Lineup Card (1973-1991)
Freddie Mercury (keyboards, vocals)
Brian May (guitar, vocals)
John Deacon (bass, vocals)
Roger Taylor (drums, vocals)
Queen really was something back in those deep, dank 70's. They could be as loud and aggressive as Black Sabbath, as flashy and complex as Yes, as glammy and decadent as David Bowie at his most cracked-headed, write worse songs than Elvis Presley, eat more boogers than Bob Seger, grow bigger Afros than Darrell Dawkins, drive spaceships worse than Christa McAuliffe, change a flat tire slower than my arthritic ol' Aunt Louise's toy poodle Tiger, and could lead the world into a ruinous period of tooth-and nail religious conflict and drooling catatonia of mass destruction faster than Rick Shroeder armed with half a ton of yellow Andes crack cocaine and a B-2 bomber equipped with flame throwers, Holley carbs, the entire Dan Fogelberg catalog, an 8-track player, and a trillion-watt PA system....
What I'm trying to say here (besides making about as much sense as most of Queen's lyrics) is that Queen was a band of extremes. Extremely talented, extremely divisive, extremely popular, extremely flamboyant (read: 'gayer than a three dollar paisley track-lighting salesman's box of crayons'), and extremely complicated. They created a weird hybrid between heavy metal, prog rock, classical, dance hall, a bag of confetti, and pure, unadulterated cheese. Few bands used the studio to such effect, especially on guitars and vocals, layering overdub after overdub until each vocal was a veritable boys choir of Freddie Mercuries (real name: Shah Fateh Ali Khan Arafat Reginald Dwight Pete Rose), each guitar line was an army of tweedling Brians and the master tape was thinner than the plotline to Insomnia. But don't get hung up on me calling this band 'gay'...it took balls to do what they did. Not a whole hell of a lot of bands could go out and release songs with titles like 'My Fairy King' or 'Good Old-Fashioned Lover Boy' or 'The Ring (Hypnotic Seduction of Dale)' and leave most of the world completely oblivious to the fact that Freddie Mercury was a raging bisexual until he up and died of AIDS in 1991. (Now, I've heard he went public with his sexuality in 1975, but I also distinctly remember there being some surprise in the media that he was gay around the time he died. Ahhh whatever....the minute he cut his hair and grew his moustache should've solved that one for just about everyone who was paying attention). There may have been louder bands, more musically accomplished ones, even more visually stunning performers than Queen. But no one, and I mean no one, has ever sounded quite like they did in their full-flight mid-70's heyday, and I doubt they ever will.
What I personally love about Queen is that not only did they make an attempt to stun you with their big sound and their flashy performances, but more than that, they changed quite a lot over their 18 year recording career. Each album, more or less, was quite different than the one immediately before or after it, and they only made the same album twice in a row on one occasion. Even then ('76's Day at the Races), they had the wherewithal to title and package it so close to its predecessor that it, in effect, became like the second half of a double album. It makes discovering each new release a rewarding experience, and I'm doubly fucking grateful as a reviewer since it seems like most bands release the same album 15 times in a row with only minor variations on the theme. Not for Queen. They started as more-or-less sub-Zeppelin heavy metal, quickly morphed some prog into their sound before changing to a more pop-friendly opera-glam sound on Night at the Opera, and finally became kinda arena rock before injecting some soul and New Wave at the end of the 70's. Then they were a dance band. Then they were mid-80s cheese pop, then they were Adult Contemporary. Then they were dead. Despite the fact that they seemed to lose their way right around the time they left hard rock behind pretty much for good, they continued to release great songs that led the charts in any place that wasn't in North America, and their concerts, so I've heard, just became better and better. They grew up, and the US outgrew them, but their fans remain, and their legend just seems to continue to explode. Hell, as George Starostin says, hang around a Russian metro station long enough and sooner or later you'll see a group of teenage boys come up wearing Freddie Mercury t-shirts. Part of the reason I wanted to review Queen was that while it seemed like no one has really given them much of a critical fair shake so far...especially considering their 80's work, their fans are so hilariously rabid they can't take a single word against their personal gods without writing a 10 paragraph response so riddled with inaccuracies and flat-out ridiculous statements ('drummer Roger Taylor was the best rock drummer ever because he's great'). And there's nothing I love more than provoking a response. Especially from idiots like Queen fans.
'Hey, fucker! Queen rulz because the 1st album I baut was bi Queen. It's called Queen's Greatest Classic Best Of II, asslicker. All song iz cool. Better than the Beatles, who suck 'coz they didn't make 'Bohemium Rape-soddy' (or 'Bho Rap' as all us cool people who live in my head callz it) And it Rulz! Fuck U! You must be gay for not liking Quin!'
Listen. Queen was NOT:
1. The first band to use a big light show in their concerts. I don't really claim to know who WAS, but I'd say the Joshua Light Shows done at the Fillmore in the late 60's are a pretty good bit of proof that Queen were far from the first. Hell, Pink Floyd was already using lasers in their shows on their Dark Side of the Moon tour in 1973, weren't they?
2. The first band to make a video. Now, I'd personally count Hard Day's Night as a 'video' but excepting that, 'Strawberry Fields Forever' had a promo clip made for it in 1967 and 'Jumpin' Jack Flash' had one in 1968. Nyah.
3. The first band to incorporate classical music into their sound. Beatles. Moody Blues. Zombies. King Crimson. The Nice, et cetera, et cetera, et cetera.
4. Much of a pioneer in the way of heavy music, either. The form had already seen the likes of Led Zeppelin II, Master of Reality, Fun House, In Rock, as well as darn near all of the Glam movement, which was already winding down by the time Queen finally released their first album in 1973.
5. Much of an influence on its fellow musicians at the time they were around. In fact, as far as I can gather, most fellow musicians thought Queen were shit at the time. Of course, everyone loved the motherfuck out of Delaney and Bonnie, a group I can't stand, so whatever. Now I have heard a lot more about musicians loving Queen as kids, like say Axl Rose or Billy Corgan, but those guys never could shut up anyway.
Now, what Queen didn't do was produce much music that, when completely separated from the visceral quality of the production and performance, leaves much of a trace of meaning. Like on the lyric sheet...Queen's lyrics range from ignorable to horribly embarrassing, and for the most part they have the emotional impact of a quart of vanilla ice cream. But combine them with Freddie's endless reserves of hubris and Brian May's exciting guitar work and people start falling all over themselves to proclaim how they're superior to the Beatles and all kinds of other mouth diphtheria. Another sort of 'loss' for me, and I think for many other Americans as well, is that Queen has only a very tenuous connection with black music forms at best. Their music relies verrrrry little on the blues (less so than, say, Yes or ELP, if you can believe that), a music form that seems to almost have 'instant validation' for us 'Mericans, and instead rests very strongly on classical flourishes. Well, most of the rest of the world finds classical music pretty darn emotional, but I usually relate it to fey, syphillitic monarchs in powdered wigs and smelly pantyhose, so maybe that's why I find Queen lacking on the emotional front. Call it a bias if you will, but I'm gonna try to ignore it when I can. There's also this whole thing about British 'music hall' influences (whatever the fuck that is...what, is that like Vaudeville or Benny Hill or something?) being such an important part of the Queen sound, but since I understand this phenomena just about as much as I do Ben Afflick's popularity, I probably just don't recognize it when I hear it. They also had a sad inclination to drop at least a couple real stinkpots on each album, often by drummer Roger Taylor, so never will you find me wholeheartedly recommending an entire Queen album. Just so's ya know.
Anyway, Queen at least never had any replacement members. Or even many guest musicians, as far as I can tell (maybe because no one wanted to play with them at the time). They didn't even use synthesizers until the 1980's, which made their live version of 'Bohemian Rhapsody' a pretty stupid combination of live performance and pre-recorded tapes straight from the studio album. And when Freddie Mercury died, thankfully, the band died with it (well, there's been a few instances of the three survivors coming back together with guest lead singers, with mixed results. The Concert for Freddie Mercury in 1992 was fucking awesome, but the less said about Queen's recent collaboration with British idiot boy-band 5ive, the better). Freddie, for all his faults, was a one of a kind talent, pretty much a quintessential frontman. The guy had a million-octave voice, and used every bit of it. Even in performance I've never heard him 'take syllables off' like Mick Jagger and so many other singers like to do so often. Somehow, even if I'm not convinced by the band or the song, I always feel some affinity towards what Freddie is trying to do up there. Guitarist Brian May is somehow less of a 'major' talent, but still has some mighty fine chops and an instantly recognizable sound that has something do with the fact that his self-made guitars (which he plays with a coin for a pick, by the way) sustain longer than Fidel Castro's last State of the Union Address. His riffs aren't maybe of the first order, but he's still got a fine track record of songs to his name. Bassist John Deacon and drummer Roger Taylor are fine players, if far from being on the top of anyone's list, and are the beneficiaries of quite a lot of charitability on the parts of Mercury and May in terms of space for their tunes. Hell, they were nothing if not democratic, but I doubt many people put on a Queen album in hot anticipation of Roger Taylor's songs, you know?
Philip Golia email@example.com
Your Rating: A+
Any Short Comments?: Unfortunatly, the person that is responsible of this site has lost all of his gray matter. You are sitting there, acting like you are the great critic, when all you are is the great pretender. The way you compare everyone to the Beatles tells me that you are a Beatles fan. Well my friend, coming from a 43 year old, I can honestly say, THE BEATLES SUCK!! They are not the greatest band, whichever band you feel is the greatest is. I am not sure if the mis-spelling of most of the Queen songs are tongue in cheek by you, or that gray matter is really leaking out of your head causing you to make the errors. Try enjoying the music for what it is. And yes, maybe Bohemian Rhapsody is Freddie coming to terms with his homosexuality, but give the man some credit for pouring it out for the world to hear. The 70's was not a time to come out of the closed like it is today.
Now on to two other bands I would LOVE to hear you pick apart: Uriah Heep and Savatage.
PS:My reasoning for hating the Beatles as well as Led Zeplin, because while I was growing up in the late 60's and 70's, I HAD to like them by my peers. Well I said screw you guys, I will like who I want.
