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"Can anybody find me somebody to love?"

Class C

Main Category: Arena Rock
Also applicable: Art Rock, Lush Pop, Dance Pop
Starting Period: The Interim Years
Also active in: The Punk/New Wave Years, The Divided Eighties,

From Grunge To The Present Day



Disclaimer: this page is not written by from the point of view of a Queen fanatic and is not generally intended for narrow-perspective Queen fanatics. If you are deeply offended by criticism, non-worshipping approach to your favourite artist, or opinions that do not match your own, do not read any further. If you are not, please consult the guidelines for sending your comments before doing so. For information on reviewing principles, please see the introduction. For specific non-comment-related questions, consult the message board.

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Note: After careful consideration, I have finally decided to raise Queen's rating to an overall three. Just about every anti-Queen argument presented below still stands, but as pointed out by so many commentators, the introduction does not indeed do justice to the band by accusing it of things that were beyond their control. With all their flaws and whatnot, Queen weren't directly responsible for their fanbase and inadequate level of adoration and don't deserve to be "chastised" for that. So, a three it is. Now here's the old venomous introduction below - for now, before I find the time and imagination to rewrite parts of it.

Queen. Queen is the 76th band/artist I'm reviewing on this site, not counting the Odds and Sods. Apart from the consideration that we've gone a long way, brothers and sisters, there is one natural question: why did it take so long?

Because Queen isn't really a bad band. Oh no, even more: Queen are a very important band, a band with quite a unique and unparalleled style of their own that's among the most significant styles of the Seventies. In fact, to a certain extent Queen embody the Seventies like no other band does: not ABBA with their poppy limitations, not AC/DC or Kiss, certainly not Led Zeppelin who had too much of a Sixties' aura around them to begin with. Queen were the epitome of glam: they took that POMP element in rock as far as it would go, blowing their bubble to enormous dimensions and taking enough care so as not to burst it - rather than bursting, it just kinda fizzled out throughout the Eighties. Careful, crafty, talented and slick, what's not to like about them?

Well, first of all, it's my own personal and, I'd say, 'national' bias. Because no person can love Queen as much as a Russian and, therefore, by law of contrast, no person can hate Queen as much as a Russian. After the Beatles, they are the second biggest band in this country, with Freddie Mercury considered a demi-god and innumerable legions of diehard Queen fanatics flashing their Freddie T-shirts on every bus stop. The classic rock radiowaves are flooded with Queen hits, and their records are being sold on every corner with no one buying because everybody already has a full collection. And I don't even count the innumerable 'Mercury clubs', 'Queen fan meetings' and miriads of Russian websites devoted to the band.

All of this can really make one sick. Sure, 'Bohemian Rhapsody' is a masterpiece, but in order to write about it, I must clench my teeth and calm down my heart that calls with all its might to dub it a stupid pretentious wussy chant, messy, incoherent and purposeless. And it's all the more painful to realize that, of course, most of these so-called 'Queen fans' are not only virtually ignorant of ninety percent of good rock music (hell, one of my relatives recently claimed to like Queen but never even heard 'Stairway To Heaven'!), but are also virtually ignorant of everything that lies beyond the scope of Greatest Hits and Innuendo. Favourite Russian Queen song? 'Show Must Go On'. Good song, but I'll make sure to skip it while reviewing Innuendo or I just might kill somebody.

The final verdict will be painful for you if you're an intelligent Queen fan, but alas, it is based on reality: Queen are especially attractive for the 'pseudo-intellectual' music fans, that is, the kind of dudes who are way too slow, close-minded and poor-educated to recognize really timeless music like Genesis, King Crimson, or Jethro Tull, but which are quick to jump on the Queen bandwagon because... because, after all, the music of Queen is quite suitable for those people. Because: 1) Queen rock - at times, harder than Led Zeppelin, and that makes up for some great headbanging; 2) Queen are artsy - they tackle opera and other classical subgenres, and so they must be a 'clever' band; 3) Queen are accessible - their songs aren't too long, they are great to sing along with, and they do not overabuse weird instrumentation or eerie special effects to distract the listener. Like I said, this is based on real observations: I know lots of people who like Queen for these reasons, but are basically ignorant of rock music in general.

This is all the more sad since Queen are really well worth getting acquainted with, but only from a general perspective. In other words, when somebody takes Queen for the real 'meat 'n' potatoes', it acts like poison instead: in this case, a person's taste will be spoiled for ever and he might even lose any contact with the real world of rock music: trust me, for many people there exists a dilemma 'Queen/everything else', and that's gruesome. But when you tackle Queen after everything else - like, say, the 76th band - it's an entirely different matter. They fit into the perspective well, and present a fascinating page in the story of Seventies' rock. But they are closely tied in with their epoch, and, I'm afraid to say, much of their output sounds badly dated today.

One thing I must warn you about first: please, for Heaven's sake, pay no attention to Freddie Mercury and the others' lyrics. They are atrocious, horrendous, abysmal, some of the worst crap I've ever witnessed. Basically, lyrics are either supposed to mean something or just to sound cool, sometimes both. Well, Freddie and co. always wrote lyrics that did neither. The imagery in their songs is pretentious, senseless, pointless, not to mention that it's badly, oh so badly cliched - at least Jon Anderson of Yes (one of my main anti-heroes, as you probably know) did not rely so heavily on poetic formulas invented long before him, trying out his own word combinations. Freddie just seems like he's taking certain gothic poetry books off the shelf and randomly picking out quotations. Unfortunately, this unbelievably cheap trick also works for the fans - many take that great lyrical put-on for real. Only goes to show you... Anyway, I think I'm going to do the guys a favor: in the following reviews, I am not going to mention the song lyrics at all, except for specially marked cases. Just take my word for it: it's prime crap. If you're not convinced, I might do a philological analysis of some of their stuff some day.

But what about the music? Many sneering critics regard the music as just a continuation of the lyrics - the same glossy put-on. Of course, they're wrong. Musically, Queen made several very important advances. They were the best band to cross rock with music hall, operetta and opera, and they did it for real, combining all these genres rather than borrowing certain isolated elements. In addition, Brian May was a good, inventive guitarist with a knack for pretty, not-too-wanky solos and fearsome guitar tones that immediately set Queen's music apart from the routine hard rock of the day. And, of course, one can write a poem around Freddie's vocals, some of the best ones to be found in the Seventies. Plus, I'm really astonished at their inventiveness - the early records, in particular, simmer and overboil with tons of musical ideas; sometimes one five or six-minute song contains enough riffs, moody passages and different grooves for a band of lesser status to build an entire album, maybe even an entire career, on.

I warn you, though, that there will be a lot of critique on my part downstairs. A bias is a bias, and I'm so sick of certain numbers I can easily overlook them or condemn them. Maybe that's why I actually dig the band's debut album, which is the only Queen record that's kinda overlooked, both in Russia and the rest of the world. Maybe not. But in any case, I do insist that Queen do not deserve more than a two. Reason? Queen are a dumb band. You can finish that thought for yourself, or ask me personally about it. But a fact is a fact. Of course, another fact is that Queen are a fascinating band, and there's absolutely no contradiction in these two statements.

Lineup: kinda consistent, that one. Frederick Bulsara, christened thus in Zanzibar but better known around these parts as Freddie Mercury - 'vocals, vocals and more vocals'; Brian May - guitar, vocals, 'no synthesizers', until the Eighties, that is; John Deacon - bass, vocals; Roger Taylor - drums, vocals.



Year Of Release: 1973

Record rating = 8
Overall rating = 11

Young pretentious potheads doing a unique style of metal-glam-rock. Quite daring for their time.

Best song: LIAR

Track listing: 1) Keep Yourself Alive; 2) Doing All Right; 3) Great King Rat; 4) My Fairy King; 5) Liar; 6) The Night Comes Down; 7) Modern Times Rock 'N' Roll; 8) Son And Daughter; 9) Jesus; 10) Seven Seas Of Rhye.

Wow, what a fun debut album. It's a pity that for many people the real Queen doesn't start until 'Bohemian Rhapsody' or at least until Queen II. Because, as in many many cases, this debut album has certain things to offer that you won't find anywhere else. For starters, Queen are very heavy here; of course, Brian May's guitar always favoured loads of distortion, but while on later releases the balance between 'metallic' and 'operatic' always went in the direction of the latter, on Queen the band is still essentially a hard rock one. But oh me oh my, what an interesting hard rock band they are.

Actually, all the main trademarks of Queen's sound and essence are already in full blossom. In the technical sense it means that Brian May is flashing his clever guitar technique on track after track, and Freddie is wailing like a rock Caruso on track after track. In the compositional sense it means that most of the songs are already lengthy and multi-part, with all kinds of wonderful, or not so wonderful, surprises popping out at the listener. And, of course, it also means that all the pretenses and all the lyrical horror is already there as well... but no, I promised in the introduction that I will keep my mouth shut about these guys' lyrics, and I will. Hint: consult 'Jesus' and 'My Fairy King' and maybe you won't want to be a rock lyricist after all.

Still, from the very first notes of the album you're in for a great musical ride. A weird, squeaky, scratching echoey guitar sound opens 'Keep Yourself Alive', and you immediately realize that the same sound was later ripped off by David Gilmour for songs like 'Run Like Hell' and 'Another Brick In The Wall Part 1'. But it's fresher and has that cool 'aero-vibration' to it that I love so much. The song has entered the annals as the only Queen classic off this album; unjust, but understandable. It's actually the most accessible number on the record - a pretty straightforward pop-rocker with a leadened sound, catchy and well-written.

