LIST OF QUEEN REVIEWS:
Smile (1969); Queen (1973); Queen II (1974); Sheer Heart Attack (1974); A Night at the Opera (1975); A Day At the Races (1976); News of the World (1977); Jazz (1978); Live Killers (1979); The Game (1980); Flash Gordon (1980); Fun in Space (1981); Hot Space (1982); The Star Fleet Project (1983); The Works (1984); Strange Frontier (1984); Mr. Bad Guy (1985); A Kind of Magic (1986); Live Magic (1986); Barcelona (1988); The Miracle (1989); Innuendo (1991); Made in Heaven (1995)
Ghost of a Smile (1969)
On it's own terms, this album is terrible. The mixing is atrocious, the drumming is cluttered, the guitarist annoyingly likes to fill everything with aimless and bloated, Zeppelin-esque wanking, and the melodies are quite dull. However, considering that this band is Queen's Quarrymen, shouldn't we simply be thankful that this exists? Does it matter if it's any good or not? Moreover, there's not much that we can ever expect from a bootleg of six unreleased singles.
This band was started in 1968 by Brian May who was joined by Roger Taylor on drums. The lead singer and bassist (Mercury and Deacon wrapped all into one, evidently) was Tim Staffell who would eventually quit to join the short-lived Humpy Bong. (Snicker.)
The most notable inclusion of this album is an early version of "Doing All Right," which is arguably the most boring song on Queen's debut album. Well, rest assured, it's even worse here. "Blag" is awful, but it's also interesting in the sense that it showed that Zeppelin had a large pull on them right from the get-go. However, even more intriguing about it is a quasi-operatic vocal build-up that occurs at its beginning. They would have a long, long, long way before that sort of thing would reach A Night at the Opera quality, but I could very well be listening to the seed of it.
The highlight of this collection is "Step On Me," which is a bouncy piano pop song that sounds like Mercury could have written it. Hell, Staffell's voice is even vaguely similar to his, albeit not even a quarter as powerful. At any rate, it's interesting that this sort of thing existed pre-Mercury.
As a whole, I wouldn't bother trying to find this unless curiosity gets the better of you. 6/15
When Staffell left, Brian May was on the verge of folding the band when a fan by the name of Farrokh Bulsara approached him and persuaded him to continue. Eventually, this fan was incorporated as the lead singer, and he also helmed the decision of renaming them as Queen. He then changed his own name to Freddie Mercury, and the rest--as they say--was history.
They certainly came a long, long way from that ramshackle state I heard them in Ghost of a Smile (as the proto-Beatles undoubtedly would have if they recorded songs as The Quarrymen). Naturally, Queen would still have awhile before they would become the hottest band on Earth, but nevertheless, this thing is pretty dang explosive.
I almost can't fathom a better way for them to have started their legacy out with than "Keep Yourself Alive," which right away cemented their status as natural-born showmen. I mean, they picked their philosophy right away and stuck to it for their entire careers. That scratchy noise that May makes with his guitar right at its beginning is something to behold, but then by the chorus, he veers off into a section that sounds like he's playing a corny country-western song. Roger Taylor takes the cake, though, with a surfy drum solo. The song is crowd-pleasing to its core, but as a member of the crowd, I must say I'm pleased. (And it's also very rare that I love a drum solo, so let us bask in its glory.)
Another thing Queen started doing right away was being absolute hams. If you think that's a bad thing, then you cannot be a Queen fan. The falsetto singing, twinkly piano, and geeky lyrics in "My Fairy King" is just about the fruitiest thing I've ever heard, but who's not to say they pulled it off as best as a song like that could ever be pulled off? I mean, Freddie wailing at the beginning of it like a silly police siren is enough to sell it alone.
"Liar" might be one of the reasons people throw the term quasi-prog at this album, and I suppose I can see it: It's unapologetically theatrical and also has a free-flowing structure. It's fun, too. "Son and Daughter" has a verrrry heavy riff that could have been a Sabbath riff, and--moreover--one of their better ones. If you like hard rock, that's one for your record books. Roger Taylor takes lead vocals for the too-brief "Modern Times Rock 'N' Roll," which is might be a tad generic for the time, but I find it to be an enjoyable, fast-paced frenzy.
Interestingly, I usually think most Queen albums have at least one weak spot. Sure, there's a plodding ballad ("Doing Alright") and a theatrical number that doesn't do much for me ("Jesus"). However, I seem to like everything here. So what else can I say, but this is one of their most solid records ever. 12/15
Queen II (1974)
Oh, you might have thrown the term "proggy" at Queen's debut album, but they went totally neck-deep into it for this follow-up; in good ole prog fashion, all these songs reek of fantasy lyrics and crescendos, and they all flow into one another like it's one continuous song. In other words, this is like an extended version of "Liar" and "My Fairy King" from the debut.
There's also a concept of sorts, although I don't understand it. All I know is that the first half of the album is known as the White Queen while the second half is the Black Queen. In general, I kind of like this. However, an album full of proggy tunes regrettably doesn't leave much room for those oh-so-solid, Zeppelin-esque rock 'n' roll numbers that I enjoyed so thoroughly from the debut! Usually I wouldn't mind it so much since I usually like prog more than I like Zeppelin, but many of these song seem to meander around without making significant enough of an impression on me. This might even be the Queen album that makes the least significant impression on me as a whole. (Of course some of those are albums leave negative impressions!)
I might have said that there was a lack of heavy, Zeppelin-esque numbers, but that didn't stop Brian May from going HEAVY with his guitar, especially in the upside of those crescendos--heavier than the debut even (check out the middle of "Father and Son" if you don't believe me).
This album starts off with the slow instrumental "Procession," which sounds like funeral music from a fantasy movie except it's played entirely with electric guitar. Sort of cool, but it's also unexciting and not the greatest way to start an album. "White Queen (As It Began)" is the first of many theatrical Queen ballads featuring a sweet vocal performance from Mercury; it's a bit dull in the beginning, but after a few minutes it starts to blossom into something so lovely that it catches me a bit off-guard.
Roger Taylor takes lead vocals for "Loser in the End," which has a HEAVY riff, but even then I get kind of bored with it. You need more than a heavy riff to make a good song, ya know! However, props to Taylor for opening it up with that echo-ridden drum pattern.
The last half of the album is more of the same, except it (somehow) manages to be fruitier. "Ogre Battle" starts it off with a very slow cymbal fade in and then what I suppose is a battle cry from an army of helium-sucking ogres. Hilarious. Isn't that sort of thing why we all (should) love Queen? Otherwise, the song doesn't thrill the pants off me, but I'm sure Brian May fans love all his heavy, fast-paced guitar. In particular, catch that growling noise he makes at the 1:38 mark.
I feel like I should feel embarrassed for how much I enjoy "The Fairy Feller's Master-Stroke." I mean, it's amazing how that song is actually sounds sillier than its title. Bubbly harpsichord, hand-claps, ridiculously high-pitched singing... whoah boy. "Nevermore" sounds a lot like the beginning of "Bohemian Rhapsody," which is a point of interest. It's far weaker, of course, but all great songs have to start from somewhere.
Some people rank this among Queen's best albums, and all the more power to them. It's fun to sit through, but in the end, I just don't think it has enough great songs on it. It has its weight in gold of "good" songs, but don't we need a little bit more? 10/15
Sheer Heart Attack (1974)
This is effectively the beginning of Queen for most listeners, and that's for only one reason: There's actually a well-known song here. That is "Killer Queen," which is a great piece of piano-based theater-rock with a melody that I and everyone else finds insanely catchy. Freddie's vocal performance is bubbly and lively, but I also like Brian May's cutesy guitar lines... however, that guitar's sound is so heavy that it's telling us not to scoff at it. I wouldn't call it a genius piece of work, but it sure as hell is enjoyable.
And all the other songs are stand-alone pop numbers, too, which is a contrast to the strung-together, quasi-prog throughout Queen II. Considering this was the formula that launched Queen as mega-international superstars, we can suppose this was the right decision for them...
Also, as usual, a Queen album wouldn't really be a Queen album if Brian May didn't have a chance to wank around with his guitar. And he does so right away in the opening number, "Brighton Rock," in such entertaining ways! Basically, he comes up with some of the flashiest licks alive without any other musical accompaniment. Part of me wants to hate it, because this is probably what all those future-hair-metal stars were listening to. However, on its own terms, it's fun and inventive.