Queen- EMI 1973
Though all the components are here (Freddie's maniacally chromatic singing voice, Brain May's love of harmonious armies of multipled lead guitar lines, and the rhythm section...umm, playing a lot of eighth notes I suppose) fans of the post-'75 sympho-rock hit parade are probably going to be a bit taken aback by how rough and stripped down their beloved band of he-shes sound on their 1973 debut. I dunno, after digesting all their later stuff, the simplicity of the music on Queen comes as a nice surprise, because they'd freak out with the overdubs and shit a lot more even as soon as Queen II. Here, much of the guitar stuff sounds pretty conventional, except for the fact that Brian May's guitar sustains from here until Friday, which leads to some pretty wacky effects when he decides to really let those notes squeeeeeeee out Janet Leigh-style. His more usual finger-flashing technique isn't what I'd call particularly refined for a guy playing hard guitar rock in 1973, though, which is why he got called a sub-Jimmy Page for most of his career. There's quite a resemblance to Page going on here, for both are what I'd call 'dirty' soloists, sounding like they hit every choppy little note they can get their grubby mitts on once the going gets fast. Page'd kinda always sound like that, but Brian would refine himself almost beyond recognition. Freddie, however, is in full-blown castrato glory from the get-go, overdubbing octave after octave of himself heeing and hawing all over the Osco Drug, but still leaving time to lay a little sweetness on us, too.
Queen having started out as nothing more than a heavy rock band with wacky vocals, so the level of bombastic exploration of the velvet fringe isn't near the level it'd eventually arrive at on Opera, so a lot of Queen dissolves into a quivering plasma of Big Loud Rock. I nominate the radio standard 'Keep Yourself Alive' and the extended little tightly-wound ball of hate called 'Liar' as the most effective of those. While the rockers never descend into chugging canyons of sludge (Mercury's soaring vocals tend to save a lot of this stuff...I'd hate to hear what this album would sound like if grunter extraordinaire Roger Taylor were the lead vocalist instead of ol' Fredrick), they also never really catch fire hook-wise, but then again not everyone can write a book full of great riffs their first time out, now can they? Instead, they sound like they're trying to 'improve' on a host of influences, primarily Zeppelin of course, but also Black Sabbath! 'Son and Daughter', another wicked highlight featuring Mercury's cock-rocking best, spitting out lyrics like he just drank a shot glass full of vaginal juice or something, sounds like an orphan from Vol. 4. With it's monster-truck riff and Frankenstein plod, this's guaranteed to pique the ears of any metalhead who ever dismissed Queen as being 'too wussy'.
But since Queen albums are nothing if they don't have at least a few weird twists along the way, we've got some interesting tracks here that sound as if they throw back to the boys' earlier days as a band called Smile (not to be confused with Grin, which was Nils Lofgren's band before he became Springsteen's right hand boy, or Taste, which was Rory Gallagher's blues-rock outfit, or Scraping Foetus Off The Wheel, who probably should've just gone unmentioned altogether). May's 'The Night Comes Down' sounds especially British Invasion-pop psychedelic, and Taylor's 'Modern Times Rock 'n' Roll' sounds quite a bit like a first effort to these ears, like he heard the first few songs off Led Zeppelin's fourth record and decided to combine them into a sort of Reader's Digest version that only lasts 1:48. D. Boon must've been proud. Freddy contributes two mood changers, 'My Fairy King' and 'Doin' All Right', the first of which is gayer than the entire stage crew for Clay Aiken's world tour, and the second of which reminds me of Carole King for some reason, at least until it turns into what sounds like a sorry reprise of 'Keep Yourself Alive' a coupla minutes through and comes back sounding almost like the Allman Brothers for a little bit. Weird...not particularly good, but different.
Anyway, Queen is an album of good moments that you'll probably not really notice since the album kinda smears together into a large greasy mess, which is odd since this album took like over a year to complete. There are, like there usually are, a handful of tracks I wouldn't be able to identify even with full dental records and a note from their Mommy, but that's no matter...none of it sucks enough for me to notice either. I guess the thing is that Queen knew it'd never get to be the biggest band in all of Belgium if it didn't try to distinguish itself from the sweaty metal proletariat a little more (they were rejected by untold numbers of record companies for their perceived resemblance to Led Zeppelin, but that never prevented fucking Kingdom Come from getting a record deal), so Queen is something of an odd bird. For non-fans, maybe a place to begin, but for people weaned on a steady diet of Night at the Opera, perhaps a little unsettling to the intestinal tract.
Capn's Final Word: Erm, messy heavy metal with lots of vocalizing is about what I'd call it, unless I were too busy calling it 'sir'.
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Queen II - Import 1974
Darker, harder, louder, more pretentious, less fun, longer-winded, and with some really sucky tracks, Queen II sounds like the last gasp of a band that was determined to see this gay prog-Sabbath style out to its logical dead end before backtracking and going along the golden path of Radio Hitdom. This time they didn't even try to make a hit...'Seven Seas of Rhye' is one of their least remembers singles, mostly because it sucks ass and sounds a lot like a really bad attempt to 'summarize' this record in three minutes. Anyhow, the failure of Queen to light many people's inner waterbong led the band to reenter the studio convinced that all they needed to do was intensify their attack, remake their debut with more sludgy heaviness rather than less, and doubletrack so much operatic screaming that most people in the studio must've thought that Janis Joplin had come back from the dead as a howler monkey. Lots of people love it, and I remember reading an old late-80's Rolling Stone interview with Axl Rose who said he had to buy a copy of it whenever he wanted to listen to it and didn't have it along, meaning he bought a new one like three times a week. Whatever...Axl Rose said a lot of things ('I didn't hit Stephanie Seymour', 'Slash is limiting me artistically', 'I promise to do my best not to freak out on this tour. Promise!', 'I like my fans', and 'Chinese Democracy will definitely see release sometime in early 1996' all come to mind, so you can take that with as many grains of salt or tabs of acid as you may desire. Well, what I say is that while the amount of effort displayed is often breathtaking, Queen II meanders worse than a drunken centipede with fallen arches, each song psychotically merging into the next without much regard for melodic continuity or common sense, but they sure seemed like they intended to mash these songs all together like this, so who knows? Charged-up riff-monster bile-bag 'Father to Son' going into the mystical dream ballad 'White Queen (As It Began)' is one thing, but the third part of the May trilogy that dominates Side 1 is 'Some Day One Day', a piece of stylized pop that makes ELO sound like the Jimi Hendrix Experience. How the hell am I supposed to make sense of this? I guess the sound of these songs ties them nicely together much more than any thematic or emotional elements do....the armies of overdubs have already begun marching across the guitar tracks, and there's a sense of restraint on a lot of this stuff that wasn't there last time, meaning May doesn't try to blow his wad each and every time he takes a solo.
Talking of restraints, how about we locate some and use them to keep Roger Taylor from writing any more songs? Oh, good Christ, 'The Loser in the End' is vomit-swillingly awful...cock rock woman-bashing crud that sounds like Bad Company sharing a studio with Kiss with Gene Simmons writing the lyrics and Ace Frehley doing the vocals. Yeeouch...this song is enough to kill of any hopes of a higher rating, thank you very much, because the debut never had anything this hopeless.
Now, Queen may profess to not using synthesizers on their 70's records, but that doesn't mean they don't twiddle the knobs on their tape recorder a whole bunch, like on the intro to the goony anthem 'Ogre Battle', featuring cheese-metal guitars that sound ripped from an early-80's Scorpions record and vocals that sound, well, ripped from an early-80's Scorpions record. Except the Scorpions never got around to recording millions of different versions of them doing the instrumental section and then spent days overdubbing them on top of each other. It's stupid, but it's great. And funny, too...the guitars 'kick ass' and it's all nice 'n' 'mystical' and stuff, but it's just so over-the-top it's impossible to take seriously. But hell, at least it's not the 'Fairy Feller's Master-Stroke', kicking off the Mercury-penned series of tracks on Side 2, which takes the pompous march of the munchkins effect right off the highway and into the slums of Irritation, Nebraska wherein the Capn has a few child-murder fantasies whilst considering what the best way to get rid of all these helium-voiced pixies would be. Things clear up by the time of 'March of the Black Queen', which has to rank as one of the most coherent songs on this record, which is sorta like nominating Sneezy to the NBA All-Star Team because he's the tallest of the Seven Dwarves. But I love the song outta this shit, and the segue into the happy pop of 'Funny How Love Is' sounds just about right. The single 'Seven Seas of Rhye' wraps up the original record by invoking Grand Funk Railroad at their most strident, except with lots of Elton John-style tinkly piano propulsion, and of course the Choir in a Box vocals that the band loved so much around this time. Can't get enough of that record button, can we boys? I don't have the excess bonus tracks, and probably wouldn't mention them if I did. Do you need a remix of 'Ogre Battle' so it would more likely resemble what people liked to listen to in 1991? Do you remember what people liked to listen to in 1991? Wilson Phillips, Slaughter, and Vanilla Ice come to mind, motherfuckers!
Capn's Final Word: Darker, sludgier. Maybe putting all of Brians and Freddies songs all by themselves on their own album sides wasn't such a hot idea.
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Sheer Heart Attack - Import 1974
Still makes about as much sense as that sketch on Saturday Night Live right after the second musical guest segment, but Sheer Heart Attack forgets the 'No Singles Included' disclaimer that sunk Queen II, not to mention lightening the mood from something close to mournful a few shades south to Pure Glee, which is strange considering this album was recorded under ever more strained circumstances than Queen II, recorded while the band was unable to tour because of Brian May's unfortunate encounter with hepatitis, during which apparently he lost craploads of weight (he didn't have much to spare anyway), because he looks like death warmed over on that cover shot. But Sheer Heart Attack is the product of a band finally figuring out what the hell it's all about - making a big, unfocused, somewhat meaningless noise that's alternately melodic, rocking, and campier than Rip Taylor costarring with Charles Nelson Reilly in a remake of Grease II. I can sure accept that over trying to be Led Zeppelin fronted by Judy Garland. Anyway, how can you not at least sorta like an album that's responsible for giving the world 'Stone Cold Crazy', which sure sounds a whole helluva lot like a song written especially for Metallica rather than one badly covered by them, which is how it ended up. Well, not all of us can have as much charisma as Freddie Mercury babbling at a bazillion feet per second about going nuts, but show me someone who has less of a sense of humor than that fucking alcoholic redneck monkey James Hetfield and I'll show you a ceramic lawn ornament.
Anyway, the rest of the album is just as schizoid as Queen II, but it seems to have learned to stop worrying and love the bomb, so the vocals on a track like 'Brighton Rock' may sound like the Munchkins are back upon us with their Children of the Corn scythes sharpened to a castrating razor sharpness, but they end up just coming to lay out their picnic blankets and listen to Brian May fill several minutes with piercing guitar soloing. Hey, the vocals are pretty gay, sure, but calling Queen pretty gay, like I've said, is akin to calling Fidel Castro a bit leftist...it's what they're about, and either you buy into it and realize that the song is a pretty rockin chunk of mustard anyway, or you miss out. The same thing goes with 'Killer Queen', which follows, this time some weird cross between doo wop, softshoe, and guitar-dominated rock, but one helluva great introduction to the 'new' Queen. They're alternately hilarious and bizarre, rootsy and futuristic, sissy and tough...and the song is as catchy as all hell, though I resisted it's charms for a long time before just giving up.