Apparently, the critics at the time didn't bother to listen to this record all that much. 'Keep Yourself Alive' certainly implies comparisons with Led Zeppelin, but few of the other stuff does. Unless you go around and compare all hard rock records with Led Zeppelin based just on the ground that they are all, well, 'hard'. But Queen's hard rock had an identity to it from the very beginning. Take 'Liar', for instance. Is it just hard-rock? Nope, it isn't. The obligatory (and brilliant) heavy riffage alternates with call-and-answer vocals, poppy, sing-along moments, and aren't the main verses kinda folkish? Take it this way: the riffage reminds me of Led Zeppelin, the verses remind me of Steeleye Span, the chorus reminds me of Argent, and, of course, they're all different. They're Queen; they're dumb, catchy and tremendous fun. They know how to construct a song in a way it will attract your attention, good or bad. In the case of 'Liar', it's good. Can one resist Brian May's solo on the fourth minute? Or, rather, his 'guitar symphonies' - the man overdubs like mad. Or can one resist the 'm-m-m-m-m-ama I'm gonna be your slave' lines? Ooh, what a guilty pleasure.

Queen also show that they'd easily mastered the ballad form - 'Doing All Right' is pretty good, and this being a very early stage in the band's development, it has a certain freshness and greenness to it that would completely disappear a year later. Forever. But there's not much balladeering on the album; for the most part, the band just inserts light passages in heavy songs, proving themselves masters of contrast. And I don't like 'The Night Comes Down', because that's where form overcomes substance: Freddie's operatic singing easily overshadows the rudimentary and unfunny melody which, this time, sounds like a weak parody on whatever Argent were doing at the time.

Not that the 'heavy' part of the record is all without its faults, mind you. Roger Taylor easily disqualifies himself as a singer on 'Modern Times Rock'n'Roll', a track which is pretty fast for its time but that's about it. If this is the kind of rock the guy would have been doing without Freddie, he would probably have to join AC/DC. On the other hand, Brian May shines - he wrote both 'Keep Yourself Alive' and the excellent bluesy rocker 'Son And Daughter' with the unforgettable 'I - WANT - YOU - to be a woman' chorus.

Meanwhile, Freddie engages in all these multi-part childish fantasy tales, which all fall into the 'good but flawed' category. The multi-partness itself is the main flaw: with so much experimentation and self-indulgence going on, the band sometimes falls to parts and is more busy with noisemaking than with playing. Even so, the operatic stomp of 'Great King Rat' and the good pop feel of 'My Fairy King' cannot be beat, and I even like the corny exaggerations of 'Jesus' - I can't see why some fans hate the song so much. What is there in the song that's not present in 'Bohemian Rhapsody'? Nothing.

I guess on a certain level this album's a big fat ten - and you could argue that this was Queen's most revolutionary move, not Night At The Opera or any other albums where they were just perfecting their whole schtick. Sure, they don't introduce the opera/operetta elements here in such a huge potload as on later records, but you can already see the embryos. And, of course, if you're more into the 'heavy' side of Queen, than the 'lightweight' one, this album's for you: it's Brian May's high point with the band as a guitarist (while, for instance, Queen II would be his low point).



Year Of Release: 1989

Record rating = 6
Overall rating = 9

Rip-off! Rip-off! Find yourself a bootleg instead.


Track listing: 1) My Fairy King; 2) Keep Yourself Live; 3) Doin' Alright; 4) Liar; 5) Ogre Battle; 6) Great King Rat; 7) Modern Times Rock 'N' Roll; 8) Son And Daughter.

This album requires a little historical discussion. It was originally released in the UK in 1989 under the title At The Beeb, and issued six years later in the US as At The BBC (that's the title I have it under, but I'm leaving the original date of release). But, unlike most of the standard high-quality BBC releases, it's a major rip-off and a shame to the recording industry - at least, they should have titled it differently.

The story so far: Queen were signed to Trident Records in November 1972, but they hadn't yet released any albums, and some of their songs were given away to the BBC as 'test recordings' to be broadcasted on the 'Sounds of the Seventies' program. That is the important thing: they didn't actually perform these songs live in the studio. These songs are studio recordings, and they are almost, if not entirely, identical with the ones released several months later on their debut album. These four songs are 'My Fairy King', 'Keep Yourself Alive', 'Doin' Alright', and 'Liar'. They're all good, even great, songs, but I repeat: they are studio recordings. With overdubs and all that stuff. I doubt if Brian May could actually handle all the overdubs at the same time - he may be a minor guitar god, but he's certainly no Vishnu, and like all of us humans, he's only got two hands and ten fingers. So beware - the note on the back proudly announces that 'these are versions of well-known numbers that you will never have heard before', but don't be fooled by it.

I've spent quite a few minutes, actually, trying to discover the differences, and still haven't found none, except for a different mixing process. Even the echo and the reverb are the same, dammit. The cheaters!

As for the other four songs, they're probably also studio recordings... with overdubs. But at least they're different studio recordings - different, that is, from the final album product. There's an early version of 'Ogre Battle' that sounds like a demo, without the studio gloss over it. That way, you can easily feel the power and the glory of May's main riff, indeed the song is one of the major highlights of Queen II (and that's saying a lot), even if it's not much of an advance over the style of Queen. There's 'Great King Rat', which is performed rather by-the-book; I kinda miss the echoey effects over Freddie's vocals, too, although some might prefer this version because it's 'closer' to the listener. For some reason, they have also included the stupid 'Modern Times Rock'n'Roll' - that song will always be one of my least favourite Queen tracks and a rating saboteur.

And there's exactly one major highlight, very probably recorded live because it's about the only track where I can't hear any overdubs - a rip-roaring, seven-minute version of 'Son And Daughter' which is highly superior to the studio original. Maybe if you're a real fan, you should get this record after all, because on this number the band easily outzeppelins Page and Plant. Freddie roars like a wounded lion, and May's riffage is perfect and heavy as a BMP unit; any more heaviness and they would outdo Black Sabbath. Somewhere in the middle May just stops the band and plays these wonderful outbursts of licks and vibratos, showering the audience with a completely ass-kicking symphony of sounds. Beautiful. It's not that he's technically exceptional; I've never thought of May as a real guitar god of the Blackmore or Clapton proportions, because way back in 1973, in order to survive, you needed to play these chops. But there's something immediately likeable about his guitar playing - it's not just soulless noodling, and even if it is, it's at least distinguishable. It seems like May is actually playing to entertain the listener, not just to show off his abilities. So his style is at the same time generic, since, well, he didn't exactly revolutionize guitar playing, and outstanding, since it's much more fun than, say, Uriah Heep or Aerosmith. And, of course, returning back to the actual song, the 'I want you to be a woman' chorus is so powerful it makes you wanna go look at the actual lyrics... better not.

But that's all I can really say - and actually, I've said about ten times more than should be said about the record. I reiterate that dubbing this At The BBC is an insult to the corporation's reputation, and a big one. At least they should let this thing out with the sticker: 'STUDIO RECORDINGS'. But I still give it a 9 because all the songs except for Taylor's little horror are so friggin' groovy. And the front cover, with Freddy eating grapes over a dirty teddy bear, is great. And Brian May looks young and actually looks attractive; I kinda shudder to think of the ugly monster he'd grown into since then. At least, they sure look better than the ugly-beyond recognition mugs on Queen II.



Year Of Release: 1974

Record rating = 7
Overall rating = 10

Queen in transition - the melodies suffer accordingly, but the band still has enough ideas to make it all worthwile.

Best song: OGRE BATTLE

Track listing: 1) Procession; 2) Father To Son; 3) White Queen (As It Began); 4) Some Day One Day; 5) The Loser In The End; 6) Ogre Battle; 7) The Fairy Feller's Master-Stroke; 8) Nevermore; 9) The March Of The Black Queen; 10) Funny How Love Is; 11) Seven Seas Of Rhye.

Worse! But not a lot. On Queen II, the band starts moving even closer to its trademark style by splitting their approach in 'two halves'. One is the heavy, metallic approach: on these parts the band gets even more dynamic, aggressive and violent, than a year before, especially since Brian May is mastering the techniques of guitar overdubbing and taking them to unparalleled heights. The middle section in 'Father To Son' gotta be some of the heaviest music recorded in 1974, and it's no wonder the public rushed out to buy it - especially since Black Sabbath forgot to put out an album that year. Compensation?

The second approach is, of course, the 'light one' - with acoustic guitars and classical pianos and sweet, tender operatic singing from Freddie's part. Where the debut album only featured two ballads, and at least one of them ('Night Comes Down') was a rather dubious 'ballad' in the prime sense of the word, Queen II has at least four or five of them, not counting the 'soft' passages on the other tracks.

But there is also a third approach - the 'universalist anthem' one, that was somehow missing on Queen. Maybe that was what made their debut so different; there were no ecstatic singalong chants like 'Father To Sun' or 'Funny How Love Is'. Hmm? These two tracks mark Queen's initiation into the world of stadium rock, an initiation that many other bands would certainly twirl their nose at. But Queen were no 'bullshit intellectuals'. They were certainly ready to sniff a little dirt - as long as it won them a legion of fans. I mean, you can probably say that there's hardly anything on Queen that you can't find on a Led Zeppelin record, but can you find something like 'Father To Sun' on a Zeppelin record? Hardly ever. That's the schtick of Queen, little dude.

