Thursday, 26 December 2019

Queen - The Second Phase (1980-1991)



Albums covered here are:-

The Game (1980)
Hot Space (1982)
The Works (1984)
A Kind Of Magic (1986)
The Miracle (1989)
Innuendo (1991)
and Bohemian Rhapsody: The Soundtrack (2018)

Scroll down to read the reviews chronologically.

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THE GAME (1980)

1. Play The Game
2. Dragon Attack
3. Another One Bites The Dust
4. Need Your Loving Tonight
5. Crazy Little Thing Called Love
6. Rock It (Prime Jive)
7. Don't Try Suicide
8. Sail Away Sweet Sister
9. Coming Soon
10. Save Me      

Despite the presence of two excellent Queen experiments in funk rock in the superb, innovative hit single Another One Bites The Dust and the equally impressive Dragon Attack, and two mid 70s throwback big Queen rock ballads in Play The Game and Save Me, this album really is a low point in Queen’s career.

Released at the height of punk/new wave, apart from catching on to the disco/funk thing and diversifying a little, Queen really looked thoroughly out of place by now, despite an image change that saw Freddie Mercury cutting his hair, growing a big moustache and the band donning leather jackets and trying to look “hard”, as opposed to wearing flouncy blouses and singing about fairies and white queens. The music media at the time largely slated it, and rightly so, I'm afraid. 

                                      
Only the excellent funk tracks really showed any credibility, to be honest. The big production rock just seemed like something from 1974-75 that should be left there. Play The Game would have taken the charts apart in 1974. Not now. People were listening to new wave, ska and post punk.

Crazy Little Thing Called Love was a huge hit, mind you, a fifties throwback that caught on with many non-Queen listeners. Not for me. I hated it then and I hate it now.

Tracks like Need Your Love TonightRock It (Prime Jive) and the totally execrable candidate for the unenviable title of “Queen’s worst song ever”, Don't Try Suicide offer nothing whatsoever. 

This was an anachronism of an album. Even the cover is uninspiring and seems cheaply done. 
The next album would be similarly dull and questionable in quality/credibility. Sorry. I don't like writing negative reviews, but sometimes albums have to be measured up against a band's other, far superior, works.

Brian May has since offered an insight into the band's thinking when recording the album -

"....Yeah, that was when we started trying to get outside what was normal for us. Plus we had a new engineer in Mack and a new environment in Munich. Everything was different. We turned our whole studio technique around in a sense, because Mack had come from a different background from us. We thought there was only one way of doing things, like doing a backing tracks: We would just do it until we got it right. If there were some bits where it speeded up or slowed down, then we would do it again until it was right. We had done some of our old backing tracks so many times, they were too stiff. Mack's first contribution was to say, "Well you don't have to do that. I can drop the whole thing in. If it breaks down after half a minute, then we can edit in and carry on if you just play along with the tempo". We laughed and said "Don't be silly. You can't do that". But in fact, you can. What you gain is the freshness, because often a lot of the backing tracks is first time though. It really helped a lot. There was less guitar on that album, but that's really not going to be the same forever; that was just an experiment....."

Ok, Brian, I get all that, but unfortunately it doesn't make it a better album. It sounds far more tired than fresh to me.

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HOT SPACE (1982)

1. Staying Power
2. Dancer
3. Back Chat
4. Body Language
5. Action This Day
6. Put Out The Fire
7. Life Is Real
8. Calling All Girls
9. Las Palabras De Amor (Words Of Love)
10. Cool Cat
11. Under Pressure            
 
Released in 1982, before Queen’s “second coming” in 1984, Hot Space was a strange album. As Freddie Mercury told his audiences in live performances around 1981, the band were “experimenting with some black, funk stuff whatever you call it darlings..”. It was clumsy statement and indeed, this was a clumsy album. 

Everyone had to dabble in disco/funk it seemed - The Rolling Stones, Elton John, David Bowie, ABBA, Rod Stewart - many had already tried it. Queen, in fact, were very late in getting around to it. 

The band that once proudly trumpeted the fact that nobody played synthesiser on their early albums now released an album absolutely awash with them. It all sounded a bit incongruous, however, not convincing either as funk or as disco. Some people loved it, however, notably Michael Jackson, who claimed it had a big influence on his creating the Thriller album.

                                      
Queen were most definitely “old hat” in 1982. Punk had been and gone, and New Wave. Two Tone had peaked and New Romanticism was all the rage. What better, then to win people back than to produce an album of cod white funk? Tracks like Staying PowerBack ChatBody Language and Dancer are all tolerable enough but they are not the real thing, neither are they anywhere near as good as Queen’s previous funk outings - Another One Bites The Dust and Dragon Attack, for example. The old “side one” of this sort of thing is ok though and I suppose kudos must be given to them for trying to diversify. They gave it a go. It just didn’t really work, sadly. In an age nowadays when everyone is looking back retrospectively at Queen's career, very few are ever going to pick any of this material out to go on any compilations or playlists. It didn't fit in, culturally, in 1982 and it doesn't now either. The essence of Queen is certainly not to be found anywhere here.