Hell, this is one of those albums that feels like it has a bazillion songs on it, and I never can keep them all straight. Thing is, they're mostly all pretty good, if can hazard being more than a little vague. Things have improved so much that even Roger Taylor's 'Tenement Funster' is a decent song...his voice has morphed into a cross between Rod Stewart's gruff croak and Roger Daltrey's boy-God mojo, and the song itself is a decent approximation of one of Who's Next's lesser tracks. The rest of the album whistles down the wire with a parade of poppier, lighter fare that still packs some pickle. 'Flick of the Wrist' is a creepy S&M anthem with almost an industrial grind to it, at least before the patented Qweer Queen solo breakout. Around this time the album begins to degenerate into genuine filler, but listenable stuff. Queen's somehow been able to mush all the songs together again, so it's even hard to tell when one ends and another begins unless you're listening closely. 'Lily of the Valley' and 'Now I'm Here' seem to get lost in the mix every time I listen to this album, which has to have been at least half a dozen times today (yup, I'm falling victim to the same thing George Starostin is...I have to hear something like two dozen times before I feel comfortable reviewing it, at least if it isn't anything by Leonard Cohen, when it's lucky to get 1/24th of a spin). Anyway, things pick up with 'In The Lap of the Gods', which should be subtitled 'Queen Chewing the Heavenly Scenery', and serving as a sort of progress report for the band so far...the operatic passages go a little far out from the safety of a strong melody into weird, formless spaces where only Moody Blues tend to roam. Following the icepick-to-skull wakeup of 'Stone Cold Crazy', things drop almost completely for the next few songs which are nonetheless fortunately short ('Dear Friends' is just over a minute of slimy balladeering, Deacon's first effort 'Misfire' is just a poppy trifle of 1:50, and the irritating tap-dancey number 'Bring Back That Leroy Brown' is an unconscionable 2:13). May brings up the end with another fine song on the album, the stately 'She Makes Me (Stormtrooper in Stilettoes)' before things get irrelevant with a redux of 'In the Lap of the Gods' that seems to serve no purpose other than to teach George Michael how to say 'Fool' (you know, like 'Foooyl!') and make use of some trashy chord sequence taylor made for a chantalong coda, and to take any doubt away once and for all: this album is about 10 minutes too long.
And being too long, this's gotta be no more than a B+. There's enough good-to-great work on here (the first four, maybe 'Now I'm Here', and of course that 'Stone Cold Crazy' motherfucker) to count as a triumph for Queen on their third time out, but enough lame filler to make me wish this album would get itself over with each time I listen to it. Still, it's mostly a hoot.
Capn's Final Word: Kinda ike a haunted house, but with more gay folks. A wacky surprise around every corner.
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A Night at the Opera
- Hollywood 1975
Where Queen fully blooms into a spangled, full-breasted woman after spending three albums as a blushing, awkward, yet precocious little girl, but with balls, you know? Well, the 'hard rock' Queen now begins to take a back seat next to the 'prog' Queen and lets the Opera Pop Queen do the driving for the next couple of albums. Now, it's not like the sound has changed that much, but this album certainly is flowerier, more baroque, more self-consciously showy than anything they've done so far. It's also a whole confident, and it's not hard to be swept under by the massive tow of the first side, for my money the first time they've put it all together in one place without one single hemorrhage. We start out with another of Mercury's patented venom-spewers, this one damning some guy (yup, pretty obviously the subject of all this unfortunate distaste is obviously a dude...man, how was Mercury's gayness a surprise to anyone? 'Your small fry'? 'You overgrown schoolboy?' I mean, like there's any doubt here!!) to one of May's most stinging lead performances. Think of it as motorcycle rock for guys into leather, which, you know, makes it convenient and all that. Okay! 'Lazing on a Sunday Afternoon' is more of that Monty Python tap-dancin' stuff, but at least I can tell how far it's tongue is jammed into its cheek this time around. On previous, similar stuff, it was hard to tell, but this one serves notice that we're in for a bizarre time, and that it won't just be all hard rockers and 'Bohemian Rhapsody' and a bunch of screaming. But, you know what? It would be fine with me if it were. But News of the World is like perfection in being fucked up...here, instead of being a downer to force yourself through, 'Lazing' is a nice change of pace before the psycho-babble of Roger's brilliant rocker (yes, believe it...) 'I'm In Love With My Car', wherein he takes just about each and every piece of his automobile and makes oral love to it - roll cage, carburetor, dipstick...you name it, he fucks it. Unlike, say, Led Zeppelin's 'Trampled Underfoot' (released the same year, btw), this isn't a winking set of double-entendres. He actually wants to copulate with his automobile. Weird. I had a cousin like that once. Had to buy new a new tailpipe every few thousand miles or so. 'You're My Best Friend', serving as yet another milestone in the development of Mr. George Michael, follows, now pushing from the bizarre and fucked up to the sweet and genuine, an R&B ode to those who help you get up in the morning. The opening electric piano always invokes Supertramp for me, and the chorus ('Oooh, you make me live!') sounds like Elton himself, but hell, it's Queen, and I'm impressed once again by their range. They may have been some chain-yankin' bastards, but every once in awhile they could pull off something that sounded honest. And to weird you out even further, Brian May pulls out a Paul McCartney-esque acoustic folk tune called '39' next, and I'm even convinced by the earnestness on that one as well. What's happened to these guys? Have they suddenly hired David Crosby as a consultant, or what? Whatever it is, the dyed-in-the-wool metalhead that followed this band after the second album must've been one patient motherfucker.
The album, so far nearly perfect, falls apart after the Sweet-stomper 'Sweet Lady', not much in and of itself anyway...riffs aren't supposed to fall to the ground, gasping for life, between the speakers and your ears like that. There's a preponderance of Mercurisms on side 2, including yet another soft-shoe ('Seaside Rendezvous'), this one inviting us to 'be my Clementine' and 'give us a kiss'. Argh. Now we're entering Broadway/Harvey Fierstein/Mike Piazza/Newt Gingrich/Cookie Monster-style flamboyance that I just can't cater to. Besides that, there's even another Dixieland throwback, this one a real spongy little tumor called 'Good Company'. What, did we watch fucking 'Great Gatsby' or something, boys? Enough with the 20's bullshit...no one remembers Queen for how well they strummed banjos and emulated Paul McCartney's worst cutesy tendencies. There's a sludgy rocker that hearkens to the low points of Queen II ('Prophet's Song'), a spineless snotball of a piano ballad ('You Are the Love of My Life'), and the desert is wide and the sun is hot, and the water jug is dry, but sooner or later you, too will make it to the oasis...'Bohemian Rhapsody', which pretty much ends the album (besides a short, rockified-but-reverent take on 'God Save the Queen', quite different from the Sex Pistols version released the following year) and sums up Queen's oddball appeal. 'Rhapsody' is notable mostly because it really, truly combines everything good and bad about Queen in the same song. If you like it, dig in, but if not, just keep on a-walkin, J.J. Walker! They go from being achingly beautiful and heart-wrenching on the Freddie 'n' Piano opener where he talks about A) killing someone or, B) giving in to his homosexual tendencies, either one giving him huge amounts of guilt and pain. Anyway, they slowly shift it into full-band power-ballad mode, coalescing with the line 'Sometimes I wish I'd never been born at all!!' and a for-the-ages May solo. Then things, as they're wont to do, begin to get weird. Someone invites the Boston Pops choir to recite some goony Mercury lyrics about old-testament torment and hellfire, which wind around each other in an army of Queeners singing in all possible registers, then BUSTS THE MOTHERFUCK OUT into about 16 bars of massive, headbanging breakout and Freddies' fanged 'CAN'T DO THIS TO ME BAYBAAAAY!!! JUST GOTTA GET OUT JUST GOTTA GET RAIIGGHHT OUTTA HEEAHH!!' Whoa! More heavenly soloing, and back to Freddie reinventing Robert Plant's reprise of the opening lines of 'Stairway to Heaven' with the opening to the 'Rhapsody'. I'm speechless. Wotta song, gentle friends. Hate it, call it overblown opera bullshit, but you HAVE to be impressed by the craft.
So Night at the Opera is far from flawless, but isn't it cool to see our boys finally all gussied up? They're so darn proud of themselves, finally figuring out to a certain degree what all their bullshit is supposed to signify. It's like, if they keep making big statements, then no one's ever going to find out they're saying less than what we think. Anyway, it's not about the words, it's about escapism and showbiz with Queen, and I'm just about ready to buy whatever they're selling as long as they keep flashing those wacky chops like this. Hell...the second album in a row with a good Roger Taylor song on it! That's fucking noteworthy enough!
Capn's Final Word: They make going overboard seem not only justified, but tasteful as well. How did that trick happen? And how can they make it happen more often?
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A Day at the
Races - EMI 1976
A dreadfully dull first semester makes this the worst school year since the sophomore one for the Queenrs (Queens? Queers? NesQuiks? Quarks?), and it's all because they've fallen victim to the desire to frigging Rhapsodize each and every tune into some sort of rock thesis on 38-part harmony and the use of magnetic tape, besides somehow deducing that everyone loves them for their ballads, and not for their ass-kicking rock bonanza guitar-splintering tracks. Come on! Queen seems like they've forgotten that what made Day at the Races' older brother Night at the Opera so wonderful was what great pop masterpieces they were able to pull out of what seemed like a randomly concocted stew of classicism, hard glam rock, gospel, and whatever else came their way, like 'Hey, ma! Looks what I pulled outta this gunk! R&B! Let's call it 'You're My Best Friend! Neato! Roger, it's your turn!' Now, on Day at the Races, they're preferring craft to pure inspiration and dizzy-headed experimentation, and the fun quotient of what's for sale in behind the sausage counter suffers as a result. They tasted fame, wish to rediscover it, and have now retracted into attempting to repeat themselves by simulating the conditions under which Opera was created, but they've spooked at the idea of pushing their vision any further out than it already is. In the end, they try too hard and end up creating an album that, to me, is overblown and 'big' but essentially hollow, and with a real lack of those gold-brick tunes that buoyed their last two albums over a couple of serious duffers. If you want to define the point in which assholes like the Damned and Sid Vicious finally had the right idea in condemning Queen as pretentious dinosaurs, Day at the Races is it.