Oh, I forgot to mention that Queen II is a 'concept' album - the band decided to play a little game with the title and divided the record into the 'white queen' side and the 'black queen' side; the first one culminates in the ballad 'White Queen (As It Began)', while the other's centerpoint is the complex multi-part suite 'March Of The Black Queen'. Not that it all makes a lot of sense, because both sides are pretty identic - both have their share of ballads, heavy rockers and these anthemic pseudo-gospel incantations. But if they wanted to have some mindless fun, what's the problem?

Actually, there ain't a single bad song on here, just lots of mediocre and okayish ones. That's why I feel it's a letdown: Queen just overwhelms you with the onslaught of ideas and the energy, but Queen II sounds, well, if not rushed, then most certainly 'exhausted'. The tricks they employed previously have worn thin, and the new tricks haven't yet been employed to full effect. See here. There's one excellent rocker on the record - the ferocious 'Ogre Battle', whose music sounds just like the title would suggest. It's a sheer production wonder to listen to it: notice, for instance, how smoothly and flawlessly the band employs the 'chewed tape' and the backwards drums in the intro and leads them into the regular track, or how perfectly Brian May alternates grandiose epic guitar lines with generic metallic riffage. Which is near-perfect, by the way, sounding like a cross between Pete Townshend (isn't that riff borrowed from Pete's interpretation of 'Baby Don't You Do It'?) and Ritchie Blackmore. But apart from that one, I can't find any true satisfaction in the heavier tunes. The 'chaotic' section of 'Father To Son' is, well, just a lot of musical chaos, pretty fat and bombastic, but worthless by the third listen; and, while the minor hit single 'Seven Seas Of Rhye' is not listed in Queen's lengthy series of overplayed radio hits, it's only natural, because it's based on a pretty routine pop melody and isn't innovative or 'shocking' by any means. Again, it's good fun, but this time, without the unusual grittiness of, say, 'Keep Yourself Alive', not to mention the 'scratchy guitar tone'.

And Taylor loses it as always - after unsuccessfully aping Led Zeppelin's 'Communication Breakdown' style on 'Modern Times Rock'n'Roll', this time he tries to ape Deep Purple's In Rock style for 'The Loser In The End'. Roger, leave your pathetic attempts - the band has had its fair share of accusations of 'steal and borrow' without your contributions.

The 'lighter' numbers are somewhat more of a gas - this is where you'll find, in particular, the oh-so-beautiful ballad 'White Queen' with only a moderate operatic stylization that will certainly not cause nausea even among the most rabid Mercury haters. Freddie's impeccable harmonies are the major highlight here, chanted over a moody acoustic backing, and they actually sound... heartfelt? Could that be? The time of major show-offs is yet to come. And while the melody of 'Some Day One Day' somewhat irritates me with its 'unfinishedness' - why the hell does Freddie shut up after singing 'some day one day'? - I realize it's probably the main point and correctly shut up.

But then there's all that stuff on the 'black queen' side - 'The Fairy Feller's Master-Stroke', 'The March Of The Black Queen', blah blah... I don't understand the point of these songs. To me, they all sound like weak preparations for the real operatic successes of the next two albums. They aren't heavy and they aren't light, and they're not particularly groovy, either. It almost seems as if they just serve as launchpads for the band clearing their throats. The harmonies are cool, but what's in it for me if they aren't attached to real melodies? Bah. And have I yet mentioned that 'Funny How Love Is' sounds exactly like ABBA would sound several years later? Ironic, isn't it. Which means: good, but a little corny.

So I guess it's just a matter of transition. This is the reason why this album rubs me against the backyard wall a little: I'm able to appreciate individual songs, but in the end, there's just too few advances over its predecessor and too much filler. Of course, it was very cleverly marketed, so it made it into the Top 5. Releasing 'Seven Seas Of Rhye' as a single was a good move, as it was quite in the pop vein of the time; putting on a few bombastic anthemic chants was a good move; finally, I strongly suppose the big reason lies within the front cover photo. Isn't it typically mid-Seventies style? Four murky pretentious long-haired potheads in black. The public probably mistook them for Aerosmith big time.



Year Of Release: 1974

Record rating = 7
Overall rating = 10

Eclecticism rules! You'll either love this to death or hate the guts out of it.


Track listing: 1) Brighton Rock; 2) Killer Queen; 3) Tenement Funster; 4) Flick Of The Wrist; 5) Lily Of The Valley; 6) Now I'm Here; 7) In The Lap Of The Gods; 8) Stone Cold Crazy; 9) Dear Friends; 10) Misfire; 11) Bring Back That Leroy Brown; 12) She Makes Me; 13) In The Lap Of The Gods...Revisited.

This is where Queen is usually said to really arrive - but I'm not yet convinced. Not quite. No, I'm not blaming Sheer Heart Attack for being 'overblown' - although, of course, the lyrics simply suck ass all over the place (much as I hate this kind of language), and it is overblown, but who cares, this is fuckin' Queen, isn't it. The reason is simple - there's way, way, way too much filler, just like on Queen II. As of yet, Freddie doesn't know how to overcome this problem; his immense ambitions that are displayed in his and the band's arrangements and 'complexizations' of the music do not fully compensate for the sometimes painful lack of hooks and sometimes bland musical structures.

That said, the first two tracks on the album are absolute classics of the genres they are respectively in, and would guarantee this album an eight alone. 'Brighton Rock', the 'grand epochal' album opener, isn't impressive by itself - actually, Freddy's falsetto on that one is quite forgettable - but it features what's probably Brian's most classic guitar workout ever, the three-minute guitar polyphony that's very close to rock nirvana. The fact that there's quite a lot of overdubs on that sonic marvel probably has caused many a guitarist to attempt committing suicide after realizing there's no way they could reproduce it on their instruments. On the other hand, you don't need no overdubs to reproduce that powerful chunka-chunka-chunka-chunka blasting its way like a million choo-choo trains at the same time. So I don't care that the solo fits nowhere in the song and really belongs to a May solo number; it's an amazing piece of guitarwork.

And of course, track number two is 'Killer Queen', quite possibly the best Queen song ever. At least, it's definitely their best performance in that groovy schlocky music hall genre that Freddie loved so much in the mid-Seventies. The vocal hooks are unbeatable, easily worthy of a McCartney - the 'rise and fall' of each new verse is guaranteed to bring a funny kind of smile on your face; and this time May's economic, precise solo is right on the money, perfectly fitting in and conveying the same mood as Freddie's vocals. It's music hall, sure enough, but a special kind of 'rock music hall' that's never been done before or since.

After that, though, things get kinda muddier. The good news is that most of the tracks are short; this time Freddie and co. decide to keep the lengthy multi-part epics at bay ('Brighton Rock' is actually the longest piece on the album) and concentrate on covering lots of genres, from metal to psychedelic to jazz to balladeering to gospel, all with that unique operatic twirl of Freddie's and that unique guitar symphony twirl of Brian's. The bad news is that most of this stuff is hit-and-miss. I'm not sure if your tastes will coincide with mine - probably not, but I'm sure that if you're not a diehard Queen fan ready to lick the dust off Freddie's grave, you will only be pleased by, whaddya say, half of the tracks? Okay, maybe two thirds, not more. It makes about half for me.

Well, after all, Queen were no Beatles, so why should it be a surprise that their analog of the White Album (as Ben Greenstein justly dubbed it) wouldn't be just as good? It's quite natural. For one, the heavy metal thingie is starting to wear really thin: 'Now I'm Here', which, perversely enough, was somewhat of a hit, doesn't hold a candle to just about any selected rocker off Queen. The main riff is kinda pedestrian and, if you axe me, the song invokes comparisons with Bad Company, rather than Led Zeppelin. You know that's not a compliment. On the other hand, 'Stone Cold Crazy' is a very interesting track: I'm pretty sure its riff later served as an influence for Sabbath's 'Symptom Of The Universe' and one of the main influences on trash metal. Even Metallica covered that song, didn't they? Unfortunately, apart from the riff, there's nothing interesting in the song, and I usually demand something more than just a good riff from Queen. You see, I kinda regard them on a two-star basis as compared to Sabbath's one star...

The ballads leave me cold. Completely. I mean, yeah really. 'Dear Friends', 'Lily Of The Valley'... they're kinda atmospheric, with good singing and all, but Queen's ballads are a special treat. I tolerate the band as long as it's groovy or guitar-heavy, but unimaginative, yet pretentious and pompous, ballads, are more than I can take. 'Lily Of The Valley' doesn't even have a distinguishable memory or hook, like your 'White Queen'; it's all atmosphere and Freddie's singing.

So I'd better take the stupid tongue-in-cheek grooves that the band in question did so well, like the hilarious lounge jazz sendup 'Bring Back That Leroy Brown' (gotta love those silly harmonies) or the dramatic/psychedelic 'In The Lap Of The Gods'. Only the first part, mind you - the second is yet another anthemic sing-it- yourself chant that's not too attractive. Hell, even Taylor's 'Tenement Funster' is quite decent; a big surprise. The funniest thing is that the guy just cannot find a style: after ripping off Led Zep and Deep Purple, he turns to Black Sabbath - the main riff of the song is borrowed off that band's 'After Forever'. But he gives it a lighter, I'd say, a Free-style arrangement - not 'free-style' but Free-style, derivative of the band Free, if you get my drift - and surprisingly, it works: the song is thus neither way too ugly, like 'Modern Times Rock'n'Roll', nor too dang derivative in the 'who's that guy thinking he really is' style, like 'Loser In The End'.