“Side two” sees things go even more awry. Calling All Girls is positively awful. Hold on, was that a Roger Taylor song? Well, there you go. The song about John LennonLife Is Real, was well meant enough, obviously, and it even sounds remarkably like it could have come from Mind Games but it just doesn't quite come off. 

Las Palabras De Amor is a big production number in a style that harks back to their mid-seventies pomp, however in 1982 it just sounded dated. I remember hearing it at the time and recalling my Queen fan days of 1975-76 and quite liking it, but at the same time realising how dated it was.

Cool Cat is an interesting curio. It doesn’t sound remotely like either Queen or Mercury. Actually, if you listen to this and try to forget it is Queen, it becomes more enjoyable. For me, it is the best track on the album, oddly. The subsequent releases of the album have included the collaboration with David BowieUnder Pressure, which was an enormous hit, of course. It sits somewhat uncomfortably with the rest of the album. It's great, as we all know, but doesn't really seem part of the album. 

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THE WORKS (1984)

1. Radio Ga Ga
2. Tear It Up
3. It's A Hard Life
4. Man On The Prowl
5. Machines (Or Back To Humans)
6. I Want To Break Free
7. Keep Passing The Open Windows
8. Hammer To Fall
9. Is This The World We Created    

After two decidedly below-par albums in 1980's The Game and 1982's Hot Space, Queen hit back, hard. Recording in the USA for the first time, the revisited their rock roots but managed to merge it with contemporary radio-friedly "pop"/dance sounds. It was 1984, so the airwaves and recording studios were awash with synthesisers and programmed synth drums. Why, even The Rolling Stones were at it. Where Queen dismally failed on Hot Space, they got it just right on this impressive album.

Music media reaction was much more positive than it had been for Hot Space and Queen's renaissance, that would end with their being "national treasures", began right here. For many fans, this was their first experience of Queen. Their fandom dates back to here, really. After all, it had been nine years since Bohemian Rhapsody. People who were ten then were now nineteen.

               
After some distinctly ropey songs, Roger Taylor came up with one of his finest compositions for Queen - the synth riff and synchronised handclap dominated perfect pop single, Radio Ga Ga, which melodically railed against the old enemy - the radio. Elvis Costello and The Clash had done so in the new wave years too. Tear It Up was a Brian May-inspired slab of convincing hard rock, with May himself on vocals, while It's A Hard Life was a classic Mercury rock ballad with an addictive hook, as always. Mercury returned to his beloved rockabilly for the upbeat, toe-tapping Man On The Prowl and Machines (Or Back To Humans) was a successful attempt at experimental sounds mixed with some genuine funk. They finally got it right on this strangely appealing effort. Some great Brian May guitar at the end of it.

I Want To Break Free was one of bassist John Deacon's best ever Queen songs. Assisted by a now iconic video featuring the band members in full drag and doing the hoovering and ironing, it is perfect in every way. Another excellent guitar solo and an impressive Mercury vocal. The melodic, harmonious rock of Mercury's Keep Passing The Open Windows is a forgotten but underrated track. Listening to it now I hear things in it I had completely forgotten about. It is not bad at all.

Now, thank the Lord above - Queen in their purest rock form, my favourite persona of the band, are back, and how! A powerful Brian May riff introduces the tour de force of rock that is Hammer To Fall. Mercury's vocal is peerless and a year later the band would storm Live Aid with this. Queen at their very best, in my view. I can never get enough of the song.

Finally, the album ends with Mercury and May's beautifully sad ballad concerning the contemporary news of poverty and starvation in Africa, Is This The World We Created, sung as an encore in their Live Aid set.

A more than convincing album after around seven years of patchy material. Queen phase two now truly begins.

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A KIND OF MAGIC (1986)

1. One Vision
2. A Kind Of Magic
3. One Year Of Love
4. Pain Is Close To Pleasure
5. Friends Will Be Friends
6. Who Wants To Live Forever
7. Gimme The Prize
8. Don't Lose Your Head
9. Princes Of The Universe   
 
After Queen's renaissance with 1984's The Works and the triumphant show-stopping Live Aid performance, they were hip again and seemingly could do no wrong. Maybe they got a bit lazy, because this is a typically mid-eighties, patchy album. There is some classic material on this album, don't get me wrong, but there is some questionable stuff too. The sound quality throughout is outstanding on the latest remastering, however.
                
Let's be positive and talk about the good ones. One Vision is simply one of my favourite riffy Queen rockers of all time. When Brian May launches into it - wow. The stadium-friendly groove of A Kind Of Magic is pretty impossible to dislike, as is the anthemic, grandiose and powerful Friends Will Be Friends. The latter is the track that harks back to Queen's late seventies material more than any on the album. The plaintive Who Wants To Live Forever is heartbreakingly moving, of course, and would prove to be even more so five years later.

