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Rob McCow
07 June 2013 @ 05:01 pm
Some notes for me:

Frank L Cauldhame
Mary Cauldhame
Mrs Clamp
Old Saul
Jamie the Dwarf
Blyth Cauldhame

Favourite memorable moments:
The Wasp Factory - 12 ways to die, constructed from a clock face.
What happened to Eric (that night in the hospital).
Various murders: The snake and the false leg, the giant kite, the buried bell / bomb circle.
The killer rabbit and the Black Destroyer.
The burning, dogs and sheep.
Frank totally drunk, with Jamie on his shoulders chatting up a girl, trying to keep it together.
Athelwald Trapley - attempted death by gas, Marlboro incident, death by drowning in a oil-drum full of rainwater.
"The buggers have learned how to fly!"
A few lumps of wax in a pickle jar.
What happened to me (when Eric came back).

General thoughts:
Classic first novel (though actually his third). Banks often builds his books around something that we know is going to happen early on, but doesn't happen until the very end. There are always twists, delays and surprises on the way; this is what keeps it exciting. Sometimes this is frustrating; it's the only thing about his writing that I'm not so fond of. The story doesn't seem to know where it wants to go, but that's played as a strength and adds to the unpredictability.

There are some extremely gross moments, but it all fits in with the tone of the story. The shocks are genuinely shocking.

The lead character is one of the most messed up that Banks ever created. Frank is hateful at times, living in his own twisted world on a tiny Scottish island somewhere near Porteneil. There's a real wildness and spiritual savagery to his lifestyle, borne out of isolation. His community is about as small as it gets; for most of the novel it's Frank on his own. The novel builds up the arrival of Eric as a terrifying psychopath, but Eric's activities are nothing compared with the things that Frank gets up to.

There are layers of meaning and complexity to the story as well. The Wasp Factory is a bleak metaphor for life, as Frank's home-made oracle and master. The dazed wasps get stuck down one path, doors closing behind them, leading to their inevitable demise through one of twelve (or more) ways. It's not clear if Frank believes in any kind of god. He appears to be inventing his own pagan rituals, such as the collection of the precious bodily materials including belly-button fluff and toenail cheese. Makes me sick just thinking about it.

It's a book that is always going to be better the first time you read it, but I still enjoyed it a second time around.
Current Location: Island
Current Mood: Rainy
Current Music: rainmood
Rob McCow
07 April 2013 @ 09:43 pm
Had some bad news today, poor old Rufus Rabbit passed away last week. He was found by Si's brother. Apparently Rosie was with him, cuddling him at the end.

Rufus was the most fun rabbit that we've ever had. We loved Charlie but he could be pretty miserable and grumpy. Most rabbits don't like being held and Rosie is no exception. She is incredibly fast and will zip out of the way to avoid being picked up. Rufus, on the other hand, didn't seem nearly as bothered with it.

When we needed to take them to the vets or visiting, it was always easier to get Rufus into the cage. With Rosie, we'd need to spend hours and hours chasing her. Usually, Rufus would hop out just as we got Rosie in!

Rufus was a Rescue Rabbit, from the Diana Brimblecombe Animal Rescue Centre. He was dumped outside the centre in a box, which I'm guessing was a Dell PC box because Rufus and Rosie were originally called Dell and Delila. Naturally, we couldn't have that! Leaving them in a box outside the centre was cruel - they could have got out, or been attacked by a fox.

There were a few rabbits to choose from at the centre, but I was set on getting a pair. I know rabbits like their own personal space, but I think it gets boring if there's just one of them with no buddies to play with.

Rosie and Rufus were best buddies, most of the time. I think Rufus suffered a bit as Rosie is quite a dominant rabbit, often wanting to play piggy back. They had spells of bunny-punch-ups, where the two would fall out. The way they fought was pathetic. They'd both lie on their sides and flap their paws frantically at each other, in a 'Go Away!' gesture. That said, it still resulted in nicked ears, fluff everywhere and injuries. During one fight Rufus had his ear injured. It was only a scratch, but I remember a dark red drop of blood on his ear. The fur never grew back on that patch.

They were a cheeky pair and Rufus was the cheekiest. He would be the one on his back legs, reaching up to get to the plants that seemed out of reach a few moments earlier. Soon after we got them, I remember Si telling me that he was sitting in the living room watching them. They were hiding behind a wall and seemed to be popping up one at a time. First Rufus, then Rosie... then Rufus again!

Our neighbours of a few years back were also enamoured of our rabbits, at least their three-year-old son was. There was one evening where he stood enthralled and excited at Rufus and Rosie, pointing and shouting 'Rabbits!' Soon afterwards a hutch appeared in our neighbour's garden... and Lily the Rabbit too. Lily made it into our garden once - all three rabbits seemed startled and shocked at this, not knowing whether to fight each other, say hello or what. When I went outside they all stood rigid to the spot and looked at me, like burglars caught in the headlights.

There was a couple of occasions where we thought he'd gone missing. One time we did a big search all around the neighbourhood... only to find him hiding upstairs under the bed! Even if he got out, he'd only go as far as Jean's garden however. Jean's garden is a beautifully tended garden, full of succulent flowers and delicious hedges. Quite often the two rabbits would stare wistfully at it, dreaming of the grass next door which was ever so much greener. Of course, on the few occasions that they made it there it didn't make Jean terribly happy!

Rufus had really beautiful colouring. He was black, but had white patches around his eyes and on his paws, with brown fur around the joins. The back of his head had a ring around the ears, which sort of gave him the look of a monk's haircut.

And I missed the last few months of Rufus's life. Moving away, I did wonder if the two rabbits would still be around when I came back. It seems at least one of them won't be. There are many reasons why I've regretted leaving; this is another one.
Current Location: Jean's Garden
Current Mood: Very Sad
Current Music: Pink Floyd - Echoes
Rob McCow
12 February 2013 @ 09:16 am
I was rooting through my wallet looking for change to buy breakfast this morning, when I realised that I had change from three different continents rattling about in there, competing for my attention. Nickels and dimes are mingling with twenty-pence-pieces and Qatari Dihrams. It's all quite confusing.

It doesn't help that in the past four days I've hopped from the Middle East to Northern Europe and then on to Western America. The journey was planned donkey's years ago, based around the big Doctor Who convention here in LA. With the 50th Anniversary of the show, I thought it would be great if I could persuade a few people from the UK to join us in attending. It's a big ask given the distance and inevitable expense, but we did have four people take us up on the challenge and I was delighted with that. However, since the plans were put in place I've moved to live in Qatar so nipping across the Atlantic is even more of a task.

Still, Simon and I made it to LAX yesterday at 6.30pm, not feeling too worse for wear. Simon has watched 'The Perks of Being a Wallflower' which he assured me was brilliant and had almost reduced him to tears on the plane. I watched the first half hour of 'Trading Places' with Dan Ackroyd and Eddie Murphy, which I found intolerable. Then I watched Looper, about how Bruce Willis travels back in time to stop an impersonator shooting him in the back. It was a wretched, nonsensical mess of a film that messed up all of it's time travel rules and didn't know what story it wanted to tell. The performances were extremely good, but the story was absolutely stank.

