends technicality with melody, as you might find in the next song... There's straight thrash variety to be found here, such as in "Set the World Afire", similarly titled to the first real song of Annihilator's third album Set the World on Fire.
Their cover of Sex Pistols' "Anarchy in the UK" is an attempt to metalize a classic punk hit, and well... The band wasn't even thinking of or wanting to cover this song, and yet that's what they've done. Their lack of care hasn't done the song justice, leaving this something I don't really like. For a rebellious band like Megadeth, they haven't seemed to spread that message the right way. The kind of rebellion I like is metalcore screaming about breaking free from the injustice of society, and with the band f***ing up that kind of theme, it's no wonder I still don't feel up to trying one of their most popular albums like Peace Sells... But Who's Buying? Those 4 guys just set the original motion of the vocals and instrumentation, but the new elements they added never spice up the blandness. Not even the guitar solo by Sex Pistols guitarist Steve Jones can level up my mood. I prefer covers that are straight-on metal versions of songs. Like why the h*ll sound so much like the original!? At least Mustaine's great vocals make the cover more interesting, but not enough. "Mary Jane" really kicks a**, starting mid-paced before evolving into f***ing powerful thrash. A memorable song surrounded by two fillers... The other poor track is "502", in which the chorus, samples, and drum solo are some of the worst I've heard. I do not need to describe the awful lyrics, just listen for yourselves.
"In My Darkest Hour" is a semi-mellow song that sounds it could've been written for their debut, but it's another kick-A highlight. Next track "Liar" also mysteriously sounds like something written for an earlier release like a demo, and it seems like a song they would use only if they don't have a lot of better ones. Yet I'm surprised that a song like this would even be included here, which makes we wonder what a genius like Dave Mustaine was even thinking. This just seems like an attempt to call out on a certain ex-member whom Mustaine accused of for stealing equipment and selling them to buy drugs. There is the whole "Take no sh*t" attitude, but then there's the "Talk sh*t about a former bandmate" attitude that's in poor taste. Those lyrics just don't give Mustaine and his attitude a good rep. Those two bandmates turned enemies might as well have a scream-off through their car windows, wishing out loud that one of them would be killed in a road accident (that other guy is NOT Cliff Burton, don't worry, the previous song is an unrelated diss-tribute to Burton). It's just too d*mn hard to understand! Never mind, let's just end the album with the decent closing "Hook in Mouth".
After all that b***hy whining about 3 tracks from the album, you might've been expecting the rating to be slightly lower. Well despite that disappointing sh*t, I've enjoyed a great amount of this album nonetheless, and you've already known that by reading my thoughts on the other tracks which, unlike those terrible 3, actually work well for level up the mood a slight notch. I've already accepted that even when old, they would conjure nice thrash memories to think of in the future. There's more fun simplicity than aggression and it's fine, despite the flaws. Only a true Megadeth fan would fully enjoy this, and if you hate it to the point where you want it to burn in Hell, well.... SO WHAT!?!
Favorites: "Into the Lungs of Hell", "Set the World Afire", "Mary Jane", "In My Darkest Hour"
Young, brash, and pumped full of drugs, 1988's 'So Far, So Good... So What!' saw Megadeth continue along the path they'd started upon with 1986's 'Peace Sells... But Who's Buying?". While it originally seemed like the band had cleaned up their act and become more driven and focused, the reality was that a bigger album budget just meant more money to spend on drugs and alcohol.
Unfortunately, 'So Far, So Good...' doesn't quite live up to the standards set by its predecessor. The production is arguably weaker and the writing has clearly taken a backseat to drug-taking, as, while there's a few hits here that belong on any Megadeth compilation release, the overall quality of the songs is definitely a step down than previously.
As before, the music is fast and intense, accompanying lyrics riddled with hatred and spite. Thrash metal was in full swing in 1988 and this album goes to show why Megadeth were one of the top bands of their time. Dave Mustaine's vocals are seething with bitterness and sincerity, though lack the polish that they had on 'Peace Sells'. But his signature "snarl" is in full effect, and gives the music the rawness it needs.
One notable significance of this release is that we see the first of many (and I mean many) major line-up changes. With guitarist Jeff Young and drummer Chuck Behler replacing Chris Poland and Gar Samuelson respectively. Both would be ejected from the band soon enough, with neither man having any particular impact.
While songs like 'In My Darkest Hour', 'Hook in Mouth', 'Set the World Afire' and a cover of the Sex Pistols classic 'Anarchy in the U.K.' prevent this album from being a complete loss, as a whole it just seems like a pretty passable release, especially when compared to the bulk of the bands later releases.
Album number three for Megadeth was always going to be a challenge after the success of their sophomore. "Peace Sells..." was a solid (if not a tad overrated) affair that cemented Mustaine's band firmly in the genre. To open up your next release with a racing instrumental piece is a big call but they do manage to pull it off as 'Into The Lungs of Hell' immediately peaks the interest. The big build up to 'Set The World Afire' continues this big feel to the opening of the record, however once the track starts proper it soon falters and feels like it is getting weaker, barely making midway through before the dip occurs to my ears.