Pretty much each point along the line here, I'm able to compare Day with Night and consistently find this one lacking next to it's older brother. 'Tie Your Mother Down' is a decent straight-ahead rockin' Aerosmithy opener, but it looks pretty poxy compared with the bacon-broiling spike of 'Death on Two Legs', like comparing Bangkok and Disneyworld. The album takes a nose-dive right down from here, as the combined effects of 'Take My Breath Away', simply too much Mercury being delicate at his flaky piano, 'The Millionaire Waltz' (more dance-hall whatever. I'd like to meet the person who keeps asking for Mercury to write this stuff and invite him to look firsthand at what his gallbladder looks like), 'You And I' (Mercury does late-70's Elton John, in case you weren't already looking heatedly for the escape hatch). There's a nice one, 'Long Away', stuck in the middle there somewhere, a cool Mod-harmonized Who Sell Out-meets-Crosby, Stills and Nash understated rock tune that's simple but effective, and looks like a diamond among ice cubes when compared with the songs around it, if you 'spill cold coffee' on my 'brand new $60 sweater', and I think I just did. 'Somebody to Love' is supposedly the big winner here, and is inevitably compared with 'Bohemian Rhapsody', but that's just a sucker's way of trying to prop up a fair song that has one of the only hooks on this lame-ass album. It's Freddie's own particular idea of what gospel must be, though he's never actually met a black person, much less listened to the Early Sunday Morning Good News Gospel Hour on his local AM station to wash his brain clean of too much Classic Rock FM Corporate Network Conglomeration Propaganda (now featuring TWO volumes of the Eagles Greatest Hits for your listening pleasure!). So he wants someone to love, and he's invited all his friends and/or alter egos to sing with him...haven't we heard this before? What makes this any better?
Things do, despite my so-far acid tone, pick up from here. Wait, no, they don't. 'White Man' is a RED hot SAVAGE rocker with BARBARIAN drums and a WAR CHANT drum beat that's guaranteed to SCALP your SQUAW and SPEND ALL ITS WELFARE MONEY to DRINK ITSELF UNDER THE TABLE and then WAKE UP HORRIBLY HUNGOVER TO WONDER WHATEVER HAPPENED TO ITS FORMERLY GREAT AND HARMONIOUS CULTURE THAT WAS ONLY DESTROYED BECAUSE IT WASN'T AS GREEDY AND BLOODTHIRSTY AS ITS MORE TECHNOLOGICALLY ADVANCED USURPERS. I think it's about Brazilians. 'Drowse' is also cool, like 'Long Away' a throwback to British Invasion-stylings, this time the fuzzy, furry psychedelic years, but 'Good Ol' Fashioned Lover Boy' is an affront to anyone who expects Mercury not to make an ass of himself 'because he has too much self-respect', and 'Teo Torriate (Let Us Cling Together)' is simply an affront to anyone and everyone. Guh...remember when Freddie used to sound genuine when he'd sing something mushy? Not only does he sound like Jeff Lynne instead of himself, he's already standing on top of the mountain like God's Gay Son and singing to the ends of the earth about peace and happiness like his name was Michael Jackson's Spotty Penis or something. Hell, Fred, just stay down here with the rest of us and quit trying to get all uppity, wouldja? So he sings in Japanese...my anus in a strong wind makes a whistling noise that's a dead ringer for Bob Dylan.
Day at the Races never ceases to disappoint me because I probably really don't like Queen's 'dance hall' and 'wussy balladeering' sides as much as I thought I did. In fact, I don't like 'em much at all, and this album has more of those two scrote leech styles than I care to stomach. I dunno, this album seems musty and heavy, like a great weight is removed once I'm allowed to take it off again.
Capn's Final Word: Cut the rock while advancing the soft operatic stuff, and make the songs longer to boot? A recipe for disaster, my friends!
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firstname.lastname@example.org Your Rating: B-
Any Short Comments?: You're probably right that Queen's attitude was to continue on with the wonderfulness of ANATO. However an interesting point with this one was that ADATR was their first album not produced by Roy Thomas Baker and they did this I believe feeling they needed a fresh perspective. An odd decision to make given it was a ~continuation~ of the prior album.
Anyway I can't remember who did produce it - it may have even been the band themselves - but the production style doesn't do the songs any favours. There is a kind of sluggish feel that I think drags the whole thing down. It actually makes me feel kind've tired when I listen to it. I'm not suggesting that this album would otherwise be a masterpiece - I think that yeh Freddie got a bit self-indulgent on this one and perhaps everyone got a bit carried away.. probably especially after the huge success they'd suddenly just had.
Anyway it should have sounded more like their prior two albums, ie more bright and sparkly, and I think it would've worked a lot better.
You rightly pick Drowse as a rare Roger Taylor winner, and Long Away is an often forgetten tune which I've always liked.
I think Tie Your Mother Down kicks arse over White Man though.
News of the
World - Import 1977
If I were to tell you that I think the guitar solo to 'We Will Rock You' is one of the major accomplishments in music during the 1970's, would you feel duty-bound to revoke my Critic's Knitting Circle Membership? Well, what's more, I think 'We Are The Champions', precisely the kind of BIG STATEMENT I hated that Freddie was making on 'Teo Torriate', but here again he's leading a Rock and Roll band instead of a godforsaken Ballads n' Tap Dance Troupe. But fuck my mother and call the RIAA on me, I sure love these two tracks, as 'pandering to the lowest common denominator' as they are. Ya oughta try the lowest common denominator sometime, you end up getting a lot more sex there. More rashes, too, but that goes with the territory. Anyhow, back to the rant I originally originated like an OG, I'd like to raise my hand and proclaim how much I support Queen's decision to 'downsize' on News of the World, as they must've realized there was only so far they could take the Big Opera Tape style from their last two albums (and considering that Day at the Races had like, two or three different kinds of songs on it, and a huge preponderance were by Freddie, it's possible that everyone but Mercury had tired of the idea a while back). Just limiting the insane number of overdubs they'd been using corrects much of what was wrong to my eyes...perhaps I'm simpleminded, but I can enjoy Brian May's guitar playing a lot more when there's one, two, or three of him playing, and not 15 or 16. There's increased 'space' in these tracks, melodies are more clearly defined, and I don't have to go hunting for the drums under 50 pounds of piano glop anymore. They've also stripped down the songwriting in addition to the arrangements, the final effect being to lead logically to tracks like 'We Will Rock You', which hardly has any notes at all. News of the World has the 'essence of Queen', if I may, and serves to answer the question 'How much Queen can you take away from a Queen album and still have a Queen album?' Well, it's quite a lot, for I feel they do more with less on this album than their entire army of clones were able to come up with on Queen II or Day at the Races. Was it a response to punk? Maybe a few tracks were, but I think it was mostly a response to themselves.
So, to the tunes, blockheads! 'We Will Rock Jews!' and 'We are the Chumps!' rock the cashbox like only a stadium full of drunken football fans can do, announcing the new Dumb 'n' Stupid Queen from a mass of PA's and form a solid 5 minutes of 'up with people' concept that's supposedly intended to stretch through the entirety of the record, but as bands with attention spans as short as Queen's are wont to do, ends up dissipating pretty fucking quickly. There's a few trips to the ol' trough for fans of Mercury's piano torch bullcrap ('My Melancholy Blues' and 'All Dead, All Dead', which is a pretty good one as these things go) and John Deacon tunes for squares who wish they'd bought a Loggins and Messina album instead ('Who Needs You'), and Brian May submits the Anthem of the Moment in 'It's Late' (oddly affecting, if about twice as long as recommended) but the rest of this metal monstrosity is dedicated to RAWK in the way of all your favorite pals. Like punk rock! ('Sheer Heart Attack'...the song, not the album!) Which sucks! Because it has no riff, and Mercury sounds like Robert Plant on those horrible attempts at punk rock Zeppelin shunted off on the Coda album. Rockin' like Styx at their most Universalist! ('Spread Your Wings', which, admittedly, is a whole lot better than anything Syx could ever actually create) Rockin' like Queen trying to be Heart trying to be '76 Led Zeppelin! (Roger Dodger's 'Fight From the Inside', which proves once and for all that, while Roger certainly sings better the man did, on drums he sounds like Woody Allen to Bonzo's Lou Ferrigno.) 'Get Down Make Love' is perversely, mechanistically fucked up better than any Mercury tune since 'Death on Two Legs', a song that has no manner of dancing besides rape in mind...a real mother fuck, in other words...and with a chorus that fucking pounds...his best track since 'Bohemian Rhapsody'? I'd say so. Rockin' like Bad Company at their most, erm, unimaginative? Hell, we got that, too, with 'Sleeping on the Sidewalk'. We got it all, and if it seems like less than you imagined, well, that's because it very well is. Mercury only takes three tracks, May gets four, and the usual output of Dean/Taylor is doubled. Taylor's not much on originality, and Deacon's not much on not sucking hairy, MOR balls, so there's no wonder that this album is a bit too much of a 'tour d'Seventies' than a real Queen product.
I respect the concept of News of the World more than I do the outcome, but I still feel like a few chips were earned back that were lost on the wuss-pop ponies at Day at the Races. The feeling of Corinthian Leather-gimmick quality is gone (though there's still gimmicks to spare! What else would you call We Will Rock You/We Are The Champions?), but statements are more clearly communicated and better received than on the last one. There aren't even any overdubs at all on some of these songs! Okay, so maybe some of 'em could use some makeup (and some of 'em could downright use a paper bag on the ol' head), it's refreshing for me to hear these 'ways Queen can still rock', as if they're running down some laundry list. Now, if we can just get them to find a nice middle between being too out-of-proportion and too gaunt, we may have something.
Capn's Final Word: Queen go on a crash diet and end up a bit peaked and pale...but Appealing to the Masses fer sure.