I'll stop here, because there's way too many songs on the album to discuss them all, and I'm not currently disposed to review all the filler. Let me just repeat that Sheer Heart Attack is an extremely important album, both for Queen and for the Seventies; they had finally found their style - their main trademark style for which they are universally loved and remembered, and there's 'Killer Queen' and 'Brighton Rock' on it, too. It's an invigorating and involving listen; I just need some more solid songwriting, not bland balladeering like 'Lily' or empty second-hand metal-making like 'Now I'm Here' to upgrade the rating. As such - a very strong overall ten, bordering on eleven. But their next album certainly demonstrated they could do much better.



Year Of Release: 1975

Record rating = 10
Overall rating = 13

It may be glam trash in the end, but it's some of the most elaborately performed glam trash ever.

Best song: BOHEMIAN RHAPSODY (as much as I hate to admit it)

Track listing: 1) Death On Two Legs; 2) Lazing On A Sunday Afternoon; 3) I'm In Love With My Car; 4) You're My Best Friend; 5) '39; 6) Sweet Lady; 7) Seaside Rendevouz; 8) The Prophet's Song; 9) Love Of My Life; 10) Good Company; 11) Bohemian Rhapsody; 12) God Save The Queen.

I suppose that this album is Queen's magnum opus in any case, and even if my personal tastes were structured so as to hate it, I should still have given it the highest rating possible. If only for the fact that A Night At The Opera might just easily claim the title of 'Most Overblown Record in the World'. Of course, there are a few records like Jethro Tull's Passion Play and Yes' Tales From Topographic Oceans, but there's a big difference: Jethro Tull and Yes were progressive rock bands, and that meant there was a desire to make the music as complex and mind-boggling as possible; i.e., the idea was to twist the music in as many ways as possible rather than to overblow it. I can't say that Night At The Opera is too 'complex' in the progressive sense of the word. No; many of the melodies are just your standard music hall or heavy metal tunes, and, while the vocal harmony parts are certainly overcomplicated, this is mostly due to careful overdubbing techniques. Many of the tunes are pretty catchy, too.

The main thing is that this album is really a cross between the 'rock' and 'opera' genres, one of the most successful marriages rock has ever seen; while prog bands were hunting for 'medievalizing' their sound, Freddie goes straight for the opera genre, and says a big fat 'fuck you!' to all the haters of 'pretentious' music. I have not the least doubt that Night At The Opera made it to the Top Ten Records Most Hated among the Punk Crowd,.but I say swell. This is pretentious music carried to the limits, but not overdone; Queen at their creative and most influential peak; and a record that's truly timeless, whether one likes it or not.

Of course, this is the one with 'Bohemian Rhapsody' on it, the one and only number that's really worn thin on me because of constant over-overexposure (next only to 'Stairway To Heaven'); to an extent that whenever I hear 'is this the real liiiife...' again, I seem to be having a nervous breakdown. But there's no denying the number's genius as Freddie chants a real opera aria over a pop/rock backing, plus all the cute little sections in between. Does it mean anything? It means nothing. The lyrics are dumb, just as usual. The lyrics mean nothing. Freddie's vocal intonations are devoid of content. It's a full, unabashed triumph of form over essence; that's what mars the song. But who cares, in the long run? Instead, let us just admire all these deft little tricks - how Freddie's vocals alternate from gentle falsetto to a screechy hoarse shriek within the same line, how the oh-oh-oh-oh sections are wonderfully arranged as tiny little harmony waterfalls, how the guitar solos perfectly complement the keyboard and accappella parts, etc., etc. No doubt the number will go on flooding the airwaves for many centuries, it's bound to.

Plus, it's not the only song on the album, after all. Where Sheer Heart Attack seemed to be sinking under the weight of the filler, A Night At The Opera is far smarter. Apart from 'Rhapsody', it contains only one lengthy epic marathon - 'The Prophet's Song', with a harmony arrangement that's even more flabbergasting than the one on 'Rhapsody'. Pity you have to realize that all these enthralling cascades of vocal sound were the result of hours and hours of meticulous studio overdubs; if such effects could be reproduced live, this would be an unprecedented sensation in the music-making world. Then again, that's what studio overdubs are for, isn't it? Studio overdubs reach where the live arrangements don't go. Anyway, besides these two numbers, everything else is short and up to the point. Once again, the idea is to make a maximally diverse album, and they tackle even more styles than on Sheer Heart Attack.

There's their brand of metal-making (not too inspiring this time - 'Sweet Lady' is a throwaway, and Taylor's 'I'm In Love With My Car' is passable but dumb, and the vocals are atrocious!); a bit of pure funny English music hall ('Lazing On A Sunday Afternoon'); an upbeat, uplifting Brit-pop imitation ('You're My Best Friend' - can you resist singing along to the tune? Hardly); a moderate folkish ballad (the unforgettable melody of the Brian May-sung '39', all the more unforgettable since it's ripped off on a note-for-note basis off Dylan's 'When The Ship Comes In', and May even sings about ships! Why Dylan never sued the band is way beyond me, one possible explanation being that he ripped off the melody himself and another being that the perspective of Bob Dylan sueing Brian May would have been ridiculous); a little ragtime (the cute 'Seaside Rendezvous'); and, of course, an artificially gorgeous ballad in the likes of 'Love Of My Life'. In other words - whatever, whichever, you name it we got it, except that you'll hardly find any reggae on here. No slide guitar either. What a shame.

Oh! And, of course, I forgot the big fat album opener, don't you go making the same mistake and forgetting 'Death On Two Legs' featuring one of Freddie's angriest vocal performances ever. Man, he really sounds spooky when he's pissed off (or at least faking being pissed-off, which is even more impressive). All the song lacks is a mind-blowing guitar symphony along the lines of 'Brighton Rock', but it's great as it is. The guitar riffs are good, and Freddie's vocals present a mighty hook. And nobody could ever pronounce the sacred phrase 'now you can kiss my ass goodbye' with as much venom as good old Freddie.

Not all of the songs here are great, of course - but the trick is, while the songs are all so short and so diverse and have no direct ties with each other, I have a lot of problems trying to regard these as separate compositions. Despite all the diversity, they still have something in common, and that something is called 'artificial entertainment'. At least, that's what I call it. To me, it's all part of a big overblown whoppy suite, parts of which suck and parts of which are among the best music ever recorded, destined to impress - not just to impress, to shake and overwhelm, but to influence the outside borders of your soul rather than your deepest senses. In any case, I give the suite a large overall rating of thirteen. Surely this is better than Passion Play, isn't it?



Year Of Release: 1976

Record rating = 9
Overall rating = 12

Rather hard on the operatic side - starts sounding too samey very quickly.


Track listing: 1) Tie Your Mother Down; 2) You Take My Breath Away; 3) Long Away; 4) The Millionaire Waltz; 5) You And I; 6) Somebody To Love; 7) White Man; 8) Good Old-Fashioned Lover Boy; 9) Drowse; 10) Teo Torriatte (Let Us Cling Together).

This record was obviously supposed to form a special "diptich" with the previous one, which is made clear by the similarity in the album titles, album covers, and, of course, an overwhelming similarity of style. However, Night At The Opera still wins in quality over this one, if only because (a) it was more groundbreaking - there's no new ideas on Day at all, almost for the first time on a Queen album and (b) it is definitely more diverse, with more (and shorter) songs, more explored styles, and more created moods. In fact, if it depended on me, I would probably change both titles around - A Day At The Races is far more drenched in opera than A Night At The Opera itself. Sure, it has no 'Bohemian Rhapsody', but it has 'You Take My Breath Away', 'Somebody To Love' and 'Lover Boy' which do the opera-rock merging job just as well.

Anyway, this is a rather good album that the critics would probably be hating to death because it seems to be even more overblown than all of its predecessors. The good news is that it is at least not too pretentious in the lyrical sense: gone are the days of 'Prophet' and 'Ogre Battle', which are replaced by - for the most part - relatively accessible love lyrics, with the exception of a little bit of primitive social-historical critique in 'White Man' (vs. the red man, not the black man this time). Not that one ever listens to Queen's lyrics in the first place, of course, and all of Freddie's sentiments sound flat and completely fake, as usual, but that's only if they are taken within the "rawk" pattern that places such a big accent on sincerity. Taken within the "classical" pattern, it's okay, which is what makes Queen so marginally popular among those of my acquaintances who despise rock music in general...

I digress. The bad news, then, is that this album doesn't rock enough for me. The only fully acceptable rocker - and one of the best songs on the album - is the rip-roaring album opener 'Tie Your Mother Down', with Freddie posturing as prime cock-rocker and Brian playing some particularly mean and gruff guitar. It's flatter and not so hard-hitting as 'Death On Two Legs', but is laudable nevertheless, and Brian's "metallic slide" breaks are astonishing. But 'White Man', the only moment of rockin' energy on the second side, is a disaster hearking back to the worst moments of Queen II. Its cheap and primitive anthemicness really makes me wanna puke - how the hell did they unearth this stupid chaotic mess of a song in such a stable period?