Good thing that we weren't too exhausted by the flight, because Los Angeles International is a strange place. There's a mysterious hush that hangs over it, as though everything is slightly deadend or muffled. Rather than feeling like a huge transport hub with thousands of people coming through every hour, it feels like a stuffy and forgotten hall from a mid-1970's polytechnic. The 1970's ethos runs through the whole arrivals lounge, only the fingerprint scanner and camera give it any sense of modernity but it's not paticularly pleasant being checked in those ways. On the plane there was an 'Information' section on Los Angeles airport that explained what the 'X' stood for. LA airport has always been known as that, but when the three letter designation came in the 'X' was added to fill in the space. So 'X' means nothing, a fact which seems to have penetrated the heart of the airport.

Fortunately the LAX transfer process is fairly efficient and before long we were off to the complimentary shuttle bus and heading out to pick up a hire car. We were allowed to choose our own car from the SUV range, so after a lot of indecision (not the Nissan! No way!) we chose a Chevrolet SUV. A proper American car! The Chevvy is pretty decent, it gets the job jobbed and there's loads of room for driver, passengers and luggage. Perfect.

Sat nav took us to a Boutique Hotel on Westwood Blvd, which has turned out to be fairly decent but unremarkable. It's not too near to anything, but not too far out either. It does have the considerable advantage of having the rooms shielded from the road noise, so overnight it was very, very quiet. If I'd have been able to sleep properly, this would have been fantastic!

Anyway, shattered now so going to leave it there... maybe catch up tomorrow morning!
Current Mood: baggy eyes
Current Music: Ultravox
Rob McCow
05 August 2012 @ 04:37 pm

When this album was announced, it must have worried Queen fans. 'Jazz'? Seriously? Would Queen be embracing polyrhthyms, syncopation and lounge-style noodlings? Of course not! Having listened to this album several times now, I have not identified any reason why it might be called 'Jazz'.

This is a real curveball. It's incredibly far-out, even for a band with such a wide range of musical styles. It's easy to be put off by the wailing in a hotch-potch of middle-eastern languages, but I think Freddie does it rather well. His imitation of the style of a muezzin is spot on, although in true blasphemous form it's not a call to prayer, but a call to ROCK.

I like the production on this too, with the muted guitars giving way to something with more body as the chorus kicks in.

There may be some sinister agenda to 'Mustapha', but I reckon that they just liked the way the words sounded and wanted to fit it in to a rock song. I've never heard anything like it, so surely it must score on that front?

Top Wiki fact: '"Mustapha" was released as a single in Germany, Spain, Yugoslavia and Bolivia in 1979.' Dahhh-lings, I don't think we should release this in the UK but I tell you it'll go down a storm in Bolivia, honey!

Fat Bottomed Girls
We're straight back into solid-single territory here. A great rock-track that's equally good as a single or here as an extended version. This was never a particular favourite on 'Greatest Hits', but it's more than welcome here. I think it gets outshone by the other singles. The whole thing is rather silly, but it's fun.

This is a classic example of the Queen 'Hidden Gem'. You could listen to Jazz several times before realising that it's there!

The tone is reminiscent of 'Lap of The Gods', but much less pompous. I particularly like the guitar sound that May produces here. It's a much more heartfelt and serious song than the two ludicrous singles either side of it.

Bicycle Race
Ludicrous! From the basic idea right through to the bicycle-bell solo, this is patently ridiculous. It's a sort-of sequel to Fat Bottomed Girls, yet for some reason they stick 'Jealousy' in between the two! One thing worth listening out for is that John Deacon is doing all kinds of crazy bass pyrotechnics throughout the song. He's becoming more and more awesome all the time...

If You Can't Beat Them
It's a pretty decent rock song, but doesn't really do anything special in my opinion. It's not as exciting as Fat Bottomed Girls, but it has an engaging upbeat feel to it. Decent but disposable.

Let Me Entertain You
This one is quite plodding and irritating. I like some of the lyrics such as "I'll Cruella de Ville you!" and "We'll give you the tour de force - of course!" With mentions of Electra and EMI, this seems squarely aimed at providing an opening number for their live acts. Again, the album sequencing works against the songs as this should absolutely have been stuck on first.

Dead on Time
They're trying hard on this song, but for some reason it doesn't excite me much. Brian May's guitar playing reaches new heights of speed and action, it's got a huge amount of pace and vigour to it. I can't follow the guitar playing and I can't understand much of what Freddie says in this song, so maybe that works against it.

In Only Seven Days
This is a pleasant track, as distinctively John Deacon as it gets. I think I could get to like this one given time. I'm not too fussed by it at the moment though.

Dreamers' Ball
This one's a bit of a throwback to the seaside pavillion feel of A Night At The Opera, or maybe an ancient blues number best played on a crackly LP. But at this point on the record I'm losing interest quite badly, so a drippy, dreary ballad is perhaps not the best thing to include. And we haven't even got to Roger's latest yet!

Fun It
Here we are. This whole 'funk' side of Queen is starting to come together at this point and surely they're only a short way from writing a really good funk track.

Leaving Home Ain't Easy
After a great intro, we settle down into a nicely boring Brian May track. The lyrics are singularly dreadful, 'Leaving Home Ain't Easy' isn't a very startling revelation or soemthing you can really get excited about. Yawn. This album has hit a real dive and I'm finding it hard to remember the last decent song we had. If you've made it this far you've done bloody well.

Don't Stop Me Now
And here's the reward! Freddie is back in the saddle and it's an exciting ride, he's ready to woah, woah, woah-explode! This song is distilled excitement, expressed simply. It's Queen at their best. This has always been a favourite of mine.

And yet... this is the first example of Brian May turning up for the solo and little else. That'll happen again. It doesn't matter much because it's still a great song.

More of That Jazz
This one has a great intro, very 'Muse'. Yet it all goes on for far too long without really doing anything too exciting. So we're left with some great guitar work on a lack-lustre song, which kind of sums up the whole album. The idea of incorporating bits from the previous songs was a terrible, terrible one. There are a few albums where Genesis would re-work a few of the tracks into a new song and it would work extremely well. Here's it's all plonked together. Fun it!

And if that's not bad enough, there's bonus tracks!

Fat Bottomed Girls (Single version)
Yup, it's mostly the same as the album version but a bit shorter. Now you can sit at home for hours and ponder how and why the two versions are different!

Bicycle Race (Instrumental)
As ever, I absolutely adore the stripped-down instrumental versions of the Queen songs. That wonderful John Deacon bass is even more clear on this version and the piano part sounds completely different without the vocals over it. Magnificent stuff. And the bicycle bells survive intact.

Don't Stop Me Now (With long-lost guitars)
Ever wondered what Don't Stop Me Now would be like with guitar played all the way through it? The answer is like a gourmet burger - beefier but messier. It's all a bit too rich, although it was a brave decision to strip out the guitar parts. I think they made the right choice.

Let Me Entertain You (Live in Montreal, November 1981)
Yup - it works much better live. It's about 10% faster, 10% harder and 90% more exciting.