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Queen's most eclectic album since Sheer Heart Attack, and their best next to Night at the Opera is also the last of their rockin' 'no sympathizers' era, and luckily backpedals from the duh-rock tendencies of News of the World to incorporate some good ol' fashioned weirdness along with some great lighthearted singles that rank as some of their best ever. Some folks hate it, especially contemporary critics who hadn't ever gotten bad ol' Queen in the first place, branding it a hodgepodge of everything Queen couldn't do well in the first place. Well, I stand tall and call bullshit on such talk...any rock fan who doesn't cater to the great half-jokin' party rock anthem 'Fat Bottom Girls' just ain't no friend of mine, get it, Dominic Hasek? I might just go Alex Lifeson on anyone who can't get caught up in the massive, bass-heavy sweep of the outro where May creates a huge noise just like in the old days, but rides the essential meatiness of the guitar sound out for it's own sake. No need to solo over much, no need to let all the notes go flying around the ceiling fan...just ride that motherfucker down. Mmmmmm. This guy's learned a lot in his days, hasn't he? Apparently they'd gotten a lot more comfortable being a hugely popular band than they were the last few times around. They don't really try to rebuild the Pyramids with a bunch of huffing and puffing, like on Days, and they're not so self-conscious as to spend most of their time copying their competition, like on News. They're displaying confidence in themselves and their sound (finally!), enough so that even on the old standby tracks they spice things up with some nice variations. 'Jealousy', the first piano ballad we encounter, usually an occasion for me to try some new avoidance maneuver not to have to tell you once again how much Queen's piano ballads usually depress the hell out of me, features May playing some treated guitar lines that resemble a sitar, just enough coolness to help me forget Mercury sounds like he's channelling Paul McCartney at his 'My Love'ing-est insufferable level of 'why can't you just love me?' cute. The lyrics are also about as interesting as a boxing match between two white guys, so I'll let this example drop. But I'll tell ya, that's one cool sitar line. Mercury has quite a rebirth over his relative disappearance on News, giving us not only 'Bicycle Race', Queen's last 'big' tune, but smartly in the guise of a small one. There's just no mistaking those massed vocals, dizzying guitar orchestras, and giddy chants of 'BICYCLE! BICYCLE! BICYCLE!'...this is Queen's last gasp on the idea first hatched with 'Killer Queen', but they go out fighting, to say the least.
There's some cool morsel thrown our way on almost each and every tune, and that distinguishes Jazz from being Just Another Trip to the Same Well. This one still lives by the Rocker, like last time around, but there's a lot more real heat being produced and a whole lot less bluster. Deacon pulls out a relative winner with the ELO-rocker 'If You Can't Beat 'Em', which I and every other person in the world prefer over stupid Air Supply piffle like 'Who Needs You' from the last one (or 'In Only Seven Days' to be heard later on here...Oh God, why is euthanasia illegal again?). And when I always said I hated those 20's-style top hats 'n' tails songs Mercury was always bringing 'round the garage sale, like a guy who knows 50 variations on the same card trick? Well, what if we took one of those songs and cranked up May's guitar louder and more distorto-sick than it's been since 'Stone Cold Crazy'? Awwwww, man! 'Let Me Entertain You' marches the motherfucking snakes into the ocean, you know? It's like 'We Will Rock You' for smart headbangers, arena rockin, fist pumpin' obviousness for people like me who don't usually fall victim to the Group Mind. Well, fuck that...I'm bangin' the ol' melon into the pavement as we speak, this song rules so much school. May's 'Dead On Time' attempts something similarly speed-metal, but is too busy and the 'Leave on time! Leave on time!' hook fails to take hold though the band gives it everything they can.
Things at least stay relatively cool until the depths of Side 2, when the old demons return and start demanding equal time. There's several points on Jazz that sound like they just bought all of the Paul McCartney and Elton John solo albums and have decided to try their hand at a pop 'masterwork' just like their friends have made. They fail, of course, but it's sorta interesting to hear how they attempt to reconcile straight late 70's AM pop with their Big Noise sound. Things get bad when bandmembers start repeating each other, and, worse, themselves. For example, May can't stop trying to top Mercury, and instead of failing to rock as hard as his flamboyant friend like on 'Dead on Time', this time he tries to hit the soft shoe once too often. 'Dreamer's Ball' is one of the worst attempts at jive R&B ever made by the band, but it only leads off the sad ending. Roger Taylor drops a funk bomb that smells rotten, May gets soft with 'Leaving Home Ain't Easy', and Taylor proves he's been paying at least a minimum level of attention by giving us that scourge of Simpsons lovers everywhere...the 'review' track with all the snippets of the songs we've just heard, as if we're so damaged as to forget what happened FIFTEEN MINUTES AGO. Sadly enough, Taylor wastes a perfectly good thrash riff on the first section of this burnt toast, and it's not like he's just slinging them out left and right, you know? Anyway, McCartney always liked the 'sum up' track too...weird, isn't it, that they followed his example so closely?
This album starts off so well, though, and they try so hard to make it different (trying so hard as to make a disco dingleberry like 'Fun It', but don't burst my bubble, willya?) that the bad tracks seem more like failed good ideas gone bad due to lack of competence than bad ones that just got left in out of laziness, and at least they limit their copying to ONE rock god (maybe two, for Mercury's 'Don't Stop Me Now' sure sounds like Elton John again), and the heights reached by 'Bicycle Race' and 'Fat Bottomed Girls' and 'Let Me Entertain You' remind me the band is still capable of their best work. It's sad to think that they saw so little potential in this sort of album, though and felt the need to sell out to the degree that Game would signify. I suppose it gets tiresome being stranded so far out in left field when you're really an accessible pop-rock band at heart. Well, I guess all weirdos have to grow up and leave their parents basement sometime.
Capn's Final Word: So it collapses like a bad boob job at the end...the first section sounds like they've finally figured out how to use just enough bullshit to be irresistable.
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Live Killers- Hollywood 1979
Queen's live double, released a couple of years late to hit the whole Frampton Comes Alive hype madness when every little pissant J. Geils Band or Marshall Tucker Band released a fucking double disc live explosion of drum soloing, call and response, shit blowing up, and songs stretched out worse than Plasticman at the Swedish Bikini Team tryouts. Naw, by 1978 the clamor over double-lives began to subside just a hair, and people began to actually discriminate between good ones and bad ones. Good ones had interesting reworkings of old songs and great solos, bad ones were, well, just like messier versions of studio recordings. Queen, strangely enough, give us one that falls somewhere in between...they really are a pretty cool live band, no worse than, say, the Rolling Stones of the same time. Freddie Mercury helms the stage like his own personal fiefdom, a place where the laws of nature and voice fatigue never really seem to affect the man. He lays off of the multi-octave escapades he liked to explore on the band's studio albums, preferring to stay within his 'normal' range, where his voice gets kinda nice 'n' gritty every once in awhile. Sometimes I get a weird feeling like Freddie sounds like some guy out of an Indian musical (cue the teasy looks over pastel veils! rig up the impossibly choreographed fight scene! get those goats outta here, this is a movie set!) more than a rock 'n roll guy, but how can I not when the man has about as much black blood as Art Garfunkel? He's not only not black, not European, he's Middle Eastern, man! The Persian submersion! Of course he can't sing black, but he can sing, and does a whole fuckload of it over the course of a two-plus hour show we have displayed here. I'd like to pay my respect right here and now...there's been lots of gay jokes and stuff, but rock music would really have a void if Freddie Mercury hadn't been around. There...now I'm getting all misty, fuckers...
Sadly, the rest of the band is also forced to 'downsize' just like Freddie and his voice. They're long on frenzied strumming and 4-floor bashing, and Brian May tries like a champ to recreate every solo not only note-by-note, but tremolo by tremolo. But six strings just can't equal six months of studio overdubs, and there's quite a bit lost to the stage translation from the studio versions of our favorite Rhapsodies. Things get so low on 'Bohemian Rhapsody' that they actually just play the studio tape of the middle operatic section rather than attempt to sing even a portion of the thing. The parts performed honestly still sound alright, especially the opening Freddie-feature, but the fact that I know they're not even comping for a whole two or three minutes of the song leaves me feeling like maybe all those swipes at Queen for being fakey are right on. They were fakers, dammit...but at least they warn us that this concerts going to be an exercise in minimization with their opening punker version of 'We Will Rock You', maybe nothing more than a warmup for the band itself, but for us it signifies that Queen the live band is quite different that Queen the studio one. Opera rock? 20's throwbacks? What about a nice HEAVY METAL SANDWICH in your craw instead, boyo? The problem being, however, that Queen was always a pretty sludgy heavy metal outfit, and this ain't no different. The sound quality doesn't help much, either...it's prime 70's live recording, with lots of hall reverb and dudes howling for 'Whipping Post'.
Anyway, the song selection is where this one really disappoints me. The first sign of trouble is the oversight that allowed 'Fat Bottom Girls' to slip out of the lineup...it was one of their singles, dammit! And with this heavy-guitar Queen we've got here, it would've sounded fucking excellent...better than 'Killer Queen', which seems to be dying of starvation or something. The meek way in which the guys peep out those falsetto 'aaahs!' is simply ridiculous, and besides that they smash it into the middle of a 'hit medley', one of my least favorite terms in all of popular music next to 'Mono Recording Expanded to Stereo' and 'Guest Vocals by Michael Bolton'. 'Bicycle Race' and 'I'm In Love With My Car' receive similar treatment, while, say, 'Now I'm Here' gets a full meal pass (though I'll admit, few folks take the tired old hand-me-down audience call-and-response section and do it as well as ol' Fred does) and 'Spread Your Wings' gets all of 5:15 to belabor its point. If they'd released an album half as long featuring, say, only the thrash-rockin version of 'We Will Rock You', the opening sequence of 'Let Me Entertain You' and 'Death on Two Legs', full-length versions of 'Bicycle' and 'Car', and maybe 'Best Friend', the nice acoustic version of '39' and 'We Are the Champions' and a shortened 'Brighton Rock', this album would get some gold stars and get to be line leader for the day. Instead, 'Brighton Rock' is expanded out into a million-year-long solo section (as is 'Get Down Make Love', but that one at least has got some nice sound effects of May playing the bedspring symphony), there's about 5 songs too many ('Sheer Heart Attack', I'm lookin' at you! 'Don't Stop Me Now', don't try and hide!), and by the end I've had about as much Queen as I can handle...sitting through this is enough to make me yell out 'bring on The Game, short haircuts, fag moustaches, and disco!', and then look around over my shoulder 'cos I'm writing this in my office and they already think I'm weird enough...
Capn's Final Word: A big ol' bite of live Queen trying to be all things to all instruments, and failing. Except for Mercury. I'd recommend cutting down the songlist until it hurts.