In any case, at this time the guys were deep down into the opera-rock mergers with heavy emphasis on opera and adjacent classical subgenres, and both of the rockers were probably included so as not to lose the band's 'arder brand of fans, which explains their being relatively underdeveloped. So take my advice and prepare to dive head first into their 'softer' tunes which form the bulk of this record and constitute its main attraction. Like I already said, this is where you'll find two of their major classics in that department - the bombastic love anthems 'Somebody To Love' and 'You Take My Breath Away'. The former is not actually operatic in the traditional sense, more like a "Broadway musical meets doo-wop" tune, carried forward by majestic vocals from Freddie, strained to the point of breaking, but it's worth it - the best moment on the whole record might be Mr Mercury crooning out "...somebody to lo-o-o-o-o-o-o-ove!" which has something immediately uplifting about it. As for 'You Take My Breath Away', well, it's a song supposed to take the listener's breath away with its unbeatable harmonies and artificial beauty. 'Artificial', because all the time throughout it's obvious that you're listening to the result of Freddie suddenly waking up in the morning and consciously writing down some "patented beauty". On the other hand, it was probably the same with 'Nights In White Satin' and 'Epitaph', so why bother? I tip my hat together with my head to the harmonies arrangement: it's immaculate, and even more atmospheric than on 'Bohemian Rhapsody'.

Unfortunately, the classics aren't really matched by most of the other songs that to a certain extent constitute 'filler'; yet they are all good, well-written and catchy enough to merit your attention. 'Long Away' is good cheerful guitar-based Monkee-style pop. 'The Millionaire Waltz' is indeed a waltz (with one of Brian May's most famous guitar breaks - yeah, the one where he imitates the waltz melody), and a very amusing one at that, despite all the goofiness in Freddie's voice. I suppose, though, that in the end the goofiness actually helps because those that hate pretentiousness will be satisfied with the evident tongue-in-cheek character of the song; after all, isn't it so consciously stupid when Freddie bowls out 'come back to me, make me feel like a millionnaire'? Then there's 'You And I', a pleasant slab of delightful music-hallish piano pop, and 'Good Old Fashioned Lover Boy', a... a... a pleasant slab of delightful music-hallish piano pop. No, wait, I do know what to say about the latter: it's one of the first and most explicit declarations of Freddie being gay. Hah hah. I wonder if the radio actually played that song at the time. How does it go? 'I get my passion from the good old fashioned school of lover boys'? What a nice way to tell the world you're not alone.

The last two songs are a letdown for me - Taylor contributes 'Drowse', a truly drowsy 'psycho-ballad' that only goes to show how worse a songwriter than Freddy he actually is; and 'Teo Torriate (Let Us Cling Together)' shares the unfavourable fate of "slightly/significantly weaker song shoved in as the last number", which means that I really don't like it. I feel the singing in Japanese is absolutely necessary and the general anthemic nature of the song brings it way too close to anthems sung together at religious celebrations, you know, when you're supposed to take your neighbours by the hands and gently sway to the rhythm of the song in ecstasy. Nothing can be more disgusting, cheap and corny.

Taken together with 'White Man' and the relative lack of diversity, these factors would be enough to drag the album's rating down; but considering that it does have its fair share of undisputable classics and that the boys' songwriting and arranging are still at an all-time high, I give it a nine with no remorse. Whatever be, no one really makes music like that any more. Even better would be, I think, to join this and its predecessor on a double album - forever. Maybe cut out the weaker tracks and slam 'em onto one CD, calling it Twenty Four Hours In High Society or something. This would get as fat a ten as it ever gets.



Year Of Release: 1977

Record rating = 6
Overall rating = 9

Dangerously toying with public dis-tastes, although not yet fully in the Arena district...


Track listing: 1) We Will Rock You; 2) We Are The Champions; 3) Sheer Heart Attack; 4) All Dead, All Dead; 5) Spread Your Wings; 6) Fight From The Inside; 7) Get Down, Make Love; 8) Sleeping On The Sidewalk; 9) Who Needs You; 10) It's Late; 11) My Melancholy Blues.

A serious (albeit not completely unexpected) shift of stylistics occurs here. Superficially, the band is still continuing its double rockers/opera singers path, with about half of this record gritty, bombastic hard rock compositions and the other half slick, smoothly flowing operatic & music hall style ballads. So it at least rocks out a little more than Day At The Races, which seriously disrupted the balance in favour of Queen's 'softer' side. But the biggest problem is that the rockers aren't as good as they were before. At this point, Queen are leaning more and more and more towards the 'arena-rock champions' status, with an obligatory bunch of sing-along crowd-pleasers to confirm it. Of course, even the most obnoxious of these are infested with the usual Queen charm, and therefore I'm probably the only person in the whole wide world to utterly hate 'We Will Rock You'. It is certainly Queen's signature tune to a lot of people, particularly to those who like their Queen kicking ass and rockin' all over the world; but I am always utterly disgusted by its 'hey now people let's rock out and show 'em wusses we're the biggest, fattest and sweatiest' vibe. It is all the more disgusting when you consider such an anthem was written by Queen - a band with certainly far more intelligence than that possessed by your average cock rocking band like Aerosmith. It's as if Mercury and co. were intentionally toying with the crowd, satisfying its lowest interests and passions; this is, indeed, 'commercial' music in the cheapest sense of the word.

Likewise, 'We Are The Champions' continues the same vibe - it is at least slightly better, with a few beautiful melodic twists, especially in the chorus, but serves exactly the same purpose. The fact that these two songs (if you can call the simplistic battlecry of "WE WILL WE WILL ROCK YOU" a song, of course) are put at the very beginning of the album just goes to show how much Mercury valued this 'shifting of image'. Sad, so sad.

It does get better later on, but not always. Why are these other rockers so dang blunt? Taylor's 'Fight From The Inside' has a lot of ugly guitar noises, and I really don't have anything against ugly noises if they complement a good song, but this, this is insupportable. Straightforward and shockingly primitive. And his other contribution is the speedy trash-rocker 'Sheer Heart Attack' (hope it's not really an outtake from the real Sheer Heart Attack), which boasts a couple funny ideas like 'I feel so in-ar-... in-ar-... in-ar-.... in-ar-.... in-ar-ticulate', but essentially is just a stupid trash rocker. Even May comes up with 'Sleeping On The Sidewalk', a Stonesy blues rocker that never goes anywhere because a band like Queen could never have made a Stonesy blues rocker sound good - not really understanding anything about the blues pattern. Please stick to the whiter pattern, boys.

With all this endless disgrace, it's up to Freddie's lighter stuff to save the album from complete ruin. Thankfully, he does. The two Freddie-sung 'softer' songs on the first side are marvelous, particularly 'All Dead All Dead', a very moving lament for a lost love (and one of Freddie's first death odes - ages before that problem became obvious), with the same kind of glossy shiny vocal hooks that outsingled earlier numbers like 'Killer Queen'. And the Deacon-penned 'Spread Your Wings' is also very good, one of the band's best ever "power ballads" with an outstanding, highly memorable chorus - personally, I far prefer when Freddie is being personal and inviting me to spread my wings and fly away than when he and his bullies are threatening to 'rock me'. No thanks, but no thanks, I guess I'll pass. Better spread my wings and fly away...

Then there's the weirdest track on the album - 'Get Down Make Love'. Wow, that one's even a bit creepy, one of the most irritatingly "macho" sex anthems ever written. Okay, "macho" is not really the right word here; it's not really cock rock, it's rather just a very 'bodily' song. So much passion, heat, fury, and power. And hooks, too - other bands would kill for that chorus. Taken together with the chaotic, swirling instrumental mid-section (how was this recorded with no synthesizers?), this might indeed be considered Queen's direct answer to Zep's 'Whole Lotta Love', a little less revolutionary but a little more entertaining and intelligent.

The other three tunes on the second side aren't disgusting but are nowhere near as memorable as the band's better stuff and all suffer from specific flaws: 'It's Late' rocks, but is horrendously overlong, 'Who Needs You' never goes far beyond "cute", and 'My Melancholy Blues' is all atmosphere, no substance, highly enjoyable for fans of Freddy's voice, lyrics, and sensuality, but it's just a throwaway Twenties' sendup with very little fun quotient. Can't really say anything else.

Essentially, one's appreciation of the record really depends on whether you enjoy Queen's crowd-pleasing bombastic side or consider it gross, cliched and primitive. I fall in the latter category; whoever falls in the former will probably get a high kick out of the two opening numbers and so forgive the entire record. But it is still my deep and unchangeable persuasion that stuff like 'We Will Rock You' is simply a bait for a person's deeply hidden ounce of bad taste. Nothing more.



Year Of Release: 1978

Record rating = 9
Overall rating = 12

Inventive as never before. And definitely never afterwards.


Track listing: 1) Mustapha; 2) Fat Bottomed Girls; 3) Jealousy; 4) Bicycle Race; 5) If You Can't Beat Them; 6) Let Me Entertain You; 7) Dead On Time; 8) In Only Seven Days; 9) Dreamer's Ball; 10) Fun It; 11) Leaving Home Ain't Easy; 12) Don't Stop Me Now; 13) More Of That Jazz.

Wow, this is ever so much better than last time around - I definitely like this album. Jazz should, of course, be taken in the "all that jazz" meaning (as hinted in the Taylor coda to the album): this is one of Queen's most diverse albums ever, maybe even the most diverse, or at least a worthy competitor to Night At The Opera. Basically, after their nasty flirt with arena-rock on the previous record, Queen are back to what made them great in the first place: the ideal synthesis of hard rock and "lightweight" genres, all peppered with a slightly ironic, tongue-in-cheek attitude. So Jazz adds very little to Queen's main "legacy package" - no real innovation can be found here; but it is all duly compensated with the already mentioned diversity and a very strong melodic instinct. It is obvious to me, for instance, that both Freddie and Brian were far better at vaudeville and balladeering than at generic cock-rocking riffage; and where News Of The World was seriously irritating due to the band tackling styles not destined for their personalities, Jazz is almost immaculate in that respect.

Maybe few or none of the songs possess the impact and cultural significance of 'Bohemian Rhapsody' or 'You Take My Breath Away', but melody-wise, there's nary a weak spot to be found anywhere. Okay, maybe one - Taylor's incessant obstination with funk continues to grow and results in 'Fun It' and 'More Of That Jazz', the album's worst numbers. 'Fun It' is, in fact, truly offensive: I could care less about the fact that they use the same cold robotic drum machine beat on it that would become the prototype for at least half of the music written in the Eighties because that cold robotic drum machine beat sucked just as much in the late Seventies as it sucked in the Eighties. Obnoxious and pathetic. 'More Of That Jazz' is more tolerable, though, especially if taken as a mini-conceptual piece closing the album - no wonder they incorporate short reprises of other songs into it.

This is, however, the only factor that prevents me from giving the album a weak 11. Freddie is the obvious star on the album: all of his five contributions have something outstanding about them. 'Mustapha' thrusts us a bit into Mr Bulsara's ancient Arabic cultural background; my personal opinion is that this "Arabian pop" should have been cut to a one-minute groove instead of lasting all of three minutes, but that's nothing to raise a fuss about anyway. I suppose, though, that the track is reason enough for the entire Muslim population to condemn Freddie to the fate of Mr Rushdie. (Hope poor Freddie didn't get his AIDS from a Muslim fanatic? 'Scuse me if the joke is dirtier than it seems). 'Jealousy' is a beautiful piano ballad. 'Let Me Entertain You' is arena-rock, for sure, but hey! It's a parody on arena rock; it should never be taken directly, and it probably never was. Very hard-hitting. 'Don't Stop Me Now' should be considered among Queen's Top 5 pop anthems: it flows just as perfectly as anything, with loads of catchy moments, whilrwindy fast tempos and exciting vocals that really seem to be rising to the sky. For the record, I'd like to state that the song is very ABBA-esque - whoever finds himself enchanted by its effects should definitely check out the Swedes.

The best of the lot, though, is Freddie's fit of weirdness on 'Bicycle Race'; and no, it's not because of the controversy caused by the naked female bicycle race on Wembley Stadium that the band used to promote the song, but rather because of the song itself. There's something terribly involving about the way all these parts, so different from each other, appear to be so seamlessly sewn together: from Freddie's nursery 'I want to ride my bicycle, I want to ride my bike' to the operatic booming chorus to the funky, hard-rocking parts, to the bicycle bell/guitar solos, it's the kind of thing that really made Queen such an outstanding band: a limitless pool of invention and creativity. Hey, maybe that invention and creativity didn't always work out, but on 'Bicycle Race', they work out just fine.

That said, Brian May is no slouch either - he sure gives Freddie a hard time by trying to compete with him over the "Who Of Us Gets To Incorporate More Styles" game. Thus, he comes out with the album's biggest classic, the catchy opera-rocker 'Fat Bottomed Girls'; the album's most energetic and heavy rocker, 'Dead On Time' - Brian really shows us that he hasn't yet forgotten how to flash his fingers really fast, just watch out for that crushing riff; the A Day At The Races-style retro waltz-rocking ditty 'Dreamers Ball' (with his patented "classical distortion" guitar sound); and the folkish soft-rock number 'Leaving Home Ain't Easy' that's stylistically more Eagles than Queen, but hey, the Eagles wrote some fine songs, too.

Deacon's two contributions are a bit weaker, but still acceptable (at least, they're better than those limp funk doodlings by Mr Taylor); 'If You Can't Beat Them' seems to be a crowd-pleaser, but it's not an obvious one, so we'll take it; and 'In Only Seven Days' is very McCartneyesque.

Humph. Oomph. That seems to be it. In fact, I highly recommend this as your first Queen purchase - there's something in this passage to please any kind of music fan. Kudos to Queen for ending the Seventies on such a high note: Eighties' Queen would be an entirely different band already. I can't really rate the album any higher since it basically shows the band testing out the old formula that's already been tested before, but, on the other hand, it was a far more wise choice to return to the older schtick than to stick to the News Of The World style, persisting in the 'We Are The Champions' image. So you'll just have to decide for yourself; me, I already have it all figured out.

Funny, though, watching these four dudes in the inlay card photo, you'd never guess they would so radically transform their style AND visual image in just two years' time. Oh, and it's the last album that came with the "no synthesizers have been used" greeting card. So much for tradition.



Year Of Release: 1979

Record rating = 7
Overall rating = 10

Resumons, dames et monsieurs. The seventies are closing in on us. Get it?

Best song: BRIGHTON ROCK, and everything where Mr May plays an important part

Track listing: 1) We Will Rock You; 2) Let Me Entertain You; 3) Death On Two Legs; 4) Killer Queen; 5) Bicycle Race; 6) I'm In Love With My Car; 7) Get Down Make Love; 8) You're My Best Friend; 9) Now I'm Here; 10) Dreamer's Ball; 11) Love Of My Life; 12) '39; 13) Keep Yourself Alive; 14) Don't Stop Me Now; 15) Spread Your Wings; 16) Brighton Rock; 17) Bohemian Rhapsody; 18) Tie Your Mother Down; 19) Sheer Heart Attack; 20) We Will Rock You; 21) We Are The Champions; 22) God Save The Queen.

Hey there, a good live album - just the perfect thing to put a grand finale to the Seventies. A perfect turn of the old page - to open a completely new one. Isn't it? All right, so Live Killers isn't perfect, but few live albums, and double live albums at that, are. By 1979, Queen had amassed such a huge and solid catalog that they don't even have the time to play everything on stage: thus, four of the songs are joined together, transformed into a lengthy medley, which is somewhat bitchy, because instead of shortening highlights like 'Killer Queen' and 'Death On Two Legs', they could have easily truncated all the abysmal dreck like 'Now I'm Here' and... well, no, there aren't that many drecky songs on here, so perhaps they couldn't really have abridged anything. Perhaps a triple live record? Eh?

As far as I understand, Queen fans are mainly divided into those who prefer the band as a studio attraction (multi-layered vocals, multi-guitar symphonies, blistering production, crystal clear sound, that kinda crap) and those who'd rather have their Queen raw and hot: hysterical vocals, blazing pseudo-metallic solos, atrocious sound, cheerful crowd participation. That kinda crap. Since arena-rock isn't particularly my cup of tea, I certainly feel better about the first group of fans - after all, Queen's main significance was in revolutionizing rock production values and mixing heavy rock with classical music elements, and all of these elements are nowhere near as evident in concert. But this certainly doesn't mean that Queen could not be a kick-ass live band. And here my main reverence goes, no, not to Freddie certainly, because his live performances are just a weak shadow of his studio capabilities, but to Brian May. It's obvious that all the innumerable Freddies laid one on another in the studio could not be reproduced on the stage; I'm still a bit puzzled as to what concerns the mid-section of 'Bohemian Rhapsody' - is that a tape rolling in the background or are the band members actually participating in the singing process? Probably the former, because the sound strangely goes away from the mike and moves 'deeper'.

Anyway, so one Freddie is a poor alternative for eighty Freddies, right? Not so with Brian May, who is able, even on stage, to show himself an absolute master of all these tricky guitar technologies. His obligatory spotlight, the lengthy solo on 'Brighton Rock', doesn't bore me for a single second, and I still don't understand how the heck does he manage to make his instrument sound like that. Stereo panning is one thing, but this... wow. This actually takes skill, and... God knows what else. Unfortunately, Brian is unable to get that cool 'classical-imitating' tone of his, so 'Dreamer's Ball' sounds far less attractive than the studio original. Also, 'Keep Yourself Alive' (their only throwback to the early years) is also a minor disappointment, because I miss the famous echoey riff opening the song.

That said, most of the material ranges from decent to excellent. I will even go out of my way to say that I'm nearly blown away by the energy of 'We Will Rock You'; the studio version was and always will be ridiculous, but this inventive metallic rearrangement of it is really something else. Unfortunately, they come back with the same song at the end of the show, in its original version already, and naturally follow it with 'We Are The Champions', leaving me most displeased. Oh well, I suppose the crowd must always have its share. Mustn't it?

Other High Lights? Lots of 'em. The already-mentioned medley leaves you wishing for more, which means that it's at least excellently done (with a snippet of 'Bicycle Race' that includes a bit of all of the song's sections! Yay!). 'Get Down Make Love' is done with even more verve than in the original version - and now I finally get it: the song was intended as a parody on Led Zep's 'Whole Lotta Love'! Just listen to that chaotic section in the middle! All that is missing is a Robbie Plant singing the immortal lines - 'aaah, aaah, AAAAAAAH'. Who'd forget them? The acoustic ballads are nice and humble, and May comes out with the folkish '39', which is still not any less of a Dylan rip-off than it used to be, but I guess we were supposed to forget about that already. Plus, there's 'Don't Stop Me Now' (gorgeous), 'Spread Your Wings' (how come they included most of the best numbers from News Of The World and left out the crap?), a smokin' version of 'Tie Your Mother Down', and, of course, 'Bohemian Rhapsody'; unfortunately, the latter comes out as total kitsch because the number is plainly impossible to reproduce onstage, but at least it brings back good memories.