Roger Taylor takes lead vocals for "Tenement Funster." Of course Freddie was the star as far as vocal capability goes, but isn't Taylor's gruffy "macho-man" pipes a lot of fun? And he provides the appropriate amount of heavy guitar to match the style. "Stone Cold Crazy" is the album's token Zeppelin-esque hard rocker, and it's catchy and punchy. "Bring Back Leroy Brown" is notable, because that's the first of those old-timey, Vaudeville-inspired songs that would later be followed by such songs as "Lazing on a Sunday Afternoon" and "Old Fashioned Loverboy." The song is cute with May taking on a quasi-hyperactive ukulele. For my money, that's one of the best songs here.
I don't really understand why they needed to do "In the Laps of the Gods" in here twice. It was good the first time, but did we really need to hear it again six tracks later? I suppose it has an anthemic thing going, but I can't say I get caught up in the spirit. "Lily of the Valley" is an overall good piano ballad with a nice melody and one of Freddie's characteristic "tender" vocal performances; however, aren't we all thinking how much more memorable their ballads were going to get in the future? Indeed, I think this is evidence that--while this is a good album--Queen hadn't quite peaked as a pop band.
In every Queen album, there has to be at least one song that does absolutely nothing for me. This time, that song happens to be "She Makes Me (Stormtrooper in Stilettos)." It's quite lenghty, slow and repetitive, characterized by a heavy drum beat, a forgettable melody, and a little bit of heavy breathing at the end. I don't get it.
In the end, this is hardly their best album, but it also shows them on the ascent to their peak. This is decidedly a must to have if you're collecting Queen albums. 11/15
A Night At the Opera (1975)
Here's the doozie and pretty much the whole reason people still remember Queen to this day. Oh sure, the band continued to have quite large impacts on pop culture beyond this album; however, if they didn't, they would still be widely remembered to this day because of this.
What makes it so special is the melodies and the style. The melodies are so fantastic that they've pretty much stuck themselves in my brain for all of eternity, and the style is dubbed as "opera-rock." Surely Queen weren't the first rock group to write mini-operettas (see Sparks), but Queen was the first band to do it with their own brand of stylishly campy charm.
And that's not to say every song here is a mini-operetta. There's quite a variety of songs on here. "You're My Best Friend" is a joyous and optimistic piano ballad, "Lazing on a Sunday Afternoon" is a brilliant bit of Kinks-inspired Brit-pop, "I'm in Love With My Car" is a tongue-in-cheek hard rocker about man's love of cars, which a gruff vocal performance from Roger Taylor. The album opener, "Death on Two Legs" is especially explosive with angry lyrics and a perfectly seething vocal performance from Freddie Mercury. That song is also a fine example of piano-based theater-rock, and I'm not sure if there are many more out there that are quite so pissy.
The #1 song I should be talking about right now is none other than "Bohemian Rhapsody." It's one of the most beloved songs ever written, and since it's a fairly complex bit of opera-rock with classical sensibilities (and quite a lot of camp thrown in for good measure), then I say it's great so many people have embraced it. What I like about it is that it starts off as an overly dramatic piano ballad with memorably intense--albeit meaningless--lyrics, which would have worked great as its own song by itself... but then it escalates into a maniacal, occasionally a cappella operatic interlude with plenty of silly, ultra-high-pitched singing. I recently talked to someone who never heard of this song, which is nearly impossible to believe in my world. But this goes to show there are still some untouched members of our population!
However, my favorite song of the lot happens to be "'39," a very engaging take on an old-timey folk ballad. The melody is beautiful, and I love its overall spirit of optimism. Those high-pitched ahh vocals at the beginning of the song are like silly, hyperactive angels, but at the same time they're glorious to behold. I used to play this song every time I did well on a test in my freshman year of college, because it always reflected how enormoudly happy/relieved I felt. I also liked the song's parting words "For my life still ahead, pity me," because I knew there would be another test ahead of me. (Did I take college a little too seriously?)
A point of contention could be my relatively lukewarm stance towards "The Prophet's Song." I like listening to it, but I also find it to be rather sprawling and overly serious. It doesn't have the goofy or sweet vibe to it that make most other songs on the album such a joy. With that said, there's a fun round-robin style a cappella bit in the middle, and the Medieval-esque melody is memorable.
I used to really hate "Sweet Lady," but these days I recognize it for what it truly is: a generally entertaining if misfired Zeppelin send-up. The fast-paced guitars are more obnoxious than flashy and so are the vocals, but it doesn't disrupt the general flow of the album. The song is disappointing considering these guys have done the same thing waaay better in the past. But at the same time, it's decent and professional.
In the end, I have quite an extensive fondness for this album, which extends back 10 years and counting. When I first got it, I thought it was one of the finest things I've ever laid my ears on. Two years later, I had a sort of teenage rebellion against it. Now, I'm back to loving it, and that's where my sentiments will stay for the rest of eternity. 13/15
A Day at the Races (1976)
Sometimes this album gets slagged off by fanboys because it's an obvious sequel to A Night At the Opera except the songs aren't as good. True, there's nothing on here that gets me like "'39" or "The Bohemian Rhapsody." However, this album contains other songs that are brilliant in their own unique ways. In the back of my mind, anyway, I've considered both these albums together as a double album. Each half was simply released separately.
I have another very peculiar choice for an album-favorite: "Long Away." Like "'39" on the previous album, it also happens to be one in which Brian May takes over lead vocals. I'm not really sure why I like it, but I do. May's melody is catchy and earthly, and I also like the hearty quality of his vocals. I realize I'm on the fringes with that opinion, but I'm not one to necessarily shy away from the fringes... Naturally, it was Mercury's vocal chords that were the superstars of the band, and you can hear it in full force with the beautiful and tender piano ballad "You Take My Breath Away." As always, he is being much more of a showman instead of a "soulful" singer-songwriter. However, I've never understood what's so bad about being a showman. The album's second piano ballad is "Somebody to Love," and it's quite a bit bubblier. Mercury sings that memorable melody in a flashy way, and the heavy and busy back-ground vocals sing particularly engaging harmonies. It's an altogether excellent ballad.
Queen had been gradually shedding themselves of the Zeppelin-inspired hard-rock that was prevalent throughout their debut. The only song here that can be called hard-rock is "Tie Your Mother Down," a bluesy song that May had happened to write in the late '60s. It's somewhat lamentable that these songs were getting rarer, since Queen usually kicks ass at them. Of course, May knows how to rip out riffs like nobody's business, and Freddie can let his voice wail through it in an engagingly flashy and trashy way. Without a doubt that's one of the best songs here!
There are also a few of those old-timey numbers, which Queen had become known for recently in their discography, and they're wonderful of course. "The Millionaire Waltz" is a lovely piano waltz with a pretty show-tune melody and a handsome vocal performance from Mercury. As usual, May isn't afraid to let his heavy guitar sound play a few cutesy lines. The song is quite complex--at one point being nearly heavy metal. It does drag in spots, but I like it. For my money, "Good Old-Fashioned Lover Boy" is even better that features consistently bubbly piano, and Freddie's playful vocals are in top form.
"You and I" isn't usually pointed out as a highlight of this album, but I love it enough to call it one of my favorites. It's a catchy and lighthearted pop-rocker with a catchy melody and lively beat. The groove is played mainly with a piano at its beginning but later on May's guitar comes into the action. "White Man" is a slow, pounding and heavy, but I find it to drag too much in spots. May produces an interesting sliding effect with his guitar in "Drowse," but that's about all that's interesting about it!
You can say I have a heart made out of marshmallow, but I do like "Teo Torriate (Let Us Cling Together)" for its attempt at being a universal anthem. Especially since I've witnessed plenty of other songs that tried the same thing and fell flat on its face ("We Are the World"), it's nice to hear one that's relatively sweeter.