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The Game - Import 1980
Now, I tend to think Queen had to change sometime, as hard, bombastic, ballsy preen-rock wasn't really the vogue after, say, 1979, especially coming from a band as, shall we say, questionably masculine as they were. Hell, they weren't really metal, and hadn't been for a long time, so they couldn't align themselves with idiots like Judas Priest in the New Metal scene of the early 80's, they weren't yet wussy enough to Adult Contemporize themselves, and since they lived and died by the singles charts they couldn't weird out enough to alienate too many folks. Nope, the options were limited, and they chose the most obvious one - commerciality. 1980 was a pretty poor year for classic rock folks, since all the freshness had been drained out of disco and punk to the point that no one seemed much interested in anything anymore. 1980 was a year of movements dying rather than taking hold, and it's always worse to be on the wane of a trend than the sparkly discovery. Hell, Freddie spent enough times in gay discos in the mid-70's to have come up with at least one decent challenger to the prevailing rock-disco hits of the day, 'Miss You' (a classic) or 'D'ya Think I'm Sexy' (blehh!). Instead, on Jazz we got Taylor's crusty 'Fun It', which sounded like half a parody and half a really incompetent white dude's failure to understand the booty. Man, count me glad they redeem themselves on Game with one of their signature singles, the Number One smashola 'Another One Bites the Dust', based on one of John Deacon's new funk bassline classics, of which he'd soon have more. The man developed! Good for him, considering he's pretty much had NO discerning features before now except for a deadpan face, a goofy set of curly hair, and some pretty pathetic attempts at songwriting on News of the World. Considering it sounds like nothing they've done before, 'Dust' is one hell of a great single (and 'Dragon Attack' a pretty bitchin' funk-rock album track), a minimalistic funk tune with just enough of everybody to make it irresistible. As a side note, my sister used to always wax nostalgic about doing the Snowball at her 4th grade skating parties to this track...while I remember trying to find it on Top 40 radio when I was 3, as I was a pretty fucking hep little kid. I liked Styx too, but let's just forget that right now.
There's lots and lots of revisionist New-Wavey rock on here, too, serving to play to the newly geeky kids who think all pop should sound like the Knack and anyone who plays a guitar solo ought to have their thumbs gnawed off. The process of smoothing out every remaining trace of Queen's oh-so-passe operatic style has rendered most of these tracks flatter than Claire Danes, clean as a whistle, but without a whole lot of the personality that defined ol' Queen. The opening 'Play the Game' keeps some of the good ol' vocal harmony gimmickry, and sounds like it could've come off of News of the World or maybe one of the recent ELO albums. The other big sentimental hit is 'Crazy Little Thing Called Love', an attempt at Elvis-style rockabilly that turns out like half-Honeydrippers/ half-Stray Cats reactionary roots-pop, and not a whole lot like actual rockabilly. Cute song, though, and imminently listenable...their new talent at self-restraint is paying some dividends, anyway.
Not on Side 2, though, which lands itself smack in the middle of a great lake of late-70's shite rock of different stripes, indicating that Queen still didn't have any real clue what they wanted to really be, even after all those years. They're either trying to out-In Through the Out Door the Zeppelin with a beat-heavy New-Wavey wiggle tune featuring another Robert Plant impression that reminds me more of pregnant walruses than Percy ('Rock It'), trying to out-Police the Police (the bouncy 'Don't Try Suicide'), out bore .38 Special ('Sail Away Sweet Sister'), out-Cars the Cars ('Coming Soon'), or just fill time by rewriting 'We Are the Champions ('Save Me'). Side 2 is dull at best....their unwillingness to forge a new direction in Modern Music and inclination to simply scavenge behind the real leadership of the new school forebodes a darn lousy future for Queen. As we'll see, the 80's show the changes set forth on The Game to sink their fangs in even deeper, sucking more and more blood out of the group until they became pretty much like Out of Order-era Rod Stewart with a social conscience. Game has some saving graces because there's still some ghost of Big Head '75 Queen that can be felt here. Mercury may have cut his hair short, but he's still recognizable.
Capn's Final Word: Simplifies not only the songwriting, which they'd done on News, but also the approach, which they'd never compromised before. Do they really want to be Queen anymore? A couple of great singles, though.
- Hollywood 1981
As I've got a sort of glass ceiling on live albums with performances that don't improve appreciably over their respective studio counterparts, I've also got a high bias on soundtracks. This one is pretty good, an interesting listen, surely, but it's still a soundtrack...like how a motor scooter made by BMW might be a pretty fucking cool motor scooter, you know, leather seat and titanium storage basket and all, but you still wouldn't catch me dead trying to bring it onto the Autobahn. So it is with this album - most of Flash Gordon is dark, shocking synthesizer whooshes over real live Gordon soundbites (really effectively done...makes me almost forget how ridiculous the movie is. I remember seeing about 10 minutes of the bastard when I was, ohhhh, say 6 years old, and turning it off. This from a guy who admittedly already had a soft spot for Styx at the time. Bad is bad, friends, and I wouldn't wish Flash Gordon the movie on anyone I call a friend) and not much more. Most of the music here seems borrowed from your Tangerine Dreams and Klaus Schultzes of the world, and Flash definitely marks the exact time Queen began to let synthesizers dominate their sound. Or at least learned to twiddle knobs in earnest. From a band that prided itself on not allowing themselves near the things, they sure rolled over faster than Tchaikovsky at a kazoo recital. I have no real artistic criticism of them doing it besides the fact that it limited May's solo time and tended to overwhelm on the syndrum front, but I sure hate to see a band reverse itself on a position like that. There's some pensive moments that pack a whallop, like the ghostly falsetto and Clapton-esque guitar touches on 'Execution of Flash' and 'The Kiss', 'Vultan's Theme' invokes Blade Runner, and 'Battle Theme' lets May freak to the moon with his guitar army. There's some funny moments, not all of them unintended, like the hilarious 'vows' taken by Ming the Villan and Dale the Hottie in Distress at the beginning of 'Marriage of Dale and Ming'. Of course, I snicker every time I hear 'Flash! AAAAAAAAUUUUUUGGHGHGHGHGH!!!', which happens like every 5 seconds at least.
Anyway, is there anyone but good ol' Queer that would've done this soundtrack any better? Hell, I bet they jumped at the chance, and now instead of resigning itself to the dustbin of history, this godawful piece of trash film gets to live immortally (and immorally) because of it's soundtrack. Granted, this is still a bunch of whooshes and evocative chords picked from the back of the chordbook, but it's still something of a landmark among soundtracks...something I wouldn't change one note of.
Capn's Final Word: Queen could be so good they made a horrible movie sound great. Weren't they always good salesmen?
Hot Space - Hollywood 1982
Erghhhhhhhhfdhsahfhshfhdsahfhsdahfhdas! This is Queen? Since when did their albums not have any guitar on them? There's no audible guitar on any of the first side whatsoever (okay, there's a little on 'Dancer', but it sounds like a fucking synthesizer anyway, and a wimpy little solo in 'Back Chat', but expecting the Capn not to exaggerate is like expecting George W. Bush to win the National Spelling Bee). You know what the first side sounds like? Take 'We Will Rock You', replace any words about 'mud on face' with ones about going to discos and wiggling sweating arse in a pair of ABA-worthy short shorts, remove the guitar altogether, and repeat four times. Augh! Bloody, steaming, mangled, Wink Martindale-HORRIBLE. Boggling questions abound...why a disco album in 1982, the year when the only people who still considered disco a viable musical form were gay guys and the makers of fucking Staying Alive. But this isn't the sort of funk-influenced 1977-brand of disco that produced Saturday Night Fever, 'Got to Give It Up' and 'Another One Bites the Dust'. This is 80's disco, as mechanical as anything ever dreamt up by the Human League but twice as whitebread. Why all the synths? Why 'Body Language', easily the worst song on here, not to mention the worst song in the Queen catalogue, as the first single? Why choose production that makes the album sound about as densely populated as a Tonii Basil reunion concert? Why did the other three go along with this, especially Brian, who completely goes to seed on this record? Why all the thinly veiled, tasteless man-sex double entendres? Hell, there's more homosexual insinuation on this album than on an average episode of Friends. Okay, so Mercury was out in the open and free as a little schoolgirl with his sexuality in 1982, which was also some sort of weird height in the pre-AIDS casual gay sex culture (just ask Elton John, who like never fails to mention how many guys he had in the early 80's), most of it centered on places that played music just like this. So, he was sharing his culture with his loyal fans, (or at least the ones who survived buying Flash Gordon expecting a Queen album when it was really just a bunch of soundtrack whooshes) sharing his joy with the world. I just wish he would have shared a little further over that way. Right...keep going, Fred, until I can't hear you anymore.
Oddly, the second side retreats somewhat into Game-style New Wave that, while far from being very good, at least proves to us the other members of Queen were still alive and hadn't been violently cannibalized by Mercury in a fit of Persian rage. Also, the production steadily improves over the course of the second side, right up to 'Under Pressure', which sounds awesome, thick, and full. Hell, 'Action This Day' is actually pretty nice in an up-with-people, 'My Sharona' way. They pay tribute to John Lennon with one of the worst John Lennon impressions I've ever heard on 'Life is Real', all Wall Of Sound pianos and bittersweet, aching vocalisms. Bad imitations of dead idols aside, it's a pretty decent song when compared to ick like 'Put Out the Fire', an anti-gun song so bad as to make this lib consider cuddling up with Charleton Heston. 'Los Palabras de Amor' is a fine gem of melodicism in the middle of this parched ocean of two-chord rants, definitely one of Freddie's better ballads of all time.
Now, Hot Space used to come without 'Under Pressure', their hit collaboration with David Bowie, and that album'd probably have ranked a D. Luckily, the reissue has it. 'Pressure' is one of the premier singles by either artist, especially in 1982, when Queen's good fortune was being pissed away at an alarming rate and David Bowie was standing on the verge of selling out big-time with Let's Dance. It's got one of the last classic John Deacon basslines (later famously copped by Vanilla Ice on his 'You Don't Get To Put It In My Wigger Ass Until I Get A Lobster Dinner' single about fifteen shitty years ago), great Brian May guitar architecture, and some brilliant vocal sparring between Bowie and Mercury. The screaming buildup to the 'one more chance' section is simply one of those moments in rock that you wade through shitty albums for and count yourself lucky to have heard. Goodbye, Queen, and thanks for all the fish....
Capn's Final Word: Hitting bottom, as it were. Well, at least it's got 'Under Pressure' on it.
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The Works - Hollywood 1984
God, the lascivious chest-waxed cyborgs that replaced Queen on Hot Space during their kidnapping have been recalled to Planet Bathhouse and the real boys are back with us again. Unfortunately, they're pretty much scarred for life by the experience, and have been prescribed performing seven years of 80's AM-radio pop to aid in the psychological healing process. The CIA psychiatrists, in addition to forcing handfuls of Valium down their throats (thus pushing John Deacon over the edge from mere reservation into pure catatonia and sadly preventing any further 'Under Pressure' or 'Another One Bites the Dust' genius basslines), have recommended that the band only produce music that falls into one of two categories: 1) Sterilized 'anthems' about 80's-y issues like nuclear war and world unity that go over well with enormous crowds of pale, naive European kids, and 2) lightly rocking/electronicking excursions that sound like a cross between Robert Plant's solo material and Duran Duran. Hell, it's their new sound, and like it or not, it's original. 80's Queen is immediately identifiable. Strictly prohibited is anything that might resemble teeth-gritters like 'Get Down, Make Love' or 'Death On Two Legs', or anything that might be construed as 'operatic'. Brian May's been given his guitar back, but due to injuries sustained during installation of a scuba-tank sized extraterrestrial anal probe, he can only make it sound like he's trying out for Foreigner. Plus, since they're still exhausted, they've been limited to only nine songs, which is akin to Queen putting out something like Thick as a Brick. Or not. But it still smells of a rip-off. Queen has always had too damn many songs on their albums, and now they turn a 180 and start giving us not enough? What gives?
Anyhow, how could this one not sound great in comparison to Hot Space, an album I think only pocket calculators and Fire Island addicts could love. It's got melodies, Raymond Babbitt! It's got real-live instruments! Plus, in addition to a whole buffet piled high with buffed-up, shiny, accessible dink-pop songs that all sound alike, it's got 'Radio Ga-Ga', a hooky little hit that oddly perfects everything they were trying for on Hot Space...it's a danceable, purely synthetic pure pop slice to be digested quickly and forgotten even faster. Coincidentally, it preaches against the marginalization of rock 'n' roll radio, which is pretty fucking stupid when you consider the message is married to 80's-inflected syn-pop perfectly calculated for MTV airplay. Kind of like hiring Ted Nugent to play your PETA benefit, but anyway...
There's quite a dearth of interesting music on The Works, but I can't very well say this one is bad or anything. There's just not much to say about most of this stuff. 'Machines (Back to Humans)' industrializes the attack between big ol' drums 'n' guitars that sorta fight back and forth with tweety and woofy synth percolations in something that's probably supposed to represent the happy marriage between old- and new-school rock instrumentation, but more likely just indicates Queen bought a bunch of new toys and wants to try them all out (Hell, May's a gearhead from way back, and I don't blame him for twiddling knobs when he ain't got that much guitar playing to do.) 'I Want to Break Free' is a hooky little booger with lyrics that would probably serve a bad highschool punk band well someday (here it's more AM pop, more A-Ha this time than, say, Phil Collins, but featuring one of the grossest synth-guitar solos since Tormato). Oh, and the only true rocker, 'Hammer to Fall', reminds me of Kenny Loggins. Eeesh! Some 'social consciousness' on that one and 'Is This The World We Created', too, but I think Barry McGuire and Helen Reddy won't be losing any sleep any time soon.
Corny, hooky, lighter than imitation shaving cream, pimping themselves to MTV more shamelessly than Metallica ten years later ...It's the new Queen, so's ya better get used to it. At least the heart's beating once again...
Capn's Final Word: Resuscitated, but not yet rehabilitated. Queen try corn, say 'It's Good!'
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Say what you will about them, they sure like their cheeseball action flicks. Like Flash Gordon before it, Magic is at least partially a soundtrack album (for Highlander...eek!), but don't go all wiggy and expect another Brian Eno Soundscapes doddly bop like we had last time around in '81. Instead, this time they pretty much perfect their new Big Anthem for the Masses sound with arm-swayers like 'Friends Will Be Friends', 'One World', 'Who Wants to Live Forever', and 'Gimme the Prize', each one rockin' a stadium full of your closest friends with lots of three-word choruses easily translated into a bazillion different languages and then shouted en masse, tempos pushed south of single-digit BPM's to allow the reverb to echo-echo-echo-echo its way through the rafters, and looooonnnnngggg, fluuuuuiiiddddd, heartttlllessssss guitar solos that would make David Gilmour stain his Wranglers. It's rock for the People, all of them at the same time, and it sounds like every note is filtered through some sinister Propaganda Machine to make it stick in your brain even worse than before. It seems Queen took Live Aid to heart, (understandable, considering they were one of the best things there...oh wait, The Hooters played?!?! REO Speedwagon?!?!? Spandau BALLET?!?!?!? AUTOGRAPH?!?!????!?!?!?! AAAGGHGGHRJRJRNFNKASDFKLSDLSLslslslsls...) and decided to make their next album somethin' to tour 'round! Fill those seats! Sell those T-Shirts! Light those lights! Raise thy fists and yell, heathens! These half-speed big-snare, Mercury-hollerin' monsters of schlock do half the work for ya! Why force yourself to remember all five-bazillion notes of 'Killer Queen' or 'Let Me Entertain You' when you can go out and let your drummer whack his electronically enhanced snare drum as hard as humanly possible and let your synthesizers do the rest? Magic sounds about as naturally constructed as a pair of $9 cowboy boots, but it's also got the most consistent songwriting of any queen album since Jazz. I like most of those Big Hits, cheese or no cheese, and not just because I haven't been able to get 'Friends Will Be Friends' out of my head 6 of the last 7 nights, which has been getting so bad I hum it first thing in the morning as I take my dawn-break pee. That's sick! Still, friends will be friends, and when I'm through with life they give me love and attention...AAHAGGHEHEHLSDALDFASDSLSD!!@@!!@!!!!!
Maybe I'm just not built to handle stuff like this. It causes me headaches, I feel jumpy, I start bitching about fast food and how stupid baseball is while espousing the Euro and wearing black socks pulled up past the knee with white gym shorts. Talk about mind control, if aliens too hold of the boys on Hot Space, they're the ones pulling our strings on Kind of Magic. Apparently they pulled the right strings, because Queen was more popular in 1986 than they were in 1976, as counter-intuitive as that might seem. Things get a lot less hooky and a lot less listenable when they get into the Highlander material at the end, (though 'Who Wants to Live Forever' is a marvel of the new form...and Mercury's best piano ballad ever) though Mercury has no shortage of howling 'sincere' leads left in his vocal cords to show just how powerful this movie is supposed to be. Ah well, bowling us over with big, obvious noises is what the New Queen was supposed to do, and they're pretty fucking good at it on this here album. Whether it's something I recommend injesting very often is another thing.
Capn's Final Word: Allright, allright, make the hooks sharp enough and the motions big enough and even I'll soften a little.
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Wembley '86 - EMI 1992
Dude, do they say, 'Gimme gimmie....Fried Chicken!!!' at the end of 'One World', or am I just getting the Sharpie too close to my nostril again? Argh, whatever, I totally buy this album and all it stands for. BIG FUCKING STADIUM filled with European people who REALLY FUCKING DIG QUEEN. ESPECIALLY THE EIGHTIES STUFF. AND SING ALONG WITH EVERY WORD. LOUD AND OUT OF TUNE. 'Sitting in the Lap of the Gods' sounds like the cry of the human race off the edge of the Grand Canyon. Yarrr! Is this not, at least to some extent, what rock music is all about? Queen took their message and brought it to the masses, and the masses loved it, as long as the masses weren't American, who couldn't give a shit about mid-80's Queen because they were too engrossed in what that marvelous Richard Marx character was doing up in that bitch. But, miracle of miracles, Queen sound like Queen again, like the guitar-heavy Zep-influenced Queen that filled up two albums full of Live Killers back 8 years before. A band that, as I'll remind you, had its own share of pussy ballad moments, too. Queen '86 is just simpler than Queen '78, they say in three notes what it used to take the band 300 to say. Those were some neat fucking 297 notes we got to hear, but the people, they like things easily understood. Otherwise, they're the same bunch of blokes they used to be. They still medley a bunch of songs at the beginning, still play the tape in the middle of their rather perfunctory 'Bohemian Rhapsody' (if it sounded rushed and uninspired on Live Killers, here it's downright neglected), still allow Brian May to solo endlessly over 'Brighton Rock'. The mechanics of the thing are absolutely unchanged. They just have more songs to play, prefer playing their newer material, and are playing to a larger, more rabid audience. They make more 'big moves', but they always made a bunch of big moves anyway, so who's counting? Most of these songs are either great anyway ('Under Pressure', 'Tie Your Mother Down', 'Who Wants to Live Forever') or are made great by the huevos shown by Brian May in not being afraid to jack up the volume on his guitar like the Page disciple we always loved ('One World', 'Is This the World We Created', 'I Want to Break Free'). Oh, not everything wins...and the fact that the setlist is 28 songs long, padded by some unnecessary covers of 50's rock songs ('Hello Mary Lou', 'Tutti Fruitti', and 'Gimme Some Lovin') performed as a lead-in to the disappointing 'Bohemian Rhapsody' render Wembley somewhat bludgeoning, but that's why God made stop buttons and pointy fingers to poke them with. I could start this album just about anywhere other than 'Brighton Rock' and the 50's medley and find something exciting, interesting, or just plain Queen waiting for me there. I like it because they show so much more of their true selves than we've heard in ages, and it's nice to know our friends who made Night at the Opera aren't dead yet. Long years of sterile studio albums and limited rock content can make you doubt stuff, you know? Hell, I'm a fan of rock music, and I try my best not to be elitist about it all...I want to be swept up by a band's power, and, let's face it...it doesn't happen as often as it should. Wembley may be hackneyed and obvious, but in a pinch I have a hard time thinking of an artist that involved its audience in its performance in quite the way Freddie Mercury did. They're not trying to 'break down barriers' like punk rockers do or Pink Floyd wishes they could do and absolutely can't, they're not trying to make things 'intimate'....they relish the HUGENESS of the occasion, and make you feel welcome to take part in it. This talent, friends and benefactors, is intoxicating, and makes me forget a whole lot of queasiness I feel sometimes about liking this band.
Capn's Final Word: Oh yeeeeeeaaaahhhh.....there ain't too many bands out there who can do this. Cheesy and overlong, but oh such a good deal.
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The Miracle - Hollywood 1989
Similar to, but appreciably worse than, A Kind of Magic, Miracle generated that same kind of 1989 'they're back!!' hype that the Rolling Stones' Steel Wheels and Paul McCartney's Flowers in the Dirt albums had. The only two problems I can think of when presented with this theory are that:
1) Everyone was wrong about Steel Wheels and Flowers in the Dirt, anyway. They're both boring, hookless simulations of long-gone sounds filtered through a crass commercialist approach long on facade and short on meaning. Not to mention Journeyman, Oh Mercy!, and New York, among several others, and
2) Queen actually thrived (well, comparatively) in the mid-80's, using mid-80's production, mid-80's synths, and mid-80's sentiments that tripped so many other classic rock folks up.