Dreamers Ball (Early acoustic take, August 1978)
Even at this early stage in the song's development it was really f'ing boring. They'd bring out that dullness for the final version, honing it to a fine point of tedium. I'm going to listen to the whole damn thing now before putting my review up. Plod, plod, plod. Freddie will be right on time, he's dressed so fine, for the Dreamer's Ball. Isn't that nice! There's a break for a solo but there's nothing there, all that happens is that Freddie stops singing for a bit. And there's still a minute to go! Bah. Roger's added in an extra bit of cymbal over to my left, making the end of the song sound different from the start. So is Freddie actually talking about falling asleep here?

It has some great moments, but I can't imagine wanting to listen to Queen's Jazz again any time soon.
Tags: ,
Current Mood: Ready to go to Dreamers' Ball
Current Music: Queen - Jazz
Rob McCow
23 July 2012 @ 09:56 pm
News of The World!

My initial impressions of this album were that after a few good opening tracks it all goes to tit. I honestly thought it was the worst Queen album of all, showing the band already in maximum cruise mode. Yet since listening to this over the last few weeks, my opinions have changed somewhat...

We Will Rock You
All I can hear in my head is 'Bom Bom CLACK!' Like 'We Are The Champions' it's utterly intrincsic. Surely everyone knows this song and can clap along. If you don't know it, you will after the first verse. Probably the most simple thing they ever released, there's hardly anything to it. Yet it gets right into your head. It's one of the most inclusive songs of all time. You may not have the musical talent to play 'Chopsticks' on the piano, but just about everyone can join in with the handclaps and footstamps in some way. The band don't even need to play this one live, after the opening beat the audience will do it for them. Everyone can share in the spotlight and get caught up in the energy of Queen's performances.

An absolutely cracking album opener too.

We Are The Champions
It seems so obvious now - this is the album closer. This is the last song on the album. Everyone agrees! Yet here it is, right after 'We Will Rock You'. What a mistake! You might as well stop after listening to this one.

What is so beautiful about this song - aside from the gorgeous piano playing and build-up - is the way Freddie includes the listener. How many songs are about 'We'? There's plenty about me, or you, but this one involves everyone. 'I Am The Champion' would have sounded appalling. Yet 'We Are The Champions' is magnificent.

Then there's that ending, tailing off just before '...of the world', which leaves the listener finishing it in their head. They could have put that next line in. I'm sure if you'd never heard it before you'd expect them to fade out and then come back with '...of the world', but no. It just stops with that double hit! Genius.

It's one of Queen's absolute finest songs. It's also one that I've known for as long as I can remember, right from my earliest childhood.

SIDE NOTE - I've been looking at the Wikipedia articles as I've been going along, mainly to find out who wrote which track. I came across this bizarre-o factoid about We Are The Champions:

In 2011, a team of scientific researchers concluded that the song was the catchiest song in the history of pop music. Dr. Daniel Mullensiefen said of the study, "Every musical hit is reliant on maths, science, engineering and technology; from the physics and frequencies of sound that determine pitch and harmony, to the hi-tech digital processors and synthesisers which can add effects to make a song more catchy. We’ve discovered that there’s a science behind the sing-along and a special combination of neuroscience, maths and cognitive psychology can produce the elusive elixir of the perfect sing-along song."

Sadly, tracking down the article to it's source reveals that it came from the Daily Bloody Mail.

Sheer Heart Attack
This is Queen's all-time worst song. Every single second of the 3:27 it runs for is more irritating than the last. It's a sort-of-attempt at punk, or very heavy rock. Yet it seems to go on and on, with it's 'Hye-nah, hye-nahs' and Brian May's tootling feedback over the top. It's just noise though, there's nothing particularly clever or interesting on display here. There's no twirls, no wit, no clever chord changes, only a pounding, thumping noise that a group of untalented teenagers might produce in their garage.

When this song finishes mid-phrase, it's a blessed relief!

All Dead, All Dead
I actually think Brian's vocals suit this song very well. It's slightly spoiled on the album by coming directly after the WORST SONG IN HISTORY, because it feels comparatively feeble. It's a rather beautiful ballad, not up there with Queen's greatest but certainly nothing to be ashamed of. The choral guitar effect at about 2:00 minutes in is rather marvelous. There's a tenderness to the song which is endearing and sweet. I'd love to hear this with only the vocals and the piano line.

Spread Your Wings
The piano comes straight back in for 'Spread Your Wings', which I reckon is one of Queen's finest ballads. I've loved this one for ages, it's one of the unsung heroes of the Greatest Hits Video ('Greatest Flix') which got a lot of repeat play in our household. I especially love how cold the band look and Freddie's star-shaped sunglasses! I can't remember how we came to own 'Greatest Flix' but it would be frequently watched on a sunny weekend morning. I was always disappointed that there was no video to 'Killer Queen'. Instead we got facts about the band, so I could wonder what this 'Smile' band was that Roger and Brian used to belong to.

Comparing this with 'All Dead, All Dead' shows how adding a little Mercury 'Ooomph' makes all the difference. It starts as a simple lament, but there's a real strength to the chorus. The piano playing is also rather special in this song, although a little hidden in the mix.

It also has one of the most innappropriate single covers of all time:

There's nothing right about pairing that cover with this song!

Fight From The Inside
And some'un brings in da funk. As Roger efforts go, this one's acceptable. The guitar parts are pretty exciting. Apparently Roger plays all of the instruments on this song, presumably while the rest of the band went for a nice walk in the countryside to look at some rare finches.

Get Down, Make Love
More funk now, though this time it's Freddie who's funking us up real good and proper. It's cut from the same cloth as 'Death On Two Legs', with the return of the snarling, vicious side of Freddie's persona. It's a dirty, filthy ode to sexual frustration, with Freddie as horny-as-hell, creeping and bawling. The pace picks up for the chorus, where he screams out his desire. Then there's the orgasm-tunnel effects sequence ending with braying horses... before he's ready to go again.

So, what can we surmise here? That Freddie Mercury is an insatiable, incurable mega-sex-bastard with knobs on. Watch out!

Sleeping On The Sidewalk
The funk concludes with the bluesey Sleeping On The Sidewalk. It's nothing special, but again there's nothing especially wrong with it. It's Queen being versatile again. There are bands out there who only do songs like this one and make a decent career.

Actually, listening to it in isolation, you could easily be made to believe that it wasn't a Queen track at all. The absence of that guy with the 'tache may be the reason...

Who Needs You
Of course. After metal, funk and blues, what makes more sense than calypso music? It's a sweet little track, very much in the vein of the fun seaside songs from A Night At The Opera. Brian shows that he can play Spanish guitar with the best of them. Freddie is still in spiteful mood though, it's as if all the love he was sharing at the start of the album has to be counteracted by some hyper-camp bitchiness. His cry of 'I like it I like it!' during the guitar solo is delivered dripping with sauce.

It's Late
Epic! I've never paid this one much attention, apart from the lovely chorus vocals. Now I listen to it properly, I realise it's six-and-a-half minutes long and Wikipedia tells me that Brian wrote it in three acts, about a guy who's a proper tart and can't decide which woman he loves. I like the tempo changes, even when it slows back down after the guitar solo. The riff is pretty fantastic too. That said, it's hidden away here at the arse end of News of The World.

But it's not too late! Maybe I should give this track a little more attention!