Quite why 'Anarchy In The U.K.' made it onto the track listing remains one of my long standing strokey beard moments. I actually saw it on the rear of the album for the first time and thought it would suit Mustaine's style of vocals perfectly and it kind of does but although I acknowledge they are essentially key to Megadeth's sound, I don't actually rate Dave's vocals all that highly. The relevance of them on this cover is that they are the strongest part of the track. To say I prefer the original version tells you how much I rate the rest of the band's contribution here (I hate the Sex Pistols). Dave attests to listening to a lot of punk rock at the time of making this record so it does all make some sense.
'Mary Jane' again offers a strong build and injects a variety into the structure stakes along the way. Thankfully, the strong start continues into the full length of the track as it rages and rants its way through four minutes plus of prime Megadeth. '502' doesn't start well, I find it confusing and bashy, but it does settle down soon enough into a sufficiently angry little number to start the second half of the album.
Although I get the sentiment behind 'In My Darkest Hour' it just feels like it could have been so much more. Structurally it is all there, I just can't get over my dislike for Mustaine's vocal delivery. The rabid and meandering lead work fits the subject matter perfectly but somehow the whole song still falls short. 'Liar' is another classic, mocking and sneering Megadeth track with its sonics, chopping riffs and rumbling bass line. This is the stuff that Dave's vocals were made for, give me 8 tracks of this and I am a happy fucker.
If not obvious from my review thus far, I find "So Far, So Good...So What!" frustrating because it is just so inconsistent. 'Hook in Mouth' just about sees to it that the record finishes on much higher a note than it started with (proper). The reason it gets 3 stars is because although it fumbles it a bit, the record never drops the ball and still makes the end zone with it's head held high.
The version of the CD that I have includes unreleased bonus tracks because the band wanted to try and share the power that was present on this record so Paul Lani's mixes of 'Into the Lungs of Hell', 'Set the World Afire', 'Mary Jane' and 'In My Darkest Hour' make this version of the release up to 12 tracks. They do sound fuller and less restrained than their final cut incarnations but they only really would have impact if they had made the final cut in this mix. I just end up with a real sense of "look at what you could have won!" with these bonus tracks.
I’ve often seen people refer to “So Far, So Good… So What!” as the weakest of the four albums from Megadeth’s classic thrash metal period but I disagree with that statement. Perhaps I have some sentimental attachment to it as it was both my introduction to the band as well as an important album in awakening me to the joys of extreme metal. Regardless it’s been many years since my last revisit so I feel I have a fresh perspective & am in a better position to make judgements on it now.
Let’s get it straight out in the open that (much like Megadeth’s debut album “Killing Is My Business… & Business Is Good!”) the production leaves a bit to be desired. The rhythm guitar sound is quite thin, messy & often washed out by effects while the overall layering of the instrumentation generally sounds like the producer had little idea of how a thrash band should be presented. It certainly doesn’t ruin the record for me but there’s not much doubt that this album would have benefited from a more suitable production job.
Musically “So Far, So Good… So What!” saw Megadeth continue down the path that they’d been so successful with on “Peace Sells… But Who’s Buying?” two years earlier but there’s some further experimentation with more progressive sounds & structures. This was definitely not a band that sounded like everyone else in the scene at the time & it was clear that Dave Mustaine had plenty of ambition with regard to experimentation (especially in the way of song structures). The band had recently replaced their lead guitarist & drummer due to drug problems & to be fair Jeff Young & Chuck Behler did a reasonable job here although I can’t say they are on the same level as the talented Chris Poland & Gar Samuelson. Even though Dave has copped a fair bit of flack for his vocal performances over the years I can honestly say that I really enjoy his efforts on the 80’s records & this one is no different. He sounds genuinely spiteful & aggressive & it really suits both the music & lyrics. As usual the guitar solos are a highlight & show off the bands talent for producing memorable leads that find a nice compromise between melody & technique.
There’s always been something that’s bugged me about Megadeth. Even during their classic period I’ve always found that each album included a couple of tracks that were noticeably weaker than the rest. It’s for that reason that I’ve never awarded a Megadeth album the full five out of five rating & “So Far, So Good… So What!” is a prime example of what I’m talking about. None of the material is awful but a few of the tracks contribute to a lack of consistency. To be fair the cover version of the Sex Pistols’ “Anarchy In The UK” is not a terrible interpretation but it certainly disrupts the flow of the album & sounds very basic in comparison to the far more ambitious original material around it. “Liar” & “502” are also a little flat & lack the sophistication of the bands better songs in my opinion. Luckily those three tracks are all fairly short & the rest of the material included is seriously top notch thrash metal which more than compensates for those inadequacies. Instrumental opener “Into The Lungs Of Hell”, the adventurous “Mary Jane” & epic live favourite “In My Darkest Hour” really show off the class that Megadeth possessed at that time but my personal favourites are “Set The World Afire” & “Hook In Mouth” which best showcase Dave’s aggressive riff mastery & hateful vocal delivery. It says a lot that this stuff still gets me going 26 years later.
All flaws considered I still really get into this record. My feelings are very similar to how I feel about “Killing Is My Business… & Business Is Good!” however there are more highlights on this one. The weaker moments aren’t quite as poor & the production is not as bad either so I definitely favour it over the debut. Having said that it doesn’t come close to matching Megadeth’s best efforts as “Peace Sells… But Who’s Buying?” & “Rust In Peace” are another step up from here.