In the end, this album might not be as good as A Night At the Opera, but it's an especially fitful follow-up to it. As I said earlier, it's fair to consider both albums as a part of the same unit. 12/15
News of the World (1977)
While A Night At the Opera / A Day At the Races might be Queen's crowning achievements, News of the World contains their two most widely played songs of all time. In fact, the songs get played so freaking much that the general population might as well not even be aware they're from Queen. I'm talking of course about "We Will Rock You" and "We Are the Champions," two songs that get played in sporting arenas all the freaking time. I don't even go to sporting events a whole lot, but even I get sick of hearing those things! In case you're an alien from a far-off galaxy who's never heard of these songs, I'll describe them for you: The former is that brutish *boom-boom-thwack* thing people do on the bleachers, and the latter is the cheesy power-ballad that ends all cheesy power-ballads.
I might be sick of hearing 'em all the time, but I do technically "like" them. After all, "We Will Rock You" features some incredibly enjoyably trashy vocals from Freddie and an equally as trashy electric guitar performance from May. My only complaint is that the chorus is STUPID. After all, Queen knew it had to simple enough that thick/drunken sports fans could follow it, and they succeeded there with flying colors. Now, "We Are the Champions" is far more of a song, and Freddie sings about as intensely as he could. I'm reading on Wikipedia that scientists have recently determined--through the use of mathematics--that it is the catchiest song ever written. That doesn't seem right to me, but who am I to argue with science?
Believe it or not, there are other songs on this album! And some of them are even better than those two monster-classics. My personal favorite is one in which Freddie takes lead vocals even though it's a Roger-Taylor-penned tune: "Sheer Heart Attack." (I don't understand why Queen decided to confuse the world by giving a song the same name as an album in their back-catalog, but there you go.) Mercury adopts an odd, electrocuted wobble in his voice rendering it nearly unrecognizable, which intrigues me, and there's also some pretty mean guitar in it. It ends with some squeaky feedback noises at the end, which accents its intensity! Another awesomely heavy song is "Fight From the Inside," which features some catchy riffage and an electrifyingly fun vocal performance from Taylor.
Some critics consider this Queen's best album, but I'm not even in the ballpark with that one. "All Dead, All Dead" is a dull piano ballad that can hardly hold a candle to "You Take My Breath Away" from the previous album. "Sleeping on the Sidewalk" is a boringly generic blues rocker that I thought Queen would've risen above at this point. "Who Needs You" is the album's token novelty-rock number, a rather lightweight tropicana ditty, but it's forgettable, unlike the novelty numbers on their previous three albums.
But on the brighter side, "Spread Your Wings" is a rather pretty piano ballad. "It's Late" is an overall enjoyable, and lengthy heavy rocker that help makes this album end excitingly. The lounge piano-blues tune "My Melancholy Blues" features another tender vocal performance from Mercury, which I for one can never seem to get enough of.
My gut tells me this is the weakest of Queen's classic run of albums from 1975-1980. However, it surely earns its place in those ranks. 11/15
This is where Queen went nuts, and I freaking love it. They of course were no strangers to silly novelty-rock, but here's an album where nearly everything is either tongue-in-cheek or balls-to-the-wall silly. The serious ballads are scant, there are no proggy epics, and--in spite of the success of their previous album--absolutely NO arena rockers. Everything in this album is fun, bubbly, and the variety is staggering.
If you don't love the album's opening number, "Mustapha," then I think you should just get on with it and commit yourself to a lifetime of silence sitting in a corner. It's a very fun send-up of Middle Eastern music with a fast-paced piano keeping the beat and an appropriately twisty vocal performance from Mercury. However, my favorite moment of the album is "Bicycle Race," one of the finest songs ever written about escaping. I remember that it was among the first Queen song I ever grew to liking, and I've kept listening to it frequently over the years.
And that's not all! "Fat Bottomed Girls" is a silly bit of hard blues that in a tongue-in-cheek manner romanticizes something most of us guys do anyway. It also has a groove that growls and a tune that sticks in my mind. "Don't Stop Me Now" is another one of the album's huge highlights for me, which is weirdly buried toward the end of the album. That song has such a quick and toe-tapping beat and one of the most joyous melodies these guys have ever come up with. "If You Can't Beat Them" is fairly straight-forward pop rock. The chorus is a little hokey ("You better do it cuz it makes you feel good!"), but as long as you've already drunk the Kool-Aid, then you'd might as well join in its fun.
"Jealousy" is the album's token piano ballad with a tender vocal performance from Mercury. Of course they've done these sorts of songs before like crazy, but I find this particular one so enchanting that I don't even flinch when I say that's one of their finest piano ballads. I mean, I can even believe Mercury believes what he's singing there. "In Only Seven Days" is another piano ballad that's far more lightweight, which I suppose means that it hardly makes the same impact. Well, it's fun to listen to, and it has a good melody. That's all that matters in pop music, right?
"Dead On Time" is a Zeppelin-inspired rocker, and they hadn't done one that good ever since their debut. Brian May's electric guitar licks are lightning fast, and Freddie could match it with a LOUD and TRASHY vocal performance. I mean, the song ends with Mercury screaming "YOU'RE DEAD!" amidst some thunder sound effects. That's way cool, dude. However, just to prove that Queen hadn't lost their old-timey flair, "Dreamers Ball" is here, which is an infectious bit of slow blues.
"Fun It" is by far the worst song of the album, and I used to hate the snot out of it. It starts with Mercury singing a boring melody with a bare rhythm. It gets better when Taylor joins in with some ultra-slick riffage. However, even the riff is on the bland side! "More of That Jazz" is the album's rather anti-climatic ending, although it's a mostly OK excercize in slow hard rock with Roger Taylor growling through his role as lead vocalist. I just don't find it exciting or memorable, and I really didn't think it was necessary--at the end of the song--to have a recap of all the songs we've just listened to in the album! ...So, anyway, I guess this goes to show that this Queen album ain't perfect. What else is new?
I've spent some time trying to decide if I like this album better than A Night at the Opera. (That's just one of those craaaaaazy notions I get sometimes!) The answer turned out to be a resounding "no," but this nevertheless becomes my second favorite album from Queen. ...Not to be a spoil-sport, but Queen started to go downhill after this album. But at least the descent was gradual! 12/15
Live Killers (1979)
It's funny. In spite of years listening to Queen albums, it never occurred to me to try listening to one of their live albums. I wouldn't even be listening to one now if I hadn't embarked on the pointless quest of reviewing all their albums. But whoah! These guys were a pretty good live act! I suppose that's not much of a surprise considering Freddie Mercury has powerful vocals, Brian May has a special penchant for flashy riffs, John Deacon always had enjoyably melodic bass-lines, and Roger Taylor could drum great. Taylor also probably looked great in the tiger-skin trousers he was evidently wearing. (Sorry Roger, but I think I take your drumming for granted... Tiger-skin trousers on the other hand...)
And wow, if you've read the playlist here, these guys had quite the back-catalog to choose from. Even for a double album, it seems like they had to stuff songs in here so much that they were bursting out the seams. They even run through a bunch of them in a medley style.
But that's my main complaint about the album! How could they just breeze through "Death on Two Legs," "Killer Queen," "Bicycle Race," and "I'm in Love With My Car" like that? ...Especially if they're going to give full treatment to songs like "Get Down, Make Love!" However, I will admit: Even though they waste a lot of time going nuts with the synthesizer effects in that performance, it's very entertaining... It's like a laser show for the ears, or something. But maybe I can throw a bit of a tantrum over the eight-minute version of "Now I'm Here," which was a somewhat undistinctive selection from Sheer Heart Attack. But I won't throw too much of a tantrum, because they do ramp up that distorted electric guitar and the majority of the extended length is taken up with an enjoyable call-and-response a cappella interaction with Freddie Mercury and the audience. I've never heard something like that before in a live album, and I find it endearing! I sure as hell wish I was there in the audience. They also 'duet' with Mercury for "Love in My Life" and the audience does a pretty good job! Mercury's compliments were no exaggeration. I mean, I can even understand the words as the audience sings it.
The album opens with a version of "We Will Rock You" that interestingly doesn't feature that pound-on-the-bleachers intro that it's most famous for. It's still a dumb stadium rocker! At the end of the album, they do the song again but with the 'bleacher' bit fully restored. A much better idea of a HEAVY song that's fit for the stadium is "Keep Yourself Alive," which shows that May had no problems recreating that tight, intricate riffage from the studio version. They also deliver mightily solid renditions of their hard-rock classics "Tie Your Mother Down" and "Sheer Heart Attack."
