A Night at the Opera (1975)
Until Fleetwood Mac released Tusk in 1979, A Night at the Opera held the honor of most expensive album ever recorded. Many cite the LP as Queen’s magnum opus. The over-the-top-ness, campiness, and stylistic shifts were jarring on first listen a year ago. Found the album easier to come to grips with as part of the exploration of Queen’s discography.
If you missed it, I already shared Queen albums (1973-1974) reviewed.
Back to the album. Opener Death on Two Legs is allegedly about being screwed over financially by the record company. Lazing on a Sunday Afternoon felt out of place and the type of Queen song I could happily skip over. My favorite non-single on the album, I’m in Love With My Car, is a Roger Taylor contribution, and the B-Side for Bohemian Rhapsody. ’39 contains intriguing lyrics by Brian May about a search for another planet to colonise, but the tune itself didnt grab me. Same verdict for May’s Prophet’s Song, eye-catching lyrics and not particularly enjoyable to listen to. The masterful, unrestrained sing-along single Bohemian Rhapsody is so multifaceted, entertaining and quotable that you forget it’s ridiculousness. Has since been interpreted as Freddie’s “coming out” song “mama just killied a man” in which he, in a way, lays to rest his hetrosexuality. The minor classic You’re My Best Friend I’d list as the album’s most moving. From an autobiographical standpoint, Love of My Live is significant, describing Mercury’s relationship to Mary Austin who is depicted in the 2018 biopic by Lucy Boynton. The message of Good Company about treasuring your friends everyone should pay attention to, even if the cynic in me would say the statement borders on platitude.
The album features a few memorable moments, one masterpiece, some experimentation, and about five tracks I’m lukewarm towards. Starts and ends strongly with a weaker middle. In terms of an overall theme in the lyrics I can’t find one.
A Day at the Races (1976)
A Day at the Races is bolded on Rate your Music, I’m confused why it’s held in such high regard. Disappointing and Queen’s weakest and least experimental up to this point. Gospel inspired Somebody to Love is a classic of the 70s but is there anything else here I would go back to? On first glance hard rock opener Tie Your Mother Down about the pursuit of a school girl feels totally inappropriate lyrically and would not fly today in our PC culture. Brian May said he realized that his original idea “represents the cry of a teenager who’s being inhibited in the conquest of his girlfriend by her parents.”
You Take My Breath Away (my favorite non-single on the LP) has a nice piano section and can bring a tear to your eye, describing love out of reach. You could argue it’s the same lonely protagonist who is yearning for a relationship on Somebody to Love. Penned at a time when Mercury was questioning his sexuality yet written in such a way that encompasses any kind of love.
Long Away has a catchy riff and apparently is about mourning the death of someone who passed away, and the mourner who is comforted. The first lines “You might believe in heaven, I would not care to say” puts into words Brian May’s agnosticism and uncertainty of God and the afterlife.
The political song White Man details the conquest of Native Americans and their lands from the perspective of a Native American.
Freddie wrote Good Old-Fashioned Lover Boy for his boyfriend at the time David Minns, and is the closest thing to pop here.
Drowse, sung by Roger Taylor, deals with the idea of growing older and unfulfilled dreams.
Closer Teo Torriatte (Let Us Cling Together) was written as a thank-you to Queen’s passionate Japanese fanbase.
Many of the tracks I’m struggling to remember. The LP as a whole was competent yet honestly a bit of chore at times. Serves as a companion album to the band’s previous, A Night at the Opera, both taking their names from Marx Brothers films, as well as sharing similar packaging.
News of the World (1977)
Punk was on the rise, and probably due to the backlash of progressive rock at the time, the production has less of the Queen-isms the band were known for. On some tracks the band are hardly recognizable. As Aphoristical wrote in his review ”Queen largely put aside their excesses and recorded a relatively straightforward album”.
The crowd friendly celebration of We Will Rock You and anthemic We Are the Champions are classics most people (even those who don’t listen to music) have heard.
Where The Day at the Races (1976) had a sadness and yearning for love, News of the World (1977) goes for more of a defiant spring in its step, a seize the day mentality, with lyrics like Spread Your Winds, It’s Late, but not too late (my favorite discovery here), Fight From the Inside, and of course We Are the Champions’ lyric “we’ll keep on fighting ’til the end”. The songwriting is quite self-evident and seemingly designed to appeal to as wide an audience as possible, perhaps at the expense of complex emotions. While it is an arena rock album, there’s still experimentation. Who Needs You features a Latin influence, Sheer Heart Attack is punk rock, Sleeping on the Sidewalk is based upon blues rock, Get Down, Make Love features funk overtones, My Melancholy Blues imitates jazz and Fight from the Inside was the group’s first disco related song.
I have no idea why the LP is called Jazz? Hard to take the lyrics for Fat Bottomed Girls, Bicycle Race, and Don’t Stop Me Now seriously. Queen’s music was always a bit tongue-in-cheek, these singles are melodically fun yet almost self-parody. I was unable to get David Armand’s hilarious viral mime imitation out of my head. It’s probable the group wanted to shed the self-importance of 1977’s News of the World.
The music would be suitable for a musical or stage show. The track Mustapha, similar to 1976’s Teo Torriatte, has the foreign audience in mind. If You Can’t Beat Them wouldn’t have been out of place on their 1977 album for its defiant attitude. Dead on Time, written by Brian May, features some of his fastest and most aggressive guitar work, it’s pretty epic. Dreamer’s Ball was written as a tribute to Elvis who had died the year before but it isn’t memorable. Jealousy, Let Me Entertain You, and In Only Seven Days don’t leave much of an impression and felt like filler.
I like the instrumental parts of funk/disco track Fun It which is considered a precursor to 1980’s Another One Bites the Dust. Leaving Home Ain’t Easy is the strongest ballad here with words everyone can relate to, and, together with Dead on Time, are possibly the non-singles on the record that hold up the best to repeat plays.
While Jazz aims high and does includes a few highlights, it’s very patchy, and I find the three lead singles too jokey. Despite the filler tracks, I prefer Jazz (1978) to the uncaptivating A Day at the Races (1976).
The Game (1980)
Perhaps the group’s catchiest album up to this point. Marked the first time Queen used synthesizers (for instance on the track Rock It) which they would continue with throughout the 1980s. As others have noted, the band also shifted towards pop rock. Another patchy album from them, but Queen is a 10/10 singles band with more iconic hits than most acts.
The Game (1980) is top heavy. Opener Play the Game is one of the finest carpe diem songs Queen ever wrote. The heaviest track here, Dragon Attack, I enjoy for its energy and pulsating rhyme.
My favorite is the bass-driven, foot-tapping single Another One Bites the Dust. Crazy Little Thing Called Love is very catchy as well.
The Side B is less distinctive. Save Me sticks in your mind, although I personally find it too overblown to connect with. Brian May wrote the song about a friend whose marriage was coming to an end.
What do you think? As always, commets are welcome