  

Now on to the less wonderful material. John Deacon's One Year Of Love is not a funk-rock outing, but an eighties-era Elton John-style ballad, redeemed by Mercury's vocal and a deep, resonating bass beat. It also has a late-night, easy-listening saxophone solo. Alright in that type of song, but is this Queen? Surely not! Look, it is pleasant enough, but you have to say Queen had become very middle-of-the-road with material like this. Pain Is Close To Pleasure is a slice of AOR eighties slick disco, that sounds like something Diana Ross may have put out around this time. How fans who had been into Queen since the start, like myself, could tolerate tosh like this is difficult to understand. The excellent sound quality detracts from what is a pretty awful track.

Gimme The Prize (Kurgan's Theme), one of several tracks from the soundtrack of the film Highlander, gets things back on track with an excellent, muscular, thumping rocker full of chunky guitar, a classic Brian May solo, samples from the film and a powerful Mercury vocal. Don't Lose Your Head is an unremarkable synth-rock number from Roger Taylor. Mercury's vocals are typically strong, but the song is similar to the worst ones on Hot Space. Again, what Queen fans see in this is beyond me. Princes Of The Universe is a bit clich├ęd lyrically, and musically, with its big clunky heavy riffs, but its ok. It has a quick snatch of Brighton Rock-style guitar at one point, though.

This is not a Queen album I revisit too often. I have to say, though, that listening to it now I have quite enjoyed it, but it certainly is no classic.

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THE MIRACLE (1989)

1. Party
2. Khashoggi's Ship
3. The Miracle
4. I Want It All
5. The Invisible Man
6. Breakthru
7. Rain Must Fall
8. Scandal
9. My Baby Does Me
10. Was It All Worth It               
 
This was Queen's first album for three years and, although it stands as an example of the band's mid-late eighties material and has the faults that era inevitably brought with it, I actually quite like it (and I am firmly a seventies Queen man).
                 
Roger Taylor blatantly steals the drum intro from Smokey Robinson & The Miracles Going To A Go-Go for the lively, rocking Party. The track is vibrant and fun, full of great guitar, despite some of the synth-y backing at times. It segues straight into Khashoggi's Ship with a supremely heavy riff. This is an underrated Queen rocker. This is Queen rocking as they always should do.

  

Now begins a run of four great hit singles in a row, the heart of this album - the melodic, Mercury vocal-dominated, inventive and grandiose The Miracle that also features some typical Brian May guitar; the heavy stadium singalong anthem of I Want It AllThe Invisible Man which is a stonking slab of Queen rock, with all four members name-checked. Despite its dance-ish rhythm it is infectious and rocks seriously at times; Breakthru is a breathless romp when it eventually kicks in. It is another piece of dance/rock fusion and it works superbly. I love all these tracks.


The quality fades somewhat now, however. Rain Must Fall is a lightweight, limp Deacon/Mercury collaboration. All very pleasant, but pretty unmemorable, really. Nice guitar solo in the middle though. Despite the programmed rhythms on a lot of this album's material, they still manage to fit in some pounding drums and killer Brian May guitar throughout, which is good. Scandal has a huge synth riff and an infectious vocal and feel, which again integrates some searing guitar in places. My Baby Does Me has a superb, muscular bass line and a great funk feel and quality vocal from Mercury. I love the ambience on this one. Was It All Worth It is a powerful, riffy and heavy look back at the band's beginnings. It is an underrated , marvellously inventive track that samples a classical piece in its riff, but I can't think which one it is (something Russian).

Despite my misgivings of some of Queen's Hot Space material, I feel this album has quite a good, appealing mix. Accepting that Queen had changed somewhat in the eighties, I have to say that as eighties albums go, it isn't a bad one. It is my favourite of their albums from that period.

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INNUENDO (1991)

1. Innuendo
2. I'm Going Slightly Mad
3. Headlong
4. I Can't Live With You
5. Don't Try So Hard
6. Ride The Wild Wind
7. All God's People
8. These Are The Days Of Our Lives
9. Delilah
10. The Hitman
11. Bijou
12. The Show Must Go On             
 
Queen's last album released while the great Freddie Mercury walked the earth, was a solid affair, with  many echoes of their heavy-ish rock albums of the mid-seventies.
         
Innuendo is a lengthy, inventive, almost "prog-rock" in places number, with some excellent heavy bits plus a flamenco guitar part played by Yes's Steve Howe. There are also some bombastic, operatic parts. It is a song that changes mood and vibe many times throughout its nearly seven minutes. It is a superb piece of work, one of the band's last true classics. I'm Going Slightly Mad is an intoxicating, atmospheric Mercury song. It is a camp-ish, rather amusing typical Mercury ditty. Given the circumstances of the time, though, it always sounds very poignant to me. It has some excellent Brian May guitar in it, too. Headlong is, as its title suggests, a breathless number. It is one May had written for himself but, upon hearing Mercury sing it, decided it was better as a Queen song.  It is one of their finest later-era rockers. The same applies to May's I Can't Live With You, another catchy, riffy rocker. It appears in a more guitar-dominated format on the Queen Rocks compilation.

Don't Try So Hard is a Mercury piano and vocal ballad, plaