QUEEN: QUEEN (1973)
1. Keep Yourself Alive; 2. Doing All Right; 3. Great King Rat; 4. My Fairy King; 5. Liar; 6. The Night Comes Down; 7. Modern Times Rock and Roll; 8. Son and Daughter; 9. Jesus; 10. Seven Seas of Rhye… [bonus track]: 11. Mad the Swine
Best song: LIAR
I've always been kind of suspicious of people who don't like Queen. I mean, yeah, I'm sure there are plenty of legitimate reasons to hate the band, and I'd be happy for somebody to tell me how much of an idiot I am, but I dunno--a person's opinions on Queen just kind of sum up which side of the music snob line they are for me--can they still mix it with the plebes on occasion, or are they already off in the gilded castle? Have some fun every once in awhile, people! Not that I really care one way or the other, this just seemed like as good a way to introduce the band as any, and warning those looking for some good old-fashioned Queen bashing to turn back now (or sit back and wait for the Hot Space review, whichever is more convenient).
Now, for the vast majority of people who know Queen through classic rock radio and one of the approximately 7,238 compilations available for purchase at your local Wal-Mart (mine was Greatest Hits I and II packaged together), the vast majority of these songs are going to look rather unfamiliar to you, and you're in for a hell of a time once you actually push play! Now, most of the Queen trademarks are already here--Freddie Mercury already sounds like a physical God, Brian May already figured out how to overdub himself 20 times so he can simulate an entire orchestra, John Deacon was already spending most of the time kind of hanging out in the background before occasionally doing something mindblowing, and Roger Taylor's ability to sing and drum simultaneously better than just about anyone is already making me probably overrate his abilities at both. What you may not know, however, is that those bursts of hard rock that Queen occasionally showed on their later mega-hits? Yeah, they started out sounding that way pretty much all the time. Even more interesting to me as that they were also somewhat of a prog-influenced band--quite a few of these songs have like three million different sections for Freddie to show off his vocals and Brian to show off his effects pedals, and the other two to show they can keep up. Like I said, it's still easily recognizable as Queen (unless your Queen experience started with The Game), but it's just a different side of the band than what many are used to. And it's bloody great!
The album's "hit" (it flopped, but later became a fan favorite) is the May-penned opener "Keep Yourself Alive," and right away the Queen mission statement is out in full force--anthemic chorus, inspiring hooks, big guitars. That opening echo-section is just fantastic, and Taylor throws in a cool groovy drum solo around the two-minute mark, and that bridge where Taylor and May both toss out a line is pretty neat. Even better, though, is the album's centerpiece, the six-and-a-half minute "Liar," an absolute monster of a song that has more great melodies and guitar lines that you can shake a stick at. One of the things the band did really well from the get-go was realizing when they had a good idea, but not one that could sustain a whole song, and finding some way to combine a bunch of short ideas into a great song. Mr. John Deacon also makes himself known with a nifty little bass solo, the vocal harmonies are all over the freaking place, and Freddie is Freddie. The guy was simply one of, if not the, greatest frontmen ever, and the mere presence of his vocals can elevate even the very worst Queen songs to somewhat tolerability (OK, maybe not "Body Language"). That's not a swipe at Brian and Roger, by the way, unless we're talking about Queen+Paul Rodgers (or whatever asshole they're doing it with now...Adam Fucking Lambert??? Somebody kill me), in which it's a swipe with extreme prejudice. For now, though, I tend to enjoy their vocal turns just fine, like Taylor's "Modern Times Rock and Roll" here on this album. Sure it's only a buck fifty, and isn't terribly original (that's just one of Roger's shortcomings as a songwriter that you have to either accept or not, I'm personally mostly fine with it), but it's got a good melody. The heaviest number of the album is the magnificent "Son and Daughter." Freddie sounds downright pissed off on this one, spitting out bile-infused lines like "The world expects a man, to buckle down and shovel shit" with aplomb, and of course there's that immortal "I...WANT...YOU...to be woman!" chorus. Ladies and gentlemen, you cannot call yourselves Queen fans and not hear this album.
The rest of the album isn't as heavy as those, but it still has it's moments. "Great King Rat" is almost as multi-sectioned as "Liar" and almost as good, and probably has May's best solo on the album. The lyrics are over-the-top, yeah, but this is frigging Queen we're talking about, what do you expect? Apparently, Freddie had created a fantasy land he called Rhye, and most of the songs he wrote from the first few albums take place there. Whatever, nobody listens to Queen for the fucking lyrics, so who cares? Now, the verses to "My Fairy King" are like the gayest thing I've ever heard in my life, but I really enjoy song. Freddie grabbed his surname from the line "Mother Mercury calls to me," which is pretty cool. The ballad-like "Doing All Right" has another infectious melody, and inexplicably starts to rock out halfway through (the transitions could be smoother, but I like both sections), and apparently earned co-writer Tim Staffel (who was bassist/vocalist with Brian and Roger in pre-Queen band Smile) a decent royalty check. Songwriting's where the money's at, folks.
The rest of the album isn't quite as great. "The Night Comes Down" is another decent ballad, but isn't that interesting, and "Jesus," while I can't really pinpoint what's wrong with it, is pretty much the weakest song on here. And no, I have nothing against religious songs, so that's not the problem. I must say, though, that the unfinished instrumental snippet of "Seven Seas of Rhye" was a rather dumb way to end the album, but most CD reissues rectify this by adding the fantastic b-side "Mad the Swine." Maybe this is why I don't particularly care for "Jesus," because this song does the religious thing so much better. I am completely flummoxed as to why this song got the axe--great bassline under the acoustic verses.
So, maybe it's not what everyone expects from Queen, but that means that even haters should give it a try to see where the band came from. No, it doesn't have all of the radio favorites that later albums would have, but it is a solid hard rock album, and hey, it's nice to hear a different side of a favorite band sometimes, isn't it?