My Melancholy Blues
Aren't Blues always Melancholy? Slap me for pointing that out, very pedantic. This should have been the bonus track, located 37 seconds after the end of 'We Are The Champions'. It's undoubtedly good, but I just can't quite connect with it.

It's got a lovely end-of-the-day feel to it though. I'll tell you who it reminds me of - Rufus Wainwright. He could cover this song quite happily.

OK - the album as a whole is pretty decent. If you skip 'Sheer Heart Attack' then it's a nicely listenable and entertaining piece. If you don't skip 'Sheer Heart Attack' then you'll find yourself listening to Queen's all-time most dire piece of crap immediately after one of the finest pop songs ever written. Balanced, that's what you could call it.
Current Location: The Emerald Bar
Current Mood: Melancholy Blues
Current Music: Queen - News of The World
Rob McCow
17 June 2012 @ 12:47 pm

Have Queen Peaked? That's the question.

If they had peaked, I don't think it was with this album sadly.

Tie Your Mother Down
Does this simple, hard rock, riff-based crowd pleaser really need a minute of noodling sound effects at the start? How much better this album would have been if they'd jumped straight in with that punchy guitar riff!

The lyrics are straight out of the Roger Taylor song book of Being Super Cool Man, but it's not Roger. This is Brian May showing him how it's done properly. Yet you can feel that the whole band got behind this track and gave it every inch of their love. Freddie's thinking how great it would sound live, Deacon is doing solid work in the background and Taylor is thundering away. It even gets a MASSIVE Queen-style rock-out ending. Gorgeous.

Best of all, there's clearly more money for production. From now on, Queen's rock tracks will sound ultra-clean, without losing their rock edge (most of the time!). The sound is silky and accessible, rather than the dense and scratchy feel of their earlier songs. So really, this is a watershed moment.

Anyway, there's no point in analysing this one too much. It's a hit single!

You Take My Breath Away
Why is this song a disaster? As has been mentioned, it's got a lot going for it. A grand emotional ballad with Freddie's beautiful voice and piano playing complementing each other perfectly. There's a nice bit of guitar playing and then an FX special ending.

Yet it sounds bloody dull, doesn't it? More like You Drain My Strength Away. There's a couple of possibilities: firstly, it doesn't seem even remotely quirky. There's no sci-fi angle or world-building, all we get is Freddie saying how much he loves someone. Bah.

Secondly, it comes right after Tie Your Mother Down. That's like leading with a strong right fist but following up with a floppy bag of feathers. After the excitement of the opening, all kudos that the album has gained is dissipated.


Long Away
This one is nice though! A bit like the '39's of the last album, a really good guitar sound and Brian vocals.

It's lacking a decent chorus though, which is probably why it gets forgotten. At least it picks up the pace a bit, which is what this album badly needs.

The Millionaire Waltz
Ooo! Deacon gets put in the foreground for the intro! This one has an absolutely superb bass-line, frilly and complex, that suits the fancy-pants poshness of the track.

Yet again, this is a good effort that ostensibly has nothing wrong with it. Yet it doesn't really have bite, it doesn't have that focus. The rock-out section in the middle simply doesn't fit in the song, although the chorused solo that follows it is very good.

I don't know what they were trying to achieve here. Perhaps they were trying to push further in the direction of Bohemian Rhapsody, but it seems BR is about as far as you can go in that direction. Still, The Millionaire Waltz is dense and musically pleasing.

You and I
I think I've pinpointed the problem with this album - we've had four tracks in a row now without a single chorus. It's all very well playing about with form and style, but people need something to hook on to, so that they can be lead into appreciating the music. This is probably the best track of the four, sincere and upbeat with a cracking pace.

Wikipedia says "The song was never played live." A sad epitaph!

Somebody to Love


See! Stick a chorus in and suddenly you have an absolute masterpiece.

I absolutely adore the gospel harmony on this track, it's brilliant. I'm glad they only did one song like this one, because they absolutely nailed it. Here's the whole of Queen working together and producing something magical.

White Man
A big old Brian May Rock Number, possibly one of the heaviest that Queen have done. It's also their first 'issues' song, but it kind of makes sense here. After a gospel song we have a protest song, albeit with guitars 'Massive' rather than 'Acoustic'.

It's all very tight and well controlled, a pretty decent track even if it's not one I can imagine listening to a great deal.

Good Old Fashioned Lover Boy
So here's the third brilliant track on the album and the third single. The gulf between single and album tracks is pretty huge by now. Like the other two, you get the sense of Queen working together on this one, whereas the duller tracks feel more like solo efforts.

Freddie is just so cheeky in this one. Where did he get it from? The good old fashioned school of lover boys! The 'We'll meet at nine precisely' line followed by the backing vocals 'One two three four five six seven eight nine - o'clock' is a moment of camp genius.

It's a classy number too. There's a sense that this lover boy is dripping in money and can take any girl (or boy?) out and show them a fabulous time, darlings!

Cracking tune.

Drowse, eh? Sums up the album really. Roger Taylor turns up and joins in with the 'Dud' theme of the album tracks by delivering this meandering wiffle - where he literally gives up on the lyrics in the last 30 seconds and starts talking about the stars who he'd rather be.

So this song is about being bored. It's also a recreation of the feeling of being bored. Therefore, it's boring. I don't hate this song, but it's not very good.

It's a touch closer to a Roger Waters Pink Floyd song than his previous Zeppelin-inspired efforts. Is that interesting? No?

Teo Torriatte
Let us cling together! I'd write this track off as well, except it's been going round in my head for weeks and it's the first song I think of when I consider 'A Day At The Races'.

The shift from the minor (sad) key feel of the verse to the upbeat (major) key feel of the is absolutely beautiful; effortless. There's a clinging tension in the opening verse that's resolved in the stadium-friendly chorus. It's good, but it lacks a little bite.

Why is Freddie singing in foreign though? How is anyone supposed to sing along?

Then we get the start of the album again, though it makes a bit more sense here. You may even want to listen to 'Tie Your Mother Down' again. But you'd probably stop after that.

Overall - a complete mess. I really wanted to like this one as much as 'A Night At the Opera', but 'A Day At the Races' has so many failures that it sinks like a crate full of bricks. It's a shame because it drags down three or four great tracks as well.

Do I have to do the bonus tracks? If I must!

Tie Your Mother Down (Backing Track Mix 2011)
Great! I still love these. Although 'Tie Your Mother Down' isn't the most musically varied of songs, which makes it's inclusion here without vocals seem a bit odd. The sleeve notes say that removing the vocals results 'in a strangely unfamiliar take on a much loved Queen classic', so they clearly don't have a clue why either.

Somebody to Love (Live at Milton Keynes, June 1982)
This is brilliant. Freddie clearly adores playing this song and the long, teasing lead-in is a real joy - he gets the crowd cheering just by singing the word 'Can...'!

You Take My Breath Away (Live in Hyde Park, September 1976)
Even having Freddie play this one with a piano all on his own isn't enough to make it interesting.

Good Old-Fashioned Lover Boy (Top of the Pops, July 1977)
Why the hell is this included? It's just a mono version of the track with a bit of clapping at the end. Absolutely bizarre!

Teo Torriatte (Let Us Cling Together) (HD Mix)
Why? WHY? Apart from ditching the FX ending, this seems exactly the same to me.

Actually, ditching the FX ending was a worthwhile exercise. Well done team.
Tags: ,
Current Mood: Drowse
Current Music: Queen - A Day At The Races
Rob McCow
19 May 2012 @ 01:00 pm

Death On Two Legs
How much fun is this? Loads, that's how much fun. Queen take down the Music Biz in the only way they know how - by being utterly pompous, ridiculous and musically brilliant. It's hard to say which lyric is funniest. Could it be 'Was the fin on your back part of the deal... SHARK!' or maybe 'Do you feel like suicide? I think you should!' It's the avalanche of vitriol that makes this one so entertaining.

Strip it of the lyrics though and you've still got a fabulous bit of music. Brian is doing some particularly inventive guitar fills and there's a real controlled power to the playing. The overlaps between Freddie's lines are quite interesting.

But what a perfect start to the album! It's a huge, swaggering number that you can really get into.

Lazing On A Sunday Afternoon
This is more of a little sketch than a full blown song, but it's still great. Camp? Yes sir! The guitar solo on this one is like a blaze of sunshine, reflecting off Freddie's straw boater and striped blazer as he promenades down a pier.

The best thing about it is that something so radically different can sit happily between the two rock tracks either side. It instantly gives the album flavour and tone.

Listen out for John Deacon's bass playing too. It's years before the bass line gets flushed into the foreground, but you can hear that he's working hard here. He knows exactly when to bounce along in the background and when to inject a bit of extra melody.

I'm In Love With My Car
This is no more ludicrous than 'Death On Two Legs' really... or 'Lazing On A Sunday Afternoon'! Strip it of the lyrics and you've got a superb slow rock track. Despite the slow tempo, it really moves along. Each guitar thrash seems to lean into the next one, underlined by the harmonies. It's got an epic, searing quality to it.

It might be Roger's best effort to date, though those lyrics need work. Perhaps someone could buy him a new carburettor?

You're My Best Friend
It's one of those tracks that doesn't stand out on Greatest Hits, at least, not at first.

But then you'll have a day when it catches you unawares, or you find yourself humming it, or someone points out that it's one of the best f***ing songs on the album and it clicks.

After three songs of campy silliness, the tongue comes out of the cheek and we get an honest-to-god, heartfelt and warm number about friendship. It even seems devoid of sexual connotations, so this could apply to any relationship; two schoolgirls playing together, a father and son, an old man and his dog.

Queen find something real that they can get behind and it totally hits the spot.

Absolutely beautiful.

This is more in a similar direction, though not as good as Deacon's effort. This is a lovely little song though, one that would have been brilliant as an acoustic number, preferably sung on the deck of a big ship. It feels like an old folk song that they've covered rather than a new track.

The mood of the piece and the lyrics paint a picture; they build their own world and this time it's got nothing to do with Fairy Feller's or Ogre Battles, which makes it much more accessible.

Brian's vocals suit the song too, I can't tell if Freddie is singing on this one at all.

I'm in a really good mood, so I'm going to give it:

Sweet Lady
A straightforward rock song! This might be about as middle-of-the-road as Queen get. It seems to be about two sides of a relationship, eventually reconciling. Neither bad nor especially memorable, it's hard to know what to say about it!

Guitar - check. Strong Freddie vocal - check. Harmonies - check. Go!

But I'd bet it'd go down a storm live.

Seaside Rendezvous
It's back to the beach for Seaside Rendezvous! There's almost a theme developing here, a nostalgia for 1930's / 40's end-of-pier entertainment. I love that the whole middle section is the band doing some silly vocal and kazoo experimentation!

At 2.14 it's another little breeze of sunshine in the album.

The Prophets Song
Then we get a throwback to Queen's first two albums. This might be their last high-fantasy themed song. The multi-tracked vocal section fits in reasonably well with the idea of the Prophet's voice and at least makes this one different and distinctive. And fortunately Freddie has an outstanding voice, so if he's going to be a one-man-choir then at least it'll be a well-sung choir. I rather like it - even if it does go on...

Overall though, they've done this sort of song a lot better in the past, although the production is much, much crisper on this album.

Love Of My Life
Did I mention they were getting really, really good at these little acoustic ballads? Well here's one of their absolute best. Given a decent length and a simple chorus, it's a thing of beauty. This one can steal your heart any time.

The album versions seems rather weird though, with it's harp, piano, bass guitar and electric guitar solo. It's only getting 9/10, because when they do it live and it's just Brian with his nylon-string guitar and Freddie singing, it's far, far better.

Good Company
I've only just realised that there are THREE ludicrous, end-of-pier sunshine songs on this album.

One too many, possibly. This kind of fifties schtick was pretty shitty when Paul McCartney did it on 'Your Mother Should Know' and others. This is cut from the same cloth. In fact this could have been snuck onto a Macca album and no-one would have batted an eyelid.

Aside from having a ukulele on it, there's nothing very memorable. Oh, they try hard and Brian makes his guitar sound exactly like a trombone in the last few bars, but it's a bit of an all round dud. The only real dud on the album!

Bohemian Rhapsody
Si's comments on this were excellent. What can I add?!
I'll come back to this one someday.

God Save The Queen

This gave them a magnificent excuse to finish their concerts with the national anthem. They do it bloody well; an answer to Jimi Hendrix playing 'The Star Spangled Banner' perhaps? Probably, as Brian ended up playing it on top of Buckingham Palace in 2002 for the Golden Jubilee.

I like our national anthem anyway.

Bonus me up!

Keep Yourself Alive (Long-Lost Retake, June 1975)
A slightly sharper re-take. Dunno why it's on this album's bonus tracks though?

Bohemian Rhapsody (Operatic Section A-cappella Mix)
Brilliant! I love this kind of stuff. Though I'd equally love to hear most of the rest of the song stripped down like this. Just the guitar parts! Just the bass line! Just Freddie! Please?

You're My Best Friend (Backing Track Mix)
Nice, shows what a great pop song it is.

I'm in Love With My Car (Guitar & Vocal Mix)
A Roger Taylor song without the drums, this really highlights how excruciating the lyrics are.

'39 (Live at Earl's Court, June 1977)
At a live performance, Freddie sings one of Brian's songs. Guess what? He does it better.

Love of My Life (South American Live Single, June 1979)
This is how it should sound frankly, and I'm glad they included it as a bonus track. Still my favourite version is on the Wembley CD.
Tags: ,
Current Location: Seaside
Current Mood: Sunshine Seaside Holiday
Current Music: Queen - A Night At The Opera
Rob McCow
12 May 2012 @ 12:14 pm

Now I'm Here... I'm there!

Sheer Heart Attack is different. The next album, 'A Night At The Opera', would set the format for the future Queen albums. But Sheer Heart Attack doesn't really feel like a bridge between the progressive rock madness of 'Queen II' and what they later became. It's a bit rockier and less polished, but it seems that the progressive kitchen sink production has been ditched to make an altogether more accessible album. But it's not as good.

Brighton Rock
I don't like this one at all. There's a chortling, irritating funfair noise, before some swirly guitar kicks in. Someone seems to be cracking a whip as well? That intro is a bit of an assault really, but not one I can get behind. It's not exciting rock, it's more annoying. Whereas I could really get into the density of Queen and Queen II, this seems to be lacking in sparkle.

