Despite not the biggest Queen fan, I’ve been curious to listen to their esteemed 1970s albums since I watched the divisive 2018 biopic with Rami Malek, so here goes! I was surprised how polished the self-titled debut is, I was expecting something a bit more raw. Going for a hard rock approach, unquestionably a Queen sound with Brian May’s distinctive guitar and Freddie Mercury’s charismatic, operatic singing.
Not their finest hour as lyricists but I do like how Doing Alright manages to convey the shifting nature of sadness and happiness, you can feel bad one day and good the next. ”Put out the good and keep the bad” is a great life lesson on Great King Rat about how to treat others, if only everyone would live by that mantra. Worth noting is the lyric “Mother Mercury, look what they’ve done to me” on My Fairy King which inspired the singer to change his surname. He was born Farrokh “Freddie” Bulsara.
A top heavy album. The Side B isn’t bad though, The Night Comes Down is a weaker track, Liar has energy, and Son and Daughter is built around a big rock riff. Jesus could be described as Christian rock and features a dynamic guitar solo. Modern Times Rock ‘n’ Roll and Seven Seas of Rhye are good yet feel unfinished.
Queen would go on to create greater music yet a competent first outing.
Queen II (1974)
The most recognizable melody on the album can be found on the closer Seven Seas of Rhye which was Queen’s first hit. A hard rock sound with occasional soft moments such as the intro to Some Day One Day or Nevermore(the only song here I find moving). Brian May and Roger Taylor sing on a couple of tracks with Mercury as lead vocalist on the rest. Overall, can’t say I connected on a deeper level, but compared to the 1973 debut the writing has evolved, about universal themes such as fathers and sons, the promise of the future, parents and children growing up, heartbreak, etc. Other lyrics go in a prog rock direction about fantasy lands and imaginary queens. If I’m honest these lyrics are quite aloof and could have been on albums by different artists. Some instrumental parts are quite beautiful while I find the signature harmonies are grating at times on The Fairy Feller’s Master-Stroke and The March of the Black Queen. Usually the Side A is superior yet here I don’t notice much difference in quality. The two sides of the original LP were labelled “Side White” and “Side Black”, the white side has songs with a more emotional theme and the black side is almost entirely about fantasy and darker themes. I’m rating Queen II for enjoyment, but probably deserves higher as the record does a lot of things well.
Sheer Heart Attack (1974)
Sheer ‘variety’ attack? The variation and mix of styles is the album’s strength. I admire what they are doing more than love it. The guitar solo on opener Brighton Rock is considered one of the greatest of all-time and definitely the best part of a song which is sung in an off-putting high-pitched range by Mercury, probably imitating a female voice.
Most of the other songs are fairly short, some leaning towards a pop structure in contrast to the previous album. I was bored by the lyrics which I find shallow, describing pursuits of women and innuendo about sex. A reflection of their life at the time no doubt with newfound fame.
Killer Queen, about a prostitute, is a glam-era classic and their breakthrough single. Very catchy. Tenement Funster has an enjoyable melody, sung by Roger Taylor, and might be my favorite of the non-singles. The intro to second single Now I’m Here felt iconic while Stone Cold Crazy has been called thrash metal before the term was invented. She Makes Me [Stormtrooper In Stilettos] goes for a Beatles-like approach, quite affecting. In the Lap of the Gods… Revisited is anthemic but I find it annoying and pandering.
The album led Queen into their first world tour (in support of their third album, which drove a surge in sales of their first two).
What do you think? As always, comments are welcome. In the not too distant future, I’ll review the four remaining Queen albums from the 70s.