They also played "Brighton Rock," but they exended it to 12 minutes mainly through lengthy guitar passages and a drum solo. The drum solo is rather tribal, which--if we really have to have a drum solo--tend to be more bearable. The extended guitar passages peak with at least three of them playing intricate round-robin-style lines at the same time. I get tired of it after awhile, but it must've been fun for people in the audience. ...Well, I'd imagine they had a light show going on, or something.
Freddie takes over lead vocal duties from Brian May in "'39" and... Wow! Roger Taylor, in background vocal duties, could really sing those manical, high-pitched ahh vocals in actual real-life. I also like "Don't Stop Me Now" although I find it weird that the drums come in so loudly, and I can no longer hear the audience's constant roar. But anyway, needless to say, it's one of Queen's catchiest songs, and it continues to be a blast. "Spread Your Wings" is a sweet song that came off a bit sterile in the studio cut, but in the arena setting, it... well... has more of a chance to soar.
Toward the end of the show, it sounded like the audience was egging Queen to start playing "Mustapha," and Freddie obliges it by performing its intro with that signature, twisty vocal passage. But then it was the task at hand: "Bohemian Rhapsody." That's a song that can never be better than its studio counterpart no matter how much it tried, but it's also fun to hear live. ...What I don't understand is why--during the 'operetta' portion of the song--it sounds like they switched to a microphone that was in back of the audience. (???) They do that once again for "God Save the Queen," the closing number.
Even though I've spent my existence avoiding live Queen albums, this experience has proved that I shouldn't have done this. As of this moment, I haven't listened to any of the other ones. But considering this was Queen at the absolute peak of their reign, I suspect this will only end up being my favorite. Definitely check it out. 12/15
The Game (1980)
Now being the '80s, Queen were becoming more oriented toward cleaner and punchier pop numbers with the direct aim to create radio-friendly staples. The days when they would write novelty numbers and glitzy glam were behind them. Naturally, there's nothing wrong with writing radio songs, especially since I--of all people--will never say 'no' to a good old radio staple. ...However, I'll miss the silly glitz in Queen's case, since that's why I became a fan!
But I shouldn't lament too much about the transition when I'm listening to an album as good as this. This has, after all, "Another One Bites the Dust" on it, which is a post-disco classic. John Deacon was directly inspired by Chic's "Good Times" when he wrote it, and the infectious bass-line he came up with is widely considered one of the best ever written. Making it even better is that Freddie comes in with a flashy and adrenaline-fueled vocal performance, which amazingly doesn't take my attention too much away from the bass. (Also, according to Christian evangelists from 1980, if you play the song backwards you'll hear the words: "It's fun to smoke marijuana." I also tried listening to it backwards and came to the conclusion you'd have to be high to hear that!)
The other famous song here is an Elvis send-up called "Crazy Little Thing Called Love," which is catchy and a whole lot of fun. The '50s-rock styled electric guitar throughout is cute, skilled and stylish, and I also find Freddie's Elvis impersonation to be endearing. However, a song I like even more is "Dragon Attack," which is a tight and punchy rocker with a clean 'n' catchy guitar groove. ...There's just something clean about this whole record. Kind of like Freddie's new haircut.
Another thing you'll notice about this album is that it has *GASP* synthesizers on it. In the '70s, Queen used to brag about never using synthesizers. However, all bets were off with the new decade! With that said, there's not a whole lot of synthesizer on here: There's a breif synthy introduction to "Play the Game," and synthesizers are also incorporated minimally in the groove of "Rock It (Prime Jive)." Both of those songs are pretty awesome by the way: The former is a nicely written mid-tempo number and the latter is a danceable and raucous bit of new wave that features a spirited performance from Roger Taylor and some minimal guitar for good measure!
I had always imagined "Don't Try Suicide" was Queen's socially responsible follow-up to "Death on Two Legs," a song in which they suggested that someone commit suicide. Whether or not my impressions are true, I rather like its simple but direct message. (Don't commit suicide "Cos you're only going to hate it!") The tune is catchy, too, and I like that John Deacon takes the occasion to shine once again with a bare bass-line that reeks of class. Its chorus and instrumental interludes are even more raucous, notably featuring some piano done Jerry Lee Lewis style.
The final three songs are let downs. "Sail Away Sweet Sister" is a well-written albeit forgettable pop song, "Coming Soon" is a dance song with that never really gets itself airborne, and "Save Me" is a relatively dull tender piano ballad. Tender piano ballads used to be a major specialty of these guys, so I guess that shows they were losing their touch.
However, despite the final three songs, The Game is clearly one of Queen's better albums and by far their best of the '80s. What I like about it most is the fact that all its songs are clean 'n' punchy. It was very trendy for 1980, but it also frequently recalls '50s music. Best of all, the songs were done with so much class that I'd say they've transcended time. It's far from a perfect album, but it's highly recommended all the same. Call it a weakish 12/15.
Flash Gordon (1980)
The film came out in 1980, at the height of the post-Star Wars era when a new sci-fi & fantasy films was released about once per week, it seemed. The best thing I can say about Flash Gordon is that--unlike some of these films I've seen from the era--it was intentionally corny. The whole thing--the sets, the special effects, the hammy acting--was done for a laugh. The hamminess of it was only accentuated by Queen's similarly over-the-top soundtrack.
I have a rule for soundtrack albums: To be a good soundtrack album, it must make a good listen outside the context of the film. This one only does kinda. The good news is that Queen could write incidental music for a soundtrack competently; there are rather sophisticated harmonies, good use of sound effects, and plenty of orchestral build-ups. Occasionally we get a smattering of the film's dialog, which should prove--to those who never saw the film--that it was never meant to be taken seriously. I mean, listen to that over-the-top build-up we get in the middle of "In the Space Capsule" fully equipped with huge timpani drums, heavy brass, and a gong. What else are you going to picture there other than Ghengis Khan emerging from a curtain wearing an elaborate Star Trek outfit? The beginning of that track sounded like the cheesiest planetarium music mankind could muster. Yeesh...
Although with everything said, the experience of sitting through this soundtrack isn't terribly exciting for me. Some parts are sort of fun, but other parts just ...drag. For example, in "Ming's Theme," all we're listening to most of the time is a sustained synthesizer note. Yes, it's creepy in that hammy/sci-fi way, but without an image to accompany it, it's quite dull.
There is also a disappointing lack of pop songs here. I suppose the producers of the film just wanted Queen to write incidental music, which I'd say was a pretty big mistake on their part, since I'd imagine they could have sold more tickets to the show if it had Queen songs on it! The closest thing this gets to a pop song is the theme, which is so over-the-top (even for Queen, if you can imagine such a thing) that I don't think a whole lot of radio stations played it on air. Of course, I do love that theme song. How they shreik the lyrics--"FLASH!!! AH-AHHHHH!!! SAVIOR OF THE UNIVERSE!!!"--is really hilarious. It's not such a stretch of the imagination to assume that Queen were the only band in existence who could have pulled something like that off in such a manner.
A few highlights include a fast-paced synthesizer instrumental "Vultan's Theme," which is kind of catchy and the laser sound effects going off (in stereo!) are very fun. That track threads into "Battle Theme" where the electric guitar starts to get in on the action. (This theme is resurrected once again at the end of the album, in "Hero," and it also features some vocal contributions from Freddie.) I'll also add that Queen do an electric guitar interpretation of "The Wedding March," which I think would probably be heard at more weddings if men had more control of them.
In the end, this is a generally entertaining soundtrack album, but I would say it loses too much when it's stripped from its parent material to be wholly recommendable. If you're not already a huge Queen fan, I'd definitely pass on this. Otherwise, may you live long and prosper. 9/15
Fun in Space (1981)
I suppose with the downfall of Queen's reign came the rise of Queen solo albums. Only two months ago, I was only barely aware that solo albums from Queen members even existed. Now that I've grown accustomed to some of them, there's one thing that became very clear to me: Queen was far greater than the sum of their parts.
You see, one Queen member alone could never create the same sort of wonderful cornucopia of songs that characterize their classic albums. The main problem with this here Roger Taylor album is that it has so many Roger Taylor songs on it! That's not a dig at all; however, I'm so used to hearing his songs share the spotlight with three other guys whose songwriting talents are practically equal.