My only major complaint, besides the obligatory 'We Will Mock You' and 'We Are The Champignons', is 'Now I'm Here'. I never thought much of this generic slab of cock-rock, and I don't have the least idea why it was this number that Freddie transformed into the 'singalong' piece of the concert. For my money, it is way more interesting to hear the audience sing an entire line from 'Love Of My Life', without Freddie participating - something that's not usually done at concerts. Pretty cool. Not that I'm a great fan of audience participation. But heck, that's what arena-rock is all about, isn't it?

So? What are you waiting for? Oh, I know. The answer to the immortal question: 'Well, how good were they in the action?' Well, since I didn't take part in said action, I couldn't really say for sure, but judging by the results, they did satisfy everyone. And they're sure to satisfy you. These guys? They'll rock anybody.



Year Of Release: 1980

Record rating = 8
Overall rating = 11

A transitional album, with some of Queen's most brilliant moments... and some crap thrown in for good measure.


Track listing: 1) Play The Game; 2) Dragon Attack; 3) Another One Bites The Dust; 4) Need Your Loving Tonight; 5) Crazy Little Thing Called Love; 6) Rock It (Prime Jive); 7) Don't Try Suicide; 8) Sail Away Sweet Sister; 9) Coming Soon; 10) Save Me.

And so begins a new page - the Eighties' story of Queen. With a good start, too! The Game is easily the band's best achievement of that decade, and this is mostly due to the fact that it is, indeed, more of a 'transitional' album than anything else. Changes are evident from the start - in the literal sense, that is: one quick glance at the album cover shows that this is not the glammy, operatic Queen of old any more. Sure, Freddy doesn't yet sport his trademark moustache, but at least the hair is cut short, and the other guys look pretty New Wave-ish as well. You'd think they spent too much time looking at the photos of the Cars or anything like that.

The next hit comes on as soon as you put on the record: 'Play The Game' greets you with an onslaught of synthesizer sound, a true shock for a true Queen fan after all those 'no synthesizers were used' notices on the previous records. Apparently, the band finally decided that further staying away from what had already become the trendiest instrument in popular music would seriously damage their 'hipness' level - and entered the Eighties with a synth blast. Not that the synths are abused on the record: they are used economically and for the most part work well, quite unlike the letdowns on further albums. Still, it's pretty symbolic, isn't it?

All said, The Game still manages to be a good album, and actually, its 'breaking away from the formula' has been seriously overrated; so far, I can't find any major stylistic deviations from the themes developed on the band's previous two or three albums. The sound is a bit more modernistic, for sure, but apart from one or two exceptions, the melodies are essentially the same. BUT... these are good melodies. They're catchy, diverse, well-written and atmospheric.

The first side of the album is, in fact, about the most consistent side of material ever recorded by the band, and fully satisfies me in every respect. 'Play The Game' does have this synth blast that doesn't really go anywhere in particular besides stating that 'we're using synthesizers now', but the song itself is actually just another of these well-harmonized, irresistible music-hall influenced ballads that no one could do better than Queen. It is then immediately followed by an excellent venture into funk territory - 'Dragon Attack'. Imagine a 'We Will Rock You' that preserves its energy, but drops the cheap crowd-pleasing chorus and adds a couple gritty riffs and basslines instead, and you pretty much get the picture. It rocks hard and good before giving way to another unbeatable funk workout, 'Another One Bites The Dust'. Oh, sure, it's just a follow-up to 'Get Down Make Love', but it's faster and catchier, and it has all that neat stuff happening to it along the way, plus, Brian May's guitar sounds almost like Robert Fripp or David Byrne in some spots. And it was written by Deacon, too! Imagine that!

Then the funk goes away and gives way to power pop, represented by another Deacon's composition, unpretentiously titled 'Need Your Loving Tonight'. Great boppy cheerful optimistic melody, based on the prime ideal of power pop - an acoustic guitar base over which May records a grungey hard rockin' riffage pattern. Very David Bowie-ish! I wonder, is the line about 'no I'll never look back in anger' some kind of response to 'Look Back In Anger'? Eh?

And then the power pop gives way to the retro boogie of 'Crazy Little Thing Called Love', nice and authentic-sounding and everything and a perfect lightweight conclusion for what might arguably count as the best sidelong stretch of material on a Queen album. Well maybe not, but let us think about it that way. I'm kinda lazy to consult all those previous reviews - maybe the two sides of Jazz were more consistent. Let's look to the future.

The second side doesn't appeal to me that much, because it places a bit too much emphasis on the 'power' side of Queen, which is exactly the side that never really impressed me. Brian May makes the point here with two bombastic power ballads, 'Sail Away Sweet Sister' (sentimentally dedicated 'to the sister I never had') and 'Save Me'; the former is at least slightly sincere on an emotional level, but the latter is just a usual waste of tape as far as I'm concerned. Just an obligatory bombastic ending to the album - how many more records do I have to shut off at the end of the track before-the-last one? Bah. Power ballads suck, and no-one will be able to convince me otherwise...

Fortunately, they redeem themselves with Taylor's speedy 'Rock It (Prime Jive)', adorned by state-of-the-art hi-tech synth bleeps - as long as you're able to forget the hideous 'soulful' intro (hearing Roger wail 'when I hear that rock'n'roll it gets down to my soul' underpinned by a super-slow guitar wailing out the melody of Otis Redding's 'I've Been Loving You Too Long' isn't exactly my idea of what an adequate intro should sound like), the song just blasts along like a choo-choo train and really gets you going. Another tolerable, if not exactly spectacular, hybrid of funk and music hall from Freddie ('Don't Try Suicide') and another nice Cars-like New Wave-ish rocker from Taylor ('Coming Soon') add the final touch to a thoroughly satisfying listen.

Too bad that Queen didn't take enough care to preserve this stylistics further - if only they'd stayed all that creative on Hot Space and hadn't taken the foolish decision to commercialize their music even further into the direction of lifeless dance-pop, there would certainly be fewer people around who'd be writing off the band's Eighties career for good. As it is, the population usually associates Eighties' Queen with 'Body Language', when good taste actually demands that Eighties' Queen be associated with 'Dragon Attack' or 'Another One Bites The Dust'. Ah well. Music history sucks anyway.



Year Of Release: 1981

Record rating = 4
Overall rating = 7

A "sound-dreck", by Jupiter! Bring on the laser guns!

Best song: FLASH'S THEME

Track listing: 1) Flash's Theme; 2) In The Space Capsule (The Love Theme); 3) Ming's Theme (In The Court Of Ming The Merciless); 4) The Ring (Hypnotic Seduction Of Dale); 5) Football Fight; 6) In The Death Cell (Love Theme Reprise); 7) Execution Of Flash; 8) The Kiss (Aura Resurrects Flash); 9) Arboria (Planet Of The Tree Men); 10) Escape From The Swamp; 11) Flash To The Rescue; 12) Vultan's Theme (Attack Of The Hawk Men); 13) Battle Theme; 14) The Wedding March; 15) Marriage Of Dale And Ming (And Flash Approaching); 16) Crash Dive On Ming City; 17) Flash's Theme Reprise (Victory Celebrations); 18) The Hero.

"Tell me what's your soundtrack and I'll tell you what kind of artist you are". Paraphrasing the scriptures, I'd have to remark that I find this to be true. Bob Dylan, for instance, made a soundtrack to a philosophical country-western movie. Neil Young made a soundtrack to a mystical country-western movie. Pink Floyd made soundtracks to all kinds of druggy and paranoid movies. The Bee Gees made the soundtrack to Saturday Night Fever. And Queen? Why, Queen made the soundtrack to a ridiculous, absolutely corny sci-fi movie!

Good luck I've never seen it - but judging by the less than worthy representatives of this genre I did see, I really didn't miss much. In brief, Flash Gordon the movie tells the traditional story of the vile interplanetary emperor Ming threatening to conquer the Earth and the simple guy Flash Gordon saving his beloved planet from the invading villains. That's all I could actually extract (I don't want to dig any deeper), but as far as I can see from the actual tracks, along the way Flash is aided by his girlfriend Dale, gets captured by Ming and executed, then is magically restored to life, rescues Dale who is almost about to be forced into marriage by Ming himself, and bashes out Ming's chitlins. Or something like that. No big surprises.

No big surprise that Queen agreed to provide the music for this piece o' cornball, either - sounds right up their alley, doesn't it? I've always had my big doubt about the guys! Ironically, they were working on the soundtrack exactly at the same time as they were recording The Game, and for some reason, insisted on releasing the soundtrack as an official Queen release. Nothing could be more ridiculous: this is a soundtrack, consisting of lots of short, often distinctly non-musical pieces, often joined to each other with bits of dialog to help understand what's going on. If you take up the thirty-five minutes of the album, squeeze out all the dialog, all the non-musical effects, and all the endless repetitions of the main theme, you'll hardly be left with more than ten or fifteen minutes of pure music.

Are they any good? Well, strange enough, some of them are. Actually, that main theme ('Flash's Theme') was a Top Ten hit in Europe, and not undeservedly so: it's cheesy, of course, but so was the majority of Queen hits, and this one's not bad, with nice melodic ideas, tempo changes and mini-climaxes. The only problem is, it's actually quite short - when you extract the annoying dialog, you'll be left with something about two and a half minutes long, and before you can say jack robinson, it's over and you're left on your own with all the chaotic mess that is this album.