The moment the chorus comes in is fantastic. Instead of cutting to the beef of the song though, it leads straight into an endless, flabby guitar solo. Why doesn't this solo work? Brian's certainly showing ace musicianship. Yet it's a bloody chore to listen to. There's some more shrieking lyrics at the end of the song, before the whole thing descends into Roger Taylor laughter.

Killer Queen
Best enjoyed as [URL=""]A Tribute to Servalan.[/URL]

Though I do wonder if this 'Killer Queen' with her insatiable appetite for caviar, cigarettes and etiquette was a bit portly.

It's 100 times more polished than any track we've had so far, the rhythm is hypnotic, the harmonies are pitch perfect, the guitar solo is tight and contained, you can hum the tune after one listen, it's classy and exciting. Hearing this after 'Brighton Rock' is like walking from a stinking, decaying sea-side death-town into the most salubrious underground joint, the secret Ritz-within-the-Ritz. Awesome.

And then, I'll bury YOU.

Tenement Funster
Hey dudes! Are we still trying to be like, Led Zeppelin maaan? Mind you, if you were 12 years' old, Roger's hymn to teenage rebellion might be the most exciting track on the album. To anyone else, all the stuff about having strange hair and getting a fast car is a bit silly and embarrassing. At least it's about something!

Flick of the Wrist
Interlude to say that the bridge between these two songs, as the guitar playing slows down and the piano comes in, is absolutely superb. Neither of the actual songs are as good as the link between them though!

A bit of genuine anger here, as Freddie flicks the wrist at all the postmen, estate agents, in fact any bastard who wears a suit.

I think what might have made this work is if they'd left the lyrics vague enough so it could have been about a rip-off love affair as much as being about the music industry.

Do you know what I think? This song is funny! It's so fist-shakingly earnest that you can only laugh. There's a song coming up on the next album that is even more hilarious too!

Lily of the Valley
They're undeniably very good at these mini-ballads, but I don't like this one as much as Nevermore from 'Queen II'. There's an odd link in the lyrics to the Seven Seas of Rhye, making this a sequel. Yet it doesn't really compliment the previous track in any real way.

There's a bit of a crescendo at the end as the guitars come back in, but I don't like the tone of this one so much. Again, I can't quite tell you why this one isn't so good.

Flip the record!

Now I'm Here
Another 'Greatest Hit' and a song I adore. I love the echoing from speaker to speaker and the steady build up to the explosion of guitars. The actual song when it kicks in is pretty good too. It's a bit of old-school rock, but the effects and the harmonies give it a real lift and make it something special. As usual there's loads going on, I keep spotting the Hammond-style organ buried deep in the mix, along with the piano and at least two or three guitar lines.

The lyrics are nicely kinky too. I do wonder if this song contains a few oblique references to sexual practices that perhaps are better left undescribed? Do ya think?

But the album version is possibly the weakest available. This song becomes truly epic when performed live.

In the Lap of the Gods
What's this?

Not very good, that's what it is.

It's 22 seconds longer than Killer Queen! Waste!

Stone Cold Crazy
This is a damn fine rocker actually, isn't it? I love the break where it's just Freddie singing with that clicking sound on the drums. Everything's pulling in the same direction, which is good.

I don't think you want to over-analyse rock like this, it's a slap in the face, it's a punch in the stomach and it's bloody hard to dance too!

Dear Friends
Another good quiet ballad, a lullaby in the style of 'Good-Night' or 'Golden Slumbers' by The Beatles. Should have been a hidden bonus track, because there's not much meat to it. Then again, it does make a good bridge between Stone Cold Crazy and Misfire.

This is a lovely, bright and breezy number isn't it? The metaphor is a bit odd though. Is it about taking drugs?

Despite being straightforward in some ways, there's still a lot of experimentation going on. Freddie's singing with two different voices, one in each speaker. John provides a lovely, bouncy bass-line and Brian is doing all kinds of crazy stuff with his guitar; the simple acoustic line that runs through it was just a feint!

Bring Back That Leroy Brown
OK, this shows that Queen are versatile. Which must be a good thing, right?


Well, I wouldn't ever choose to play this to anyone. I don't really know much about this kind of music. The lyrics are quite hard to follow, it's quite cheesy and could be quite irritating if you were in the wrong mood.

I'd like to imagine that it's John Deacon doing the incredibly deep 'Bring Back Leeroy Brown' but it probably isn't. :(

She Makes Me (Stormtrooper in Stilettos)
Wow, this one has come in for a lot of vitriol! It's quite plodding and very long, but I don't feel that offended by it. The combination of Brian May vocals and guitar gives it that wistful feel, there's a sense of longing to it. The extended outro reminds the world that they still have some progressive blood in their veins.

It's never going to set the world on fire, but I found it quite nice!

And what the hell is this about a Stormtrooper in Stilettos? That's got NOTHING to do with ANYTHING!!!

In the Lap of the Gods… Revisited
What's this?

Far better than the first version, that's what it is!

The first half of the song is by far the best piano-ballad number on the album. There's pathos to the lyrics, 'It's so easy, but I can't do it', something that I've certainly felt at times in my life. I'm not that keen on all the 'Wo, wo, lala laas' but it makes for a good ending to the album as a whole. I like the way it all crashes into a big, distorted cymbal-like sound at the end too.

The only thing that really ruins it is the horrible suspicion that it's about the record industry again.

And for a Freddie Bonus:

Now I'm Here (Live at Hammersmith Odeon, December 1975)
Yes, it's better live.

Flick of the Wrist (BBC Session, October 1974)
Tenement Funster (BBC Session, October 1974)
These sound slightly different! The piano playing's a bit sharper on Flick of The Wrist. I'd be hard pushed to tell you why Tenament Funster was different - aside from Roger's vocal line being a bit more echoey - and I'll be damned if I'm going to listen to it a dozen times to find out.

Bring Back That Leroy Brown (A Cappella Mix 2011)
This is quite interesting! When you get rid of the jangly banjo sound and piano, this song seems that much more interesting and enjoyable. You can just sit back and enjoy the harmonies.

In the Lap of the Gods ... Revisited (Live at Wembley Stadium, July 1986)"
This version of 'In The Lap of The Gods ... Revisited' is simply astounding. I love it. Suddenly, the lyrics take on an extra dimension. Freddie sings it a dozen times better. Well done to the three people who clap it's arrival!

Wo, wo, la la laa,
Wo, wo, la, la.
Woah wa woo!

Repeat to fade...
Tags: ,
Current Location: 1974
Current Mood: Sheerly Hearted Attacked.
Current Music: Queen - Sheer Heart Attack
Rob McCow
28 April 2012 @ 11:23 am

Up until a few months ago, I always thought that Queen II was the 'Difficult' one. Virtually unlistenable, very few of the songs stood out, mainly because each song had about seven or eight different sub-sections that melded into one another. Thick with guitars, but with production that flattened everything down to a horrible mud stew. This was the album that we (my family) picked up in WH Smiths' £3 sale after Christmas one year and listened to once or twice before forgetting.

But things have changed!

I couldn't honestly say if the remastering has made all the difference, but these days I find Queen II a far more accessible and pleasurable listening experience.

Procession (Instrumental)
Sinister 'heartbeat' style drumming, then some nice guitar work from Mr May. I like the way the guitar part sort-of echoes 'Father To Son'.

I suppose at the time some listeners might have been baffled by the heavily processed guitar sound. It sounds a bit like a church organ, but there's a different quality to it, rougher and more electronic. We're so familiar with it now, because it's the sound that defines Brian's guitar playing.

Father to Son
"A word in your ear, from Father to Son"
Great introduction, building up to a hard and heavy rocker. This song is pretty consistent within itself and has a couple of easily memorable repetitions. This means that 'Father To Son' is more likely to stick in your head than some of the other more varied tracks. As Si said, Queen are really starting to work together.

White Queen (As It Began)
"The White Queen walks and the night grows pale, stars of lovingness in her hair"
This one starts off as a quiet and beguiling piece, there's a couple of places where it erupts into a heavier plodding sound though. There's a brilliant slightly Spanish sounding guitar solo around 3 minutes in.

The song as a whole sounds regal and melancholic. It's rather beautiful. There's that cinematic extreme of emotion that's implied in the music and brought out in the lyrics. This one is almost operatic in it's effect.

Some Day One Day
"You Never heard my song before the music was too loud" says Brian. Is he complaining that his singing gets lost in the mix?
Things calm down a bit with 'Some Day One Day'. I can imagine Freddie filling in on the acoustic guitar for this one. Everything is heavily processed and flanged, which gives the song a drifting, dream-like feel. Unless this was an accidental effect due to too much multi-tracking? I think it would work better played with less effects.

That said, Brian May's guitar work sound is damn fine on this song.

The Loser in the End
"It's not so long since you were young"
Oh Roger!

Although this doesn't seem to quite fit on the album in some ways, it does echo 'Father To Son' in that the lyrics describe a mother-to-son relationship. This is a straight down the line rocker with Roger's punky, Led Zeppelin snarl defining it's sound.

The drumming is naturally superb, but everybody else's contribution seems a little uninspired. It's undoubtedly the weakest song on the album, but it only feels that way because it's out of place. If anyone had the courage, a compilation of all of the songs with a Roger Taylor vocal would make for an interesting stand-alone album!

Black Side
Take a five minute break, people!

This is an album of two halves! It was made for vinyl with a perfect divide down the middle. The writing credits show that has been by either May or Taylor. Now we get a rub-a-dub of Freddie...

Ogre Battle
"The ogre-men are still inside the two-way mirror mountain"
Oh no! Something is wrong, is my record player broken?

The Freddie Mercury side arrives without compromise. That reversed-music sound at the start is a great big slap in the face to the listener, saying that Queen are in town and they're going to rock hard. The tempo of Ogre Battle is ludicrously fast and doesn't let up.

It's perfect for a song about giant monsters throwing rocks and trees at each other. The tone is apocalyptic and fantastical. Brilliant stuff! I particularly love the 'Ah-ah-ah-ah-AHHHHH!'s!!

The Fairy Feller's Master-Stroke
"Taterdemallion and a Junketer"
And then things get even better! The lyrics to 'Fairy Feller's' are almost totally indecipherable without recourse to the inlay sleeve.

There's so much going on in this song, it's hard to believe that it's only 2.40 long. There's a sense that they've got to try to pack in as much as possible goddamit before the time limit runs out! There's a huge amount of urgency and attack in the way that the harpsichord is attacked from the intro onwards.

It's a great reflection of the painting by Richard Dadd, dense, over-populated and utterly bewitching.

What a ponce. 9/10

"Now I haven't anything to grow"
This might be the first Queen song without any rock elements at all. In a way it's another precursor to Bohemian Rhapsody here, as Queen discover they can do a beautiful piano/vocal ballad, underlined by Brian May's guitar and the choral harmonies of the group.

A great song of love and life lost; one of my absolute favourites from this era. 10/10

The March of the Black Queen
"Put them in the cellar with the naughty boys, A little N****r sugar then a rub-a-dub-a baby oil"
If Nevermore was a little under-developed this song gets everything and the castle kitchen sinks thrown in. Fie-fo the Black Queen!

Seriously, this song might be the most perverse and mental thing that Queen have ever produced. The only reason it gets overlooked is because it's on dense old Queen II. It seems a shame to keep going on about Bohemian Rhapsody, but it's all here, this is the genesis point of the ideas that would drive Queen to the top of the charts. It even has virtually the same 'slowing down' ending at 5.50, yet here it's a trick! There's still another 30 seconds to cram in!

Everything is turned up a bit for this song, the guitar solos are a bit more memorable, there's a great 'slow and sweet' passage in the middle and the nonsensical lyrics are trying harder and boiling away at a lick that makes them impossible to understand.

9/10 (when you're in the right mood!)

Funny How Love Is
"Funny how love is coming home in time for tea!"
I also love this one. There's a great shuffling beat and a hypnotic drone in the harmonies, giving it a washed-out feel that drives the song forward. The constant changes upwards in pitch also show off Freddie's remarkable vocal range.

The only down side is that it's a build-up song that doesn't quite go anywhere. Everything goes up, and up, and up, then it fades out. Yet the use of repetition means that this is another song that is more likely to stick with you from the album.

Seven Seas of Rhye
"Oh I do like to be beside the sea side"
When I didn't like 'Queen' and 'Queen II' so much, I always looked at 'Seven Seas of Rhye' as your reward for finishing each album. 'Queen' wasn't that hard to get through, so you only got a short instrumental version. 'Queen II' was a real slog, so to thank you for your efforts you got the full single version that you knew from 'Greatest Hits'.

The piano playing is more assured this time round. There's no fumbles! The musicianship on display here is astonishing, frankly. Everything is so fast, yet nailed down perfectly to the beat.

There's so much that I love about this song, but I'd just like to pick out the line where Freddie says 'I challenged the might Titan and his Troubadours' and Brian May chips in a little 'fanfare' on his guitar. The fanfare slips right into the rhythm of the song, yet accentuates and compliments the lyrics perfectly.

The lyrics are great too! 'Be gone with you, you shod and shady senators' and 'Can you hear me you peers and privy counsellors?' show some lovely alliteration. Plus they roll off the tongue in such a satisfying way AND they use strange and archaic language that you wouldn't get anywhere else in pop music!

Just astounding.

Bonus Tracks
See What a Fool I've Been (BBC Session July 1973) [Remix 2011]
Queen do an American bluesy-rock number, singing about Georgia and Greyhound buses! Perhaps they'd just been on tour? Still, it shows how versatile the band were. There's even a hint of gospel in this one.

White Queen (As It Began) [Live at Hammersmith Odeon, December 1975]
"Ok Darlings, this is a little... a delicate little number called White Queen."
For those of you who thought that the Queen II sound could only be achieved through use of extensive over-dubbing, here's White Queen sounding more-or-less exactly the same live. How the f*** did they do it?!
This is probably actually better than the album version, Brian gives a better guitar solo and the piano playing is much more to the fore. It sounds a bit like Pink Floyd.

Seven Seas of Rhye (Instrumental Mix)
Oh, this is MAGNIFICENT! Seven Seas of Rhye without the 'Seaside' outro and no vocals. One of my favourite thing about the re-issues has been the instrumental versions of well-known songs and this is one of the absolute best.

Nevermore (BBC Session, April 1974)
Same as the album version, but sounding a little more 'complete' on it's own.

See What a Fool I've Been (B-Side Version February 1974)
Er... see above. Except... the American howl is binned... and it features Freddie's campest ever vocals. 'Oh you naughty thing you', 'he just kept on barking, the vicious thing' and 'See you later sailor boy' get added to the mix, along with a high-pitched 'Now hit it. Like That.' If he'd been signing like this all the time, I think people might have twigged a bit earlier! Brilliant and hilarious.

Now I've given a lot of high marks in these reviews so far. But rest assured, there are some 1's and 2's to come. Maybe even on Sheer Heart Attack!
Current Location: At the Ogre Battle
Current Mood: Fairy Feller!
Current Music: Queen II
Rob McCow
19 April 2012 @ 10:30 pm

Queen! Where did this album come from? There's a lot of influences clearly, but I think at this point Queen most wanted to be Led Zeppelin. The hard rock combined with fairytale/religious imagery is very similar in my opinion. There's a few progressive metal bands similar to Queen at this point; yet I still think Queen have something about them even on their first album that lifts them up above the crowd.

Obviously, that something is most likely Freddie. His voice is magnificent, self-assured, powerful and capable of a wide range of styles. That's not to belittle the other musicians in the group, all of whom are hard at work on this album.

The main complaint overall would be that there's too much going on all the time. They seem totally addicted to overdubbing and adding in extra lines of guitars, on top of a three-part vocal harmony, on top of manic drumming, on top of an excited bass-line... then Freddie comes in like the Queen of The Valkyries, screaming down to perch onto a five-hundred-mile high ornate and gothic wedding cake made of equal parts metal, jazz and prog Rock.
Queen! Where did this album come from? There's a lot of influences clearly, but I think at this point Queen most wanted to be Led Zeppelin. The hard rock combined with fairytale/religious imagery is very similar in my opinion. There's a few progressive metal bands similar to Queen at this point; yet I still think Queen have something about them even on their first album that lifts them up above the crowd.

Obviously, that something is most likely Freddie. His voice is magnificent, self-assured, powerful and capable of a wide range of styles. That's not to belittle the other musicians in the group, all of whom are hard at work on this album.

The main complaint overall would be that there's too much going on all the time. They seem totally addicted to overdubbing and adding in extra lines of guitars, on top of a three-part vocal harmony, on top of manic drumming, on top of an excited bass-line... then Freddie comes in like the Queen of The Valkyries, screaming down to perch onto a five-hundred-mile high ornate and gothic wedding cake made of equal parts metal, jazz and prog Rock.

Anyway, let's get rocking.

Keep Yourself Alive
I adore this track. Of all the songs on the first two Queen albums, this is the only I feel should have been on the Greatest Hits, aside from Seven Seas of Rhye. I love the chugging guitar line that introduces the song and runs all the way through.

There's a huge driving energy and a comparative freshness to the track. Although it's as thick and as heavy as the other songs on the album, it feels far more 'pop' friendly with an easily accessible melody line and instant chorus. 8/10

Doing Alright
Lovely, lovely piano intro. I particularly like the acoustic-ey bridge into the hard-rock section. Queen would eventually work out how to marry hard and soft rock, but they don't quite manage it here, as others have observed. Yet on it's own the guitar break is pretty damn fine.

I love the harmony work on this one. 8/10

Great King Rat
Here comes the pomp here comes the pomp! This is by far and away the silliest song on the first album (They would top it on Queen II - oh yes!). It's got a fair old gallop to it, rather appropriate to a song about a famous gangster and sexual deviant. At least, that's what I reckon it's about.

I've always had difficulty telling where one track ended and another started on this album. No wonder, there's an extra song in the middle of Great King Rat which is completely different! 6/10

My Fairy King
Yes, they are a poncey Led Zeppelin. Freddie's vocals drift from speaker to speaker in an extended piece of sonic engineering.

Queen are clearly a very intellectual band and songs like this are built from ideas by obscure poets and many different musical styles. 4/10

This one is brilliant (LIAR!) Another heavy, heavy track, but one that stood out for me when I first heard the album. There's the religious persecution element to the lyrics, which would later come back to such good effect in Bohemian Rhapsody. I like to imagine it's the same guys shouting 'LIAR!' that would later shout 'WILL NOT LET YOU GO!'

...And in fact, it is indeed still Brian and Roger. 6/10

The Night Comes Down
Bonkers and overcomplicated intro and outro, but the bit in the middle is really good. Bluesy and beguiling. Checking the Wikipedia entry, I see this is a Brian May composition. On reflection, that really shows in the tone of the song. It has that picturesque feel to it. 5/10

Modern Times Rock'n'Roll
No, I don't like this one much at all. Sorry Roger, but Freddie sings much better than you. Even though you sing pretty well. This one sets the trend for the Ringo-inspired 'One Song Sung By The Drummer Per Album' tradition. I've always found Roger's lyrics to be facile and fake too, as though he's trying too hard to be cool.

This song seems about seven minutes longer than it's 1.48 runtime. 2/10

Son And Daughter
I! WANT! YOU! To be a woman? Even on the remasters, this one seems incredibly murky and hard work. Freddie's vocal line is particularly distorted. 4/10

I like this one! Again, it's got an accessible chorus. It puts me in mind of a great procession of Prog Rock musicians heading down to Bethlehem bearing gifts of minor ninths, a wall of feedback and 9/16 time.

The huge, noodley guitar solo is a bit of an albatross, even more so here for not being in keeping with the rest of the track in any way. 6/10

Seven Seas Of Rhye...
Yeah, we're not quite there yet. Even the piano playing is uneven and slower than on the 'finished' version. It's still good though! 7/10

What's that? Bonus tracks? Well, I suppose I could...

"Keep Yourself Alive (De Lane Lea Demo, December 1971)"
"The Night Comes Down (De Lane Lea Demo, December 1971)"
"Great King Rat (De Lane Lea Demo, December 1971)"
"Jesus (De Lane Lea Demo, December 1971)"
"Liar (De Lane Lea Demo, December 1971)"

I'm sure these are 'of interest'; however they don't sound substantially different from the final versions to me. Like most demos, they're just not quite as good.

"Mad the Swine (June 1972)"
"Been here before, a long time ago - but this time I wear no sandals."
This is actually a really pleasant track! It doesn't have the HARD ROCK elements of anything else on 'Queen', it just comes in, does it's business and leaves. Sadly, it's none too exciting either. But there's a lot to be said for just having a nice song.

So - closing thoughts.

It's not a strong album and it's fairly hard work. There are elements that work fantastically well and some songs that are very exciting, but the band are working far too hard to show how musically literate and talented they are. It's a far cry from the 80's albums where Brian May would phone in a single, five-second guitar solo as his only contribution to each song...

Things would 'move forward' for Queen II. But would anyone survive?!
Current Location: Seven Seas of Rhye
Current Mood: Dirty old man?
Current Music: Queen - Queen