However, a good reason Queen fans would probably enjoy owning this album is a lot of these songs seem like they could be on Queen albums. The opening song "No Violins" is like a less infectious version of "Rock It (Prime Jive)" from The Game, except the drumming is way crunchier.
"Future Management" is also enjoyable and characterized by a subdued, crunchy groove, which recalls Zenyatta Mondatta-era Police. What I like most about the song is a really loud sort of foghorn noise he makes with his guitar throughout. (...Sometimes it can be those tiny touches that draws me to something.) Also, I like "Magic is Loose" for just a few seconds of it: Four high-pitched bell hits that slide around in pitch. Even without those characteristic touches, the songs still would have been all-around entertaining but without especially memorable melodies.
This definitely shows the album was very well-produced. It also shows that Roger Taylor wrote his best songs while he was with Queen! Make a compilation of his greatest Queen songs, and you'll *easily* surpass Fun in Space. With that said, the heavy-rockin' "Airheads" would have sounded quite good on a Queen album, and I want to say it might have been featured on one if only Queen didn't decide go down that slick, Michael Jackson route for Hot Space. The song is a very dumb (and self-consciously so), but it's funny and catchy, and I also like Taylor's outlandish, gruffy wail-man voice. (Taylor's vocal abilities were easily dwarfed by Freddie Mercury's in Queen... but his singing abilities were accomplished enough that he easily could have been a popular frontman in a parallel universe.)
Other parts of this album remind me of Bowie. There are a few brief seconds in the title track that sounds like he digitally altered his voice to create a Bowie-like low-pitched moan. Otherwise, I'm not wild about the song: It runs a bit too long, and I get awfully tired of it consistently throwing waves of synthesizer at me. It's like listening to the waves at the beach except I don't get much tranquility out of the experience. "Interlude in Constantinople," weirdly enough, makes me think of what Bowie's Outside would have sounded like if it were made in the early '80s: It's mostly a (very dated) groove that Taylor talks through with his voice altered to sound like a million aliens.
It's not much of a stretch to say that Roger Taylor was clearly at his best when he had to compete with three other guys to get his songs on albums. Truthfully, many of these songs drag a little too much for me to give this album a full recommendation. Otherwise, I think hardcore Queen fans will find a lot to like here. 10/15
Hot Space (1982)
It seems the idea for Queen to release a disco-dance album in 1982 was pushed mainly by Freddie Mercury and reinforced by John Deacon, who--unlike the others--grew up listening to soul music. However, Brian May and Roger Taylor were reported to completely detest this direction. Of course, those two were still members of the band and contributed songs, but it must've been with clenched teeth!
After releasing their synthesizer-heavy soundtrack for Flash Gordon, Queen were so comfortable using that instrument that they'd started making entire pop songs from them that don't feature any guitar at all! And what a mistake: "Body Language" is just flat from beginning to end, featuring a lifeless bass-synth loop, drum machines, and an uninteresting (though *flashy*) vocal performance from Freddie. That's without a doubt one of the worst songs they've ever done.
Woefully enough, most of their other songs aren't too far behind that one. "Action This Day" also features a dull bass-synth sound and a forgettable melody, but at least it has some electric guitar to keep the beat! "Dancer" at least has a catchy bass-line and some rather heavy electric guitar sounds incorporated in the groove; however, I'm disappointed that Freddie's disco-diva overtones comes off as such a joyless exercise. "Black Chat" actually sounds like a genuine early-'80s R&B song, but it isn't long into it when I get awfully bored. "Staying Power" is the best song from the first half of the album, which at least sounds like Freddie is singing a halfway decent melody there.
Fortunately, the second half of the album is miles better than the first; however, it continues to show strong evidence they'd completely lost their magic. "Put Out the Fire" has a heavy electric guitar sound that rings of classic Queen, but its melody is forgettable. "Calling All Girls" sounds like another attempt at new wave, but why must that groove be so clunky and mechanical?
"Life is Real (Song for John Lennon)" definitely sounds like a Lennon song at least in the beginning before it hits some pompous notes in the middle. I'd wager to say most Queen fans love it, but to tell you the truth, I don't find it terribly interesting. Of course, compared to the other songs here, it's positively golden! It gets even better with "Las Palabras De Amor (The Words of Love)," which is a power ballad with some nice moments. Keeping it down is that it grows awfully dull in spots. "Cool Cat" might be the best R&B song here, a decent bit of bedroom-soul with a vaguely memorable melody and a strikingly fine falsetto vocal performance. It's not exactly the way I want to remember Queen, though!
Easily the most celebrated song of the bunch is the closer, "Under Pressure," co-written by David Bowie. It's not even close to representing the best work of either party, but it's nevertheless a nice pop song with a snappy groove. I consider that my due reward for sitting through this miserable excuse for a Queen album. Seriously, what a monumental disappointment! 7/15
The Star Fleet Project (1983)
Brian May must've had some kind of social life outside of making albums and touring with Queen, and in good rock 'n' roll fashion, his friends happened to be other rock musicians. Specifically, they were Alan Gratzer (original drummer of REO Speedwagon), Phil Chen (bassist for Rod Stewart), Fred Mandrel (keyboardist for solo Alice Cooper), and Eddie Van Halen (never heard of 'im). Together, they had one big ol' jam session.
And, yup, you've read that correctly up there: This album contains only three tracks. However, they're so long that the album runs nearly a half-hour. That is still quite brief, which is why Brian May dubs it a mini-LP.
Definitely, if you think the world of Brian May and Eddie Van Halen as guitarists, you might just consider this one of the prized gems of your collection, because there is a lot of guitar in it. (Also, unless you get lucky, you're going to have to dig pretty deep into your pocket to get yourself a copy of this! Or you can do what I did and just listen to it on YouTube.)
Easily the best of the bunch is the 13-minute "Blues Breaker," which is their tribute to Eric Clapton. A heavy and very generic blues rhythm plays while May and Van Halen trade off wanky blues solos. ...I'll admit, this sort of thing isn't usually my cup of tea, and I'm not wildly excited about listening to it. ...I find it to be about as entertaining as the Apple Jam sessions at the end of George Harrison's All Things Must Pass, so take that for what it's worth! The worst thing I can say about the track is that I don't care much for the piano solo; the keyboardist keeps running his finger up and down the keyboard, which is a classic move for sure, but it can be overdone!
"Star Fleet" is far more in a rock 'n' roll vein; it starts off with a rather catchy melody before veering off into more electric guitar wanking. I would probably like the song a lot more if only that drum weren't so mechanical and clunky sounding. And--why oh why!!!--does that keyboard at the beginning have to remind me so much of listening to late '70s Styx? The shortest track of the lot is "Let Me Out," a mid-tempo blues number that--honestly--kinda goes in-one-ear-out-the-other for me. However, there continues to be some nice guitarin' on it, particularly once it gets heated up.
Wikipedia (the sage of our time) writes that Brian May considered not releasing these sessions at all; the process of creating it was purely of entertainment value to him. Nevertheless, he was strongly encouraged to release it, and I'm glad he did. I mean, I've read so many strong comments about it on YouTube. What would have become of them if this album weren't released? 9/15
The Works (1984)
Listening to this album after hearing Hot Space is like breathing a lungful of cool, fresh air after spending two weeks indoors in a stuffy room. I mean, this is chock-full of pop-rock, as if the horrible disco of Hot Space never happened.
However, I'm pretty certain that if this album came after The Game, I'd be crying foul right now. The reason for that is because this album is basically a weaker rehash of songs that they'd already released. That is, apart from a pair of trendy songs aimed directly for radio success ("Radio Ga Ga" and "I Want to Break Free"). However, I won't go too blue-in-the-face complaining. This is an entertaining album after all, and that's what's most important when it comes to Queen, or for that matter any other band worth its weight in gold.
I do like The Works quite a lot, but for some reason I haven't been able to embrace one of its most beloved songs: "Radio Ga Ga." Its rhythm is taken on by a simple drum machine pattern, which has class in its cleanliness. However, hearing it never-ending for more than five minutes tries my patience. They do let out a few minimalist synthesizer effects to keep the ears engaged; however, that only works to an extent. Perhaps worst of all, I've never found its melody to be terribly infectious.