I admit, choosing 'rare pearls' out of this mess can be a fascinating process - but personally, I know of more interesting and intriguing riddles to solve than this stuff. Still, if we gotta, we gotta. Here goes: a) 'Football Fight' is actually quite "musical", but essentially it's just a weak synth-pop tune driven forward by an annoying synth line alternating with an equally annoying metallic guitar riff in the worst tradition of the Eighties, announcing the "new-look, poor-look" Queen to come; b) 'Vultan's Theme (Attack Of The Hawk Men)' is slightly better, with Freddie and company going for a kind of synth-pop interpretation of a Wagnerian atmosphere, not very effective, but not uninteresting either; c) 'Battle Theme' is, of course, crucial to this album, and this is where Queen pull out all of their pompous, high-heel, bloated tricks out - problem is, we've already heard all this before, inside compositions that weren't marred by dialogs and endless laser gun pulsations and loud explosions; d) 'Flash's Theme Reprise' and 'The Hero' at the end of the album finally give us some more Mercury singing, although that's not necessarily good news, because 'The Hero' isn't exactly a glorious peak in Queen's development.

Everything else isn't worth discussing - it's either just occupied with endless dialog, or, for the most part, structured as half-baked ambient muzak, ranging from nearly intolerable to pretty decent, but never atmospheric or original enough to amount to anything higher than, well, a soundtrack. It is nice to see Queen dabble in a genre they'd rarely exploited before, of course, but I'd better they didn't exploit it at all. Ambience is not for Freddie Mercury - his is the light, pomp, loudness, and crunch. This stuff just makes me sleepy.

As if they specially needed to worsen the feelings about the album, the CD re-issue includes a 1991 dance remix of 'Flash's Theme' that lasts all of six minutes forty seconds and bugs me for all of six thousand years. What an atrocious, idiotic, excessive and unforgivable lapse of taste. I can understand that they could have needed the money - but weren't they all bloody rich bastards by then? Skip this at all costs - better still, just rent the movie if you really feel like sucking on this cornball. Maybe the acting talents punch it up some. Hey, it has Max von Sudow acting as Ming, for Chrissake! (As if anybody doubted that). Me, I already feel ashamed about this record sitting in my collection.



Year Of Release: 1982

Record rating = 6
Overall rating = 9

THAT's what we needed - Freddie Mercury outmichaeling the Jackson. Apprently, THAT was the Great Missing Link to 1982. Right-o.


Track listing: 1) Staying Power; 2) Dancer; 3) Back Chat; 4) Body Language; 5) Action This Day; 6) Put Out The Fire; 7) Life Is Real (Song For Lennon); 8) Calling All Girls; 9) Las Palabras De Amor; 10) Cool Cat; 11) Under Pressure.

What's that? What's that long-forgotten sound I hear out of my speakers? Did somebody finally set my sound card up right so it can disregard all the new interrupt settings of Windows XP and allow me to revel in the inspiring robotic sounds of my old DOS editions of Battle Axe and Mortal Kombat? Cool! Time to whoop some ass!

Oh, hang on. Turns out it's just our old friend, Freddie Maddie, trading in opera and music hall for a couple square meters of dancefloor. Now that his hair is short and his moustache is unforgettable, it's time to reflect this in the music as well. Hot Space, as is already evident from the title, invites you to dance. In fact, it invites you so ardently that if you don't accept the invitation, it kicks you right out of the building. At the very least, it refuses entrance through the front door, as there's a serious discrepancy in just about everything between the album's two sides.

Earlier in my career, when I wasn't so much "under pressure" from bloodthirsty Queen fans, I would have opened my big mouth and simply stated: "Side A is atrocious". Today, I will exercise more caution and state, "Side A is forgettable", which, to me, is more or less the same, but to you should be two different things, especially if you wanna beat me up. Seriously, though, I can't find any other way to describe the first five songs on this album than something like "all of the band's members competing for the title of Worst Michael Jackson Imitator". (Hot Space came out the same year that Thriller did, although I'm not sure which of the two was first; nevertheless, this actual brand of synth-funk was already quite prominent by 1982). As danceable grooves, all of this stuff is tolerable, but tell you what: you don't have to write "ten years' worth of work as founding member of one of Britain's most eccentric and eclectic band" in the 'work experience' section of your curriculum if all you wanna set yourself up with are tolerable danceable grooves.

As songs, this stuff is simply laughable. Songs? Where? When a puffin'-an'-huffin' Freddie slurps and blurts through the lyrics, Brian May's guitar serves the sole function of reminding petrified audiences that the guy is still in the band, the repetitive bass lines have to prove me they're not actually synthesized, and the drummer is all but completely replaced by machines? When even the choruses (sometimes hard to distinguish from the verses) don't have hooks, let alone verses? No, don't you pull the wool over me face. These things have nothing going for them but rhythm, and even the rhythm is plainly artificial. The only thing on here which could actually have involved a wee bit of, you know, writing, is Deacon's 'Back Chat', which consequently does sound the closest to an average Jacko dance number circa 1982. It also has more audible guitar than anything on that side.

But it wasn't 'Back Chat' that served as the album's main single - nope, that had to be the utterly ridiculous 'Body Language', which could easily be taken as an open parody on the exaggerated sexuality of modern R'n'B if only it were easier to tell in general which aspects of Mercury are parodic and which ones are not. The man has never been completely serious, nor has he been totally tongue-in-cheek, so 'Body Language' is just another goofball offering of his, and far from successful. In case you haven't heard the song (lucky boy), it essentially wastes a fine bassline on a random bunch of Freddie screaming 'I gotta case o' body language!' and 'SEXY BODY! SEXY BODY!'. It ain't sexy. It's just stupid.

Nah, I don't even wanna discuss that first side no more. Let's leave this hell of a Maggie's farm and relax on Side B, which swoops us away from the dancefloor and offers some Queener Queen for compensation. All of a sudden, whammo, all of the band's members are suddenly writing songs again - and good ones at that. Unfortunately, none of them really became classics because new fans were too busy giving Freddie their sexy body, while old fans probably never got further than the opening track. If it were up to me, I'd subtitle the first five songs "For The Trendy Guys" and the second five "For The Conservative Veterans". It'd at least bring in a whiff of honesty into this decidedly commercial venture.

Anyway! 'Las Palabras De Amor' is truly a glorious anthem, seriously hearkening back to the 'baroque' days of yore (apart from all the synthesizers, of course), with a beautiful, understated May solo and love lyrics partially sung in Spanish, which some interpret as the band's veiled empathy for Argentina in the Falklands war, although that may be pushing it a bit too far (not to mention that however anti-war one might be, Argentina never deserved any more empathy than the opposing side by itself). Taylor's 'Calling All Girls' is a funny catchy uptempo shuffle, a little too rough lyrics-wise ('calling all boys, calling all girls, take a message to love'?), but after that radical overdose of staying powers, back chats, and body languages, I'm ready for anything anyway. And May's 'Put Out The Fire' is a so-so anthemic rocker well in the vein of 'We Will Rock You', but nowhere near as detestable because it had little chance to overthrow the latter in its arena-rock supremacy.

Mixed feelings about the Lennon tribute, though ('Life Is Real'). It's a pretty good imitation - mainly just a piano and Freddie singing a Lennon-ish vocal melody with a Lennon-ish echo to it. (Although the actual chord sequences must still be one hundred percent Queen, mustn't they?). Not to mention little touches like the song title - bullseye when it comes to Lennon. But the idea of Mercury paying tribute to Lennon strikes me as rather artificial. I mean, not necessarily in a "Wow, John is dead, what a great subject for a song!" way, but rather just because it's hard to imagine two rock stars whose mindsets would be more different: the brutally honest, eternally pissed-off, and practically ascetic (by rock star measures, of course) Lennon vs. the glamorous, eternally mask-wearing Mercury. Besides, it's just one more of those little unseen knots that subconsciously push through the idea of Queen being the true successors to the Beatles' legacy, which is certainly not right. Nevertheless, I still give the song me thumbs up; first and foremost, it's a nicely composed, lushly arranged piano ballad - Queen's main forte and one thing they've always excelled at. 'Life Is Real' is no exception.

However, I still do not give the thumbs up to the Bowie/Queen collaboration 'Under Pressure'. The song wasn't originally part of Hot Space, being released as a single sometime before, but today it seems like it's been permanently stuck at the album's end. It's sort of okay, I guess, operatic dance-pop with nice bass and vocal interaction, but the idea of it almost being a cornerstone of Eighties' music or something, with an entire cult sprouting around it, is something I never truly got. The only time it slightly involves me is the frantic vocal climax towards the end - and that one is about totally lifted from the classic ABBA style. Anyway, an acquired taste it is.

And now - what's up with the rating? Doesn't an album with just two really good songs on it and fifty percent total dreck deserve less? In a way, yes. But lemme explain. Regardless of how I feel towards the actual songs, Hot Space demands extra respect from me. Where so many Seventies' bands never really managed to survive the New Decade Crisis, falling apart either directly or metaphorically, Queen do indeed effectuate the transition. Meaning that Hot Space is, like, listenable. They managed to salvage some of their stronger aspects and yield to the new trends without becoming offensively boring. After all, doesn't 'Body Language' really fall into the "so bad it's sorta fun" category? It's far better to make self-conscious "cheap trash" like the songs on Side A than get stuck with pseudo-artsy synthesizer noodling in Eighties' fashion. And if you are embracing synth-pop, better to embrace it in Queen's dumb, sleazy way than in any other one.


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