Miracle also generally follows the 1989 rules (though the reliance on synthesizers and fakey production is still really strong when compared with their dino-rock peers) - this album is packed like sardines with filler tunes, and probably ranks as their most fillered album ever. A quick calculation yields a less than 30% standout-to-filler ratio, made much, much worse by the inclusion of two bonus tracks that should've stayed buried on the B-side of the 'Invisible Man' single where they belong (the third one, 'Chinese Torture', is just a bunch of May soloing with a treated guitar, which never hurt no one). Moreover, the Big Hook factor ain't nuthin' when compared to A Kind of Magic, which ought to be registered as some sort of psychoactive drug compound by the FDA. This time the hooks are reduced to some tame, muted mrphles of meek protest that hardly register a tick on the air-punchin' meter. It's not for lack of trying by the vocalist, who screams his gay little Zanzibarian heart out. Freddie Mercury's been using his 'earnest' loud voice so much in the last few albums that it's just about worn itself out here. In fact, it appears Mercury just can't turn down the damn volume anymore...he's gotten so used to filling stadiums with his huge pipes that he's forgotten he doesn't have to fucking YELL ALLOFTHA TIME!!!!! But I guess someone's got to step forward, and since May seems happy with his very slightly increased participation when compared with the 80's albums so far, it's gonna have to be Freddie. That's one of the problems with a band with lead songwriters as sporadic as Fred and Brian, and secondary songwriters as untalented as Taylor and Deacon. When the Big Two are running dry, the trouble brews hot and heavy, because there sure isn't going to be any help from the rhythm section. And besides a few tracks on side one (title track, 'I Want It All', 'Khashoggi's Ship') and 'Was It All Worth It' on the flipside, this thing is about as well written as a juicer infomercial. 'I Want It All', not surprisingly, is also the most guitar heavy track, having a middle section that somewhat resembles Whitesnake and a hook that's pure Kind of Magic goodness, updated for the greedy Yuppie generation.
Miracle is simply, essentially, thoroughly boring. Don't be fooled by two seconds of guitar chorusing on the otherwise despicable 'Party', the old Queen isn't even within a hundred miles of this record...unless you mean the Hot Space Queen, who has a hoot of a reunion on the retarded, mechanistic 'Invisible Man' single. The band has stuck itself in a rut that they nearly transcended last time around, but just don't have any idea how to pull out of here. They're so darned sincere all the time, getting stuck in the middle of a humorless, hookless attempt at a Queen album feels a lot like being forced to go to church.
Capn's Final Word: A poor attempt at reproducing past glories that happened as recently as 3 years before. Must've left their hooks in their other pants.
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Innuendo - Hollywood 1991
Say what you will, Freddie Mercury goes out his way on Innuendo. Which, while lending this album moments of emotional gravity not felt in the Queen catalogue since, well, ever...also dooms this album to be nothing more than a stylistic extension of Miracles with a few more good tracks. Really good tracks, but nothing that might make you forget that there's sections on here more parched, bereft, and wasted than Ted Kennedy and Keith Richards at the Kentucky Derby. There's times on Innuendo which provoke in me a feeling of sadness, not just because Freddie was fighting the advanced stages of AIDS, but also because there's points when it sounds like his bandmates have just about had it, too. Let me make this clear...a BIG PART OF THIS ALBUM SUCKS IT BAD LIKE MIRACLES WITH THE COOL TURNED OFF. Yet, thankfully, there's also moments of pure joy, where everything comes together for the new Queen sound and they transcend the synth-rock, late-Genesis brand that pretty much killed them in the States (though Innuendo and Miracles actually both sold fairly well Stateside, they still probably only equaled the sales in a place like Ecuador). Hel, I'll say it though I don't necessarily feel wise about doing it...there's points on this album that are just as fucking good as anything they ever did in the mid-70's. F'r example...the opening title track moves from the foreboding death-knell of feedback guitars and synthesizers set on 'brzzzzzzz' to a gorgeous chorus that provokes memories of 'Sitting in the Lap of the Gods' to a Spanish ditty complete with Brian May's layered fingerpicking, which then goes into a short operatic ("zzzz...huh?!?!?" - 70's Queen fan) portion that brings up dusty memories of *ssh!* 'Bohemian Rhapsody', then on back to the triumphant crunch of the heavy chorus section, and the whole time Freddie lords over it at the peak of his powers. The guy may be just slightly faint of voice (hell, he was in his mid-40's) but he's in complete command of his pawns and rooks. He turns on the charisma on the camped-up 'I'm Going Slightly Mad', which reminds me of Scary Monsters-era Bowie, and manages to push the song over despite a rather dull synth-dominated backing track that only perks up when May pulls out his slide(!) guitar. This album, like so many others, lives or dies on the whim of Mercury's performance. Without Freddie, this album would sound like a mid-80's Don Henley album. May's guitars, though frequently louder than in recent times (and edgier than his wimpy Miracles work), is very undistinctive...this could be the product of any late 80's, early 90's professional technician, your dude from Skid Row, maybe, not the guy who's been giving us massive head-bang whiplash for the last 20 years. Roger Taylor lays off the electronic drums, but sadly reduces his drumming to imitating Zep by-way-of Roland Drum Machines...as over-gated and mechanical and idea-free as possible.
But like I said, at times none of these criticisms are worth a piss in the Pacific because of the sheer mind-blowing power of Freddie Mercury to pull himself together and perform a sincere ballad vocal like the one on 'Don't Try So Hard' (again, musically a poofy featherbed of insubstantiality) or something poppy and sweet like on 'These Are the Days of Our Lives' (which, granted, sounds like Paul Young...remember him? I sure do...one summer I spent a few weeks with my grandmother in Little Rock, Arkansas, and all my sister and I did was watch MTV, because we didn't have cable at home. Man, we must've seen three videos: A-Ha's 'Take On Me' (still a personal favorite), Dire Straits' 'Money For Nothin'' and Paul-fucking-Young's 'Every Time You Go Away' about a hundred million motherfucking times). Or he can just take a piece of shit and dismiss it by using, like, 10% of his ability (the criminally disgusting 'Delilah', which seems to once again hit up Hot Space for pointers on how to suck so hard the tides are affected).
Or he can simply, honestly...rip your heart out and tear it up into little tiny shreds, as he does on the farewell 'The Show Must Go On', which, of course, is about a whole helluva lot more than some stupid socially-conscious opening verse. Nah, it's all about this - 'each time my heart is breaking, my makeup may be flaking, but my heart stays on'. Innuendo has several moments that deal with Mercury's inevitable death, but instead of sitting there writing each and every last tune about it, and making a huge goddamn deal about it like Warren Zevon did on The Wind (granted, Zevon knew his time was shorter than Mercury's, but his album still smacks of a guy throwing a last pity party for himself and inviting a bunch of famous old pals who normally wouldn't have given him the time of day. Except Jackson Browne, who's had his tongue so far up Zevon's ass for so long he detected his cancer before the doctors even ran any tests.) He dedicates one song to discussing it, or rather kicking the idea of saying goodbye quietly right over the fucking cliff. Aw, man...if the music were of Opera quality, I'd be shitting bunny rabbits, but all I can really do is praise the vocal job by Mercury and say thank you. May himself pulls out a little tune that could be construed as dealing with his friend's withering, the convincingly bluesy 'Lost Opportunity'...finally he gets a blues song right, on the last legitimate Queen song on the last legitimate Queen release ever. I guess better late than never, but...Jeez! It's the fucking blues, it's not like we're asking you to play fucking Berlioz on that thing!
Anyhow, Mercury fans absolutely require this album, and people who don't mind some synth nonsense would be well-served by checking it out, but for the most part, the average rock goon isn't going to think this is a very pleasurable listen. Still, when I think about it, I believe Mercury finally made the album he'd wanted to make for some time...and it appealed to the guy. Hell, he could have done whatever he wanted to do, the band would've gone along with it (they must've known it was the end of the line), but he saved us some of his best moments with Queen for right at the end. If only the other three had been similarly inspired.
Capn's Final Word: Propped up on the thin, dying shoulders of Freddie Mercury, who literally gives it everything he had left in him.
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Heaven - Hollywood 1995
Crass commercialism at it's very worst, this album was hacked together by May, Taylor, and Deacon out of death's-door Freddie vocal takes circa Innuendo and new musical backings by the band. Oh, but this is an album that has all of the faults of the worst songs on Innuendo, the endlessly dull quality of Miracles, inhuman synth washes straight out of A Kind of Magic and Flash Gordon, and some sick attempts at updating the massed-guitar orchestras of old. Bleah. Mostly, I feel sad that these tracks, full of self-pitying lines about impending death that Mercury never allowed to sink Innuendo, saw the light of day without Mercury's approval. Well, I assume that's the case...I certainly wouldn't have wanted some of my more vulnerable pre-death moments coated with heapin' helpins of echoey New-Agey fat-free mayonnaise and served up on a platter for fans who, out of sheer feeling for Freddie, snatched up this record like nothing since The Game. (It sold gobs in the US, outperforming Innuendo by miles. Which proves there's no God. And that there's nothing like a good death to help the ol' sales figures) Moreover, many of the tracks are obviously doctored up worse than Lenin's corpse to make them appear lively and worthy of release. The gospel choir background and tradeoff verses with May on 'Let Me Live' hide a Mercury track that must've contained about a minute and a half of actual material stretched to three times it's usual length. This is a computer approximation of Queen, not the Real Coke, and isn't even as good as the worst moments the real band had in the late 80's. It's manipulative, unmelodic, dishonest, and frankly pretty gross. There's even a 23 minute track of Yanni synths and Freddie talking to his cats. I mean, if this betrayal of a good friend doesn't buy you an express rail berth to Hell in this stupid Christian mythology of ours, there ain't no justice, neither.
Okay, so the chugga-chugga hard rock of 'I Was Born to Love You' is pretty energetic. That doesn't excuse you, fuckers!
Capn's Final Word: He's dead, fellahs, but you're the ones who don't have a pulse.
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Any Short Comments?: Hmm, I can hardly find any reason to hate this album. It is by no means unmelodic or gross. Yes, the songs are smooth and polished, but not in a commercial way. The Queensters try to make the listener identify with Freddie, portray him as an angel of sorts, and, in the end, go overboard with the heavenly atmosphere, but who cares if the melodies are good? These sure aren't the worst outtakes I've heard in my life. The hidden track is gross, though. What are we supposed to do to those humming synths? Meditate?
(Capn's Response: Heh. A near-Komi reading my site! Is it as cold in Perm as it was in Syktyvkar when I visited a few February's back?)
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