What I like far better is "I Want to Break Free," which has everything that "Radio Ga Ga" has and more. The melody is one of the most infectious that Queen ever made; it's only 3:20 minutes long, so I don't feel the minutes of my life ticking by when I listen to it; and the drum machines and rhythm guitars give it a rather alluring texture. My only complaint about it is the rather disturbing music video! I mean, how can I unsee the mustachioed Freddie Mercury wearing a leather dress? (Roger Taylor, on the other hand, disturbingly convincing in drag!)
One of my favorite moments is "It's a Hard Life," which immediately starts out with Freddie singing the iconic aria from the opera Pagliacci (with the lyrics changed, of course). After that, he sings sweetly to a piano before delving into an anthemic chorus. For sure, Queen are aping themselves from the '70s, but I love it! Another fine moment comes in "Is This the World We Created...?," which is a tender piano ballad. It's not the best piano ballad they'd ever written by a long shot, but it is their best in six years!
"Man on the Prowl" is the same thing as "A Crazy Little Thing Called Love" except less infectious. I welcome follow-ups to that song if only just to hear another one of Freddie's impeccable Elvis impersonations, but I do wish it were more memorable. "Tear it Up" is a fun song with heavy drums and heavier guitar. It's pure stadium-rock fodder, but it's catchy and has energy. Even more energy comes with "I Go Crazy" in the bonus tracks, originally the B-side to "Radio Ga Ga."
The '80s-futuristic "Machines (Back to Humans)" is the album's token worst song, but it isn't *bad* by any stretch of the imagination. It was trendy for the time (with drum machines, synthesizers, and robot voices), but that would also indicate that it didn't date too well.
This is not a perfect album by a long shot--Queen albums never are. However, it has enough entertaining moments that it duly earns its place among Queen's finer albums. At the very least, it shows Queen were getting back on the right track after that dismal mistake Hot Space. I'd score this on the weaker spectrum of the 11/15.
Strange Frontier (1984)
When Queen had taken 1983 off to recuperate after the lackluster commercial sales of Hot Space, Roger Taylor was busy writing songs for the next Queen album. One of them was "Radio Ga Ga," which would become one of Queen's biggest hits. However, he also wrote a ton of other songs for the album, but they had been vetoed by Freddie Mercury. Strange Frontier is where they were eventually dumped.
I'm assuming the main reason Freddie rejected so many of these songs was because he wasn't interested in becoming another Bruce Springsteen. I mean, the world is a little too cramped for just one Springsteen as it is, isn't it? Let's face it: Springsteenisms are kitschy enough. If the ultimate kitsch band were to actually try to out-kitsch Springsteen, the world would be in danger of exploding. I suppose the world was OK when the drummer for Queen tried it, because hardly anyone bought the album.
I have to giggle a bit when Taylor adopts a ridiculous screaming wobble to his voice for the title track. Listen to the song side-by-side next to "Born to Run," and it sounds like Springsteen is restraining himself. (I never thought I'd live to see the day!) The positive aspects of the song is that it's well-produced and gets some firey energy cooking; however, it falls unexpectedly flat in the middle.
"Man on Fire" is a far better Springsteen clone. I'm not sure if Taylor had a chance to listen to Born in the USA before he made this (both were released the same year), but it sure sounds like he did. It's a dumb and repetitive but very catchy song that features a deep and monotonous synth-bass, heavy Springsteen vocals, and lots of electric guitar power chords. "Young Love" is even more Springsteen posturing, except it's completely boring that time around. He gets some of those points back with the penultimate track "It's an Illusion." That is, if you're not completely tired of it by then.
But you ain't heard nothin' yet! The ridiculous Springsteenisms hit their absolute peak when he covers an actual Springsteen song: "Racing in the Streets." And I'll tell you: Taylor's take on it sounds more like Springsteen than Springsteen's version does. It's amazingly goofy that Taylor managed that.
Other songs are more in a synth-pop vein, notably "Abandonfire" when Taylor is DISTINCTLY doing a David Bowie impression. Unfortunately, the song otherwise comes across as stilted, and the melody is totally forgettable. However, the synth-pop groove is kind of fun. The album's closing song "I Cry For You" was apparently an early version of "Radio Ga Ga," but you would hardly recognize it. This version is far more heavily produced, and Taylor continues to sing the bloody crap out of it. I hope that guy doesn't sing in the shower, because I'd be worried the vibrations of his vocal chords would break all his bathroom fixtures.
Also, I noticed from Wikipedia that each member of Queen plays an instrument on at least one of these songs. John Deacon plays bass on "It's an Illusion," Brian May (or Brain May, as it's currently written) plays guitar on "Man on Fire," and Freddie Mercury can be heard somewhere on keyboards. This album might be ridiculously overblown (which is really saying something considering this is the drummer for Queen), but I suppose this means the hardcore Queen fan would have trouble resisting it. 8/15
Mr. Bad Guy (1985)
Well here's a solo album that normal people might want to consider owning. ("Normal" to the extent that you own Queen albums, that is.) Let it be known, however, that you're going to be economically better off getting this album by cannibalizing one of Freddie Mercury's box sets, which'll not only get you this album but also his 1988 solo effort Barcelona as well as his noteworthy, non-LP single "The Great Pretender."
I almost want to say this album suggests that Freddie Mercury was the heart and soul of the band, because this actually sounds almost like a Queen album. (Even if you take away his distinctive singing voice and just look at the music.) However, you wouldn't be able to scoff at the influence that the other three members had who were about the only things keeping him from turning into a giant pile of mush.
John Deacon's bass, for example, is sorely missed here. A song like "Living on My Own" has a fun melody and features Freddie Mercury doing some hilarious scat-singing. But--oh--that monotonous synth-bass line kills me inside! The album closer "My Love is Dangerous" is one of his trademarked tender-hearted ballad with another good melody; however, its presentation is disappointingly bland and it could definitely have used that Queen umph.
Other songs are excellent as they stand, however. You might recognize "Made in Heaven" from the 1995 Queen album of the same name where the song was reworked (and over-produced to hell). However, in this album, it's a sweet power ballad with tender vocals and a beautiful melody.
Another song that showed up in the 1995 Queen album was "I Was Born to Love You," which has a pumpin' beat and a fitfully catchy melody. It's a good song and would have done well on an '80s Queen album; however, it nonetheless would have had to take a backseat to the hits. The title track is also memorable, featuring a full orchestral sound that seems to have been created mostly with synthesizer. It's extremely theatrical, and it probably shouldn't surprise you that Freddie sounds like he's having a blast singing it. Another good moment is "Man Made Paradise," which is a fairly hooky mid-tempo pop number. Given less stilted instrumentation, it would have had the potential to become a minor hit for Queen.
"Man Made Paradise" is a retread of classic '70s Queen if I've ever heard it. It features a rapid piano groove that recalls "Mustapha," and Freddie delivers a playful and frequently roaring vocal performance. My only complaint about it is that it runs out of steam after its first minute. (But don't miss Freddie's beautiful counter-tenor in its final third!) "There Must Be More to Life Than This" is an excellent piano ballad, which I'd wager would have improved The Game if it appeared instead of "Save Me."
Other songs don't amuse me so much. The album opener "Let's Turn It On" is a bit of dance featuring a bland synth groove that woefully reminds me why Hot Space didn't work. "Your Kind of Lover" starts as a piano ballad before awkwardly turning into another forgettable dance song. (But at least the piano is heavily incorporated into its groove, even though it sounds weird grooving along with a dinky, canned drum machine.)
At any rate, this is the best solo Queen effort I've heard yet. My main criticism of it--while I enjoy pretty much everything on it--is that there's not a single moment that blows me out of the water. However, I suppose Mercury would've been a sport and saved any moments like those for a bona fide Queen release. Call this a surprisingly strong 10/15.
A Kind of Magic (1986)
Here is where Queen did to the '80s what they did to the '70s: They over-did it in an awesome way. That's not to say A Kind of Magic really lives up to the peak of their '70s work. However, this almost as unabashedly enjoyable as one.
The opening song, "One Vision," has it all: Stadium drums, full synths, gruffy riffs, hair metal guitar solos, melodic bass, and an energetic Freddie Mercury singing at the top of his lungs. I'd wager that's enough to drown out 10,000,000 Susan Vegas! However, the bigness would be for naught if the actual song weren't catchy as hell. Since it's indeed a well-written song at its core, all the excess only adds to the fun.
In case you're a bit rusty in your '80s pop-culture trivia, this album was the unofficial sountrack to Highlander, which is a film I've seen a couple of times. I don't like to use the term 'guilty pleasure,' but that film definitely veers in that category. (I haven't bothered with any of the sequels or the television series...yet.) In proxy, I used to consider this Queen album a guilty pleasure. These days, I don't think I should have to feel guilty for enjoying some of these songs. I mean, if I try to stop myself from enjoying the piping hot riff of "One Vision," then I'd might as well stop enjoying life.
"Who Wants to Live Forever" is the power-ballad to end all power-ballads. Usually overblown, melodramatic ballads like that are awe-inspiring failures. However, when I listen to this one, I am taken along for the ride! With huge stadium drums, atmospheric synths & strings, and Freddie's operatic vocals taken to the height of their power, it's amazing to behold. Also, the tune is pretty catchy.
When discussing this album, I would never be able to pass up "It's a Kind of Magic," which has one of the coolest bass-sequences in any song I've heard. The melody itself is one of Queen's most memorable, but that bouncy bass provides yet another layer of catchiness. This sort of bass is heard all-too-little in pop-rock, and it shouldn't be. All in all, the song is among Queen's best singles.
Given the strengths of the songs I've discussed, I would be tempted to call this album Queen's best of the '80s, but the hoplessly boring adult-contemporary ballad "One Year of Love" sabotages that. "Gimme the Prize (Kurgan's Theme)" isn't terrible, but it's essentially undistinguishable from what the average '80s hair-metal band was doing at the time. Another ho-hum moment is "Don't Lose Your Head," a synth-pop number that doesn't date well.
"Pain is So Close to Pleasure" is a light-hearted R&B number featuring some pretty falsetto singing from Freddie. Hot Space should have sounded like this! "Friends Will be Friends" is a sort of typical Queen ballad, which I wouldn't be one to say 'no' to, but that notwithstanding, they used to do it better. "Princes of the Universe" became the de-facto theme song to Highlander, and it's ridiculously overblown. And yet, Freddie's chops could manage screaming through the whole thing, the guitars are mean, and it has a surprisingly complex and unconventional structure.
Good album, overall. I used to not take it very seriously, but then I realized that it's futile to take anything seriously in pop-rock. 11/15.
Live Magic (1986)
This album is usually cited as one of the worst live albums ever recorded, and that's for good reason: A lot of its songs had been edited, and Freddie Mercury--one of the world's premiere lead singers--is clearly past his prime. With that said, this live album is fun. I mean, this is Queen. If the music ain't fun, then it ain't Queen.
Let's talk about the stuff that was edited: The most painful instance is "Bohemian Rhapsody," which completely omits the mid-section. The transition between the beginning and end is quite choppy, so I'm lead to believe this was a post-production edit rather than an omission they did in the live shows. But even without the middle part, it's one of the highlights of the disc!
This leads me to discussing another problem with this disc: It has so many of their '80s songs on it! Live Killers only had their '70s songs on it, which meant that it was free to be unabashedly ball-blasting. On the other hand, Queen did have their fair share of solid '80s tunes, and they're certainly worth hearing in the live arena. All these songs are present and glorious: "One Vision," "A Kind of Magic," "Under Pressure," "Another One Bites the Dust," "I Want to Break Free," and "Radio Ga-Ga." As you might expect, all of them lose the crispness that the studio versions had going for it, and I generally don't think Queen generated enough live energy to breathe new life into any of them. "Under Pressure" is interesting in the sense we can hear Freddie take on the warbly David Bowie parts while--very faintly in the background--I can hear Roger Taylor sing the high notes. The call-and-response audience participation in "Another One Bites the Dust" is electric. I'm left to muse that people who were actually lucky enough to attend one of these concerts most fondly remember singing along with Freddie.
One nice surprise is "Hammer to Fall," which I enjoy here far more than I did in The Works. It's more suited for the big arena than the pop songs were. They're also playing it at a slightly more ferocious pace, which makes all the difference. The best thing about it is that Brian May gives himself the chance to let his electric guitar licks generate some electricity, which brings the song to the epic ending it deserved. Its one downfall continues to be a fairly forgettable melody. An even better hard rock selection is "Tie Your Mother Down." Of course we already know that song rocks. ...And that leads me to ask this question: Why are there only two hard rock songs on here?
Of course there's the obligatory and generally underwhelming performances of "We Will Rock You" and "We Are the Champions." Freddie doesn't seem to be able to hit the high notes like he used to in the latter, which makes me wonder if I'm listening to early manifestations of that wretched disease. (According to my good friend Wikipedia, much of this album was recorded at their last-ever live appearance with Freddie.)
A trio of other songs "Friends Will be Friends," "This is the World We Created," and a weird pick from their early albums "Seven Seas of Rhye" are barely more than a minute long each. I'm not sure why they did this; they would have been better dropping two of those and expanding the other. It's not like the any of those individual songs have legions of die-hard fans or anything! But whatever.
In the end, this is a wholly inessential album for your Queen collection unless you're some kind of completist. However, if you've already bought this thing, you shouldn't feel too badly about taking it out every once in awhile to give it some air. 9/15.
Released by Freddie Mercury and Montserrat Caballe
I had always imagined this pop-opera album was a manifestation of Freddie Mercury's bucket-list. I mean, it's not much of a stretch to imagine him as a young man spending many-a-lonely-night dreaming about singing duets with a major opera star. However, this album was created after the Spanish government commissioned him to write and perform a song for their upcoming 1992 Summer Olympics with Barcelona native Montserrat Caballe. So I'm left to assume if Spain left him alone, this album wouldn't exist. But maybe he let those circumstances give him an excuse to do something he always wanted to?
Now for the bad news: This isn't the greatest album in the world. I mean, it's good, but it's rather dull at times. I also don't usually listen to this opera stuff--and when I do, it's--you know--Mozart. Certainly, the title track is the best this album has to offer: It starts off right away with such a huge power chorus that it hits you like a supernova! Crescendos! Big cymbals! Opera lady wailing away, sounding a little bit creepy! Unfortunately, that tapers off in the middle with a piano ballad that strikes me somewhat flat, and I'm left to marvel over the fact that Mercury's and Caballe's voices don't exactly mesh together like peanut butter and jelly. ...But you know what? I like it anyway. In that way I like cornball things.
They seem to get a little bit more 'respectable' with the album's second song, “La Japonaise,” a nicely meandering bit of opera with an obviously Asian influence. It never really latches onto a melody that I ever really like, though, and Caballe seemed mostly there to impress us with her high, flutteringness and that extended note she does at the end. “The Fallen Priest” is a little better, starting with bombastic arpeggios and leading to a whole lotta overdramatic opera stuff. (Hey, I don't review classical music! Cut me some slack!) “Ensueno” is a ballad that's probably pretty good, and it by far shows the best possible mesh between Mercury's and Caballe's voice mostly because he's singing in a baritone register and letting her have all the pretty moments. Less good is “Guide Me Home” in which Freddie sings falsetto.
“The Golden Boy” starts as a less interesting version of “The Fallen Priest” but then... seemingly in a last ditch effort to save it... it turns into a full-on gospel. That's the sort of thing that just comes out of nowhere, like pretty much everything that happened in The Big Lebowski, except it's awkward and not awesome. “How Can I Go On” is--at long last--a rock ballad, but it's dull when you compare it to something like “Who Wants to Live Forever,” and why did they have to go with those cheesy snaps? And the album ends with the overture, for some reason. Even weirder, it starts off sounding like the Superman Theme and it's basically a remixed grab-bag of everything we just listened to. But here's the kicker: They reversed some of the tracks! (Rip off.) A mild 10/15.
The Miracle (1989)
Oh dearie. I always thought the general consensus about The Miracle was that it was a major disaster, but I'm intrigued to discover that quite a few major publications rate it rather highly. Perhaps that was just my own opinion I was confusing that with? (What a fickle thing to trust!) I've owned this album for more than 10 years now, and I never--ever--thought it lived up to their other albums. When I went through my Queen-shunning phase, this album was basically cast into Hades with no hope for salvation. I even thought it was worse than Hot Space. These days when I listen to it, however, I consider it enjoyable, overall.
The problem with it is it sounds so 1989. Queen used to have such a distinctive personality, but much of this album sounds like SAW wrote it. The only two things that save it from being like SAW are the vibrant lead singer and personality-ridden electric guitar. The songwriting is merely a *mite* above average. (SAW, for those who have a life and don't know of such things, wrote Kylie Minogue's early hits and were responsible for Rick Rolling). However, just as I'd contend that SAW albums are usually enjoyable, I'd also have to contend that most of these songs are, too. Take the opener "Party," for instance: it's punchy, it's crisp, it's catchy. But is it as good as "Never Gonna Give You Up?" Well, it has more guitar, at least.
"Khashoggi's Ship" is your typical over-polished and sterile hair metal ditty. It goes in one ear, goes out the other, and does very little in between apart from making sure your life isn't quiet. With that said, it's kind of fun, and I won't deny it props for that. "I Want It All" is much the same except I find its chorus more infectious.
I have a deeply seeded memory centering around "Scandal," so that's the song I most frequent in this album. Like everything else, its production is sterile, but the melody is infectious and Freddie gives an effectively loud and snarling vocal performance. Really, Mercury's vocals are quite dazzling throughout this entire album. At this point in the band's history, they were well aware that Mercury wouldn't have much longer to live, and this sounds like they were squeezing every last drop out of his voice they possibly could. "The Miracle" is another one of the highlights--the melody I find memorable and I like their use pizzicato strings. A brilliant little bit they did there--at the end--was to let Brian May play a very off-kilter guitar solo, which eventually leads to an optimistic outro.
"The Invisible Man" has a melody that reminds me too much of "The Ghostbusters Theme," and "Breakthru" I find too reminiscent of Don Henley's “Boys of Summer.” However, the dullest song of the lot goes to “My Baby Does Me,” which plods along without ever seeming to do much. "Was It All Worth It" is a fitful conclusion, however, that begins with a synthfied, mystical Christmas jingle. As you might guess, it sounds like they were attempting to emulate Manheim Steamroller, which is not a band we really needed Queen to try to one-up! However, for what it is, it's not bad; it's catchy and strikes me as rather cute. There are two bonus tracks (in addition to the dumb remixes). They are called “Hang On in There” and “Chinese Torture.” To both of them, I say "Meh."
If you read the track list, you'll probably notice that this is their first album since Queen II that doesn't have any instantly recognizable hits on it. They sold an awful lot of copies of this album (9.5 million), but that's evidence alone that very little of this has managed to reverberate through the ages. That is, apart from the infamous album cover. 9/15.
All good things must come to an end, but the final Queen album released in Freddie Mercury's lifetime showed that they had come to an end far too soon. Though you could legitimately assume the overriding reason this album is good is because they were well aware it would be their final album, and they wanted to go out with a bang. But anyway! BANG!!!
Let's start talking about the final track, which I would place firmly in Queen's Top Five songs ever recorded. “The Show Must Go On” is the sort of power-ballad that leaves me slack-jawed in its wake. It's a catchy tune characterized by crunchy synth-strings, and Freddie sings his heart so much to it that it reaches the outer-atmosphere. And then when I consider the context in which the song was recorded, I kind of get a little teary eyed. You know, the poor guy just wanted to keep on singing and living, but he couldn't.
Even before we get to that final song, this is an entertaining album. One of the better songs is the title track, which sounds like a combination of the styles of their most iconic album A Night of the Opera and their previous release The Miracle. It has distinctly late-'80s/early-'90s synthesizers and reverb heavy drums, but it also has playful, melodramatic development throughout taking us plenty of places (most awesomely, to an extended Spanish guitar sequence in the middle).
“I'm Going Slightly Mad” is far closer to the style of The Miracle, but I've just always liked that song. It's quite silly with a mid-paced, shuffle and Mercury's ghoulish vocal performance. I've always wanted to make a Halloween mix featuring that song. Of everything here, “I Can't Live With You” is the most interchangeable with their '70s works; it features a slower-paced though heavy and catchy electric guitar, heavily layered vocals, and an especially playful disposition. The best "hard-rock" song here is probably “The Hitman,” which has a very catchy and modern (to 1991) electric guitar riff and Freddie wails over it like nobody's business. “Ride the Wild Wind” seems begging for you to play it at 1,000,000 decibels while cruising down the highway at 1,000 mph.
It's nice to hear a ballad in here like “Don't Try So Hard,” which is a sort of song that Queen used to do so brilliantly but seemed to have trouble doing in the '80s. The synthesizers are dated to the early '90s, but they're heavenly. “Bijou” is another such song, which Brian May lets loose with some atmospheric licks on his electric guitar.
Two small complaints I have are that “These Are the Days of Our Lives” is a little too syrupy and “Delilah” is a throwaway song about a cat... but I even like both of *those*. That must mean I like everything here, which puts this is album firmly in the running as Queen's most consistent album. Especially since its closing track is such a blast, I don't have any problems giving this a solid 12/15. Even though Queen were effectively dead after this release, I feel compelled to say it: Long live Queen!
Made in Heaven (1995)
Shockingly, I guess the music press went wild for Queen's 1995 'posthumous' release even though they made collective 'meh' noises at Innuendo. Let me clear this up once and for all: “The Show Must Go On” is Queen's definitive swansong. This stuff in Made in Heaven is merely an afterthought.
For starters, only two of these songs actually resulted from post-Innuendo recording sessions. Two of the best songs (“Made in Heaven” and “I Was Born to Love You”) had originally appeared on Freddie Mercury's solo album Mr. Bad Guy and were touched up to sound more like classic Queen. However, the touch-ups aren't actually bad--the heavier drums and May's wild guitar adds some extra kinetic energy to the experience. All the same, though, isn't that cheating?
“Heaven For Everyone” was a song from Roger Taylor's side-band The Cross, which Freddie had provided guest-vocals for. What I've heard of The Cross has been pretty boring, so it's not such a surprise to find out that the song is generally uninteresting and--at five-and-a-half-minutes--quite bloated, too. Its only redemption is its more energetic chorus.
Other songs seemed almost to materialize out of thin air. “It's a Beautiful Day” and “It's a Beautiful Day (Reprise)” pads almost six minutes out of a one-minute improvisation Freddie created in a sound studio sometime in 1980. The first part is ethereal throughout and rather nice; however, the second ends with a monotonous, hard-rock groove that doesn't do it for me. “You Don't Fool Me” was apparently constructed out of sound-clips collected from various recording sessions and then completely new instrumentals were recorded underneath them. ...That's kind of impressive, but as it stands, all I'm hearing is five minutes worth of a boring chord progression played over and over again. (I guess they didn't have enough Freddie-samples in their archives to construct a chorus!)
What's truly of interest to the fans is one song Freddie wrote and performed just two weeks prior to his death. And that is “A Winter's Tale,” a remarkably peaceful and happy ballad about a lake that he would see out the window of his apartment in Switzerland. However, Freddie's final vocal performance was captured in the dark, slow-paced “Mother Love,” which showed him in such a weakened state that Brian May had to finish the final verse for him.
“My Life Had Been Saved” was originally a B-side of “Scandal,” and it's a fine mid-tempo song but strictly ho-hum. “Let Me Live” is a gospel that was apparently originally recorded with Rod Stewart during the recording session for The Works. It's kind of the same thing as Michael Jackson's “We Are the World” except slightly more tolerable. It also gets distinction for being the only Queen song in which all three vocalists equally share lead. A real oddity is a four second clip of Freddie singing “Yeah” (which is also heard in the middle of “It's a Beautiful Day (Reprise)” and a weird new-age, 22-minute long track tacked on at the end called “Untitled,” which was put together by the producer. I've never once successfully sat through that thing.
All in all, there's really only one completely worthwhile song on here, and they pretty much built the rest of the album around it. Nevertheless, for what this album is, it ain't bad. But should this truly be considered Queen's swansong? Not any more than you should think of The Washington Wizards as Michael Jordan's swansong. And even then, at least Michael Jordan was alive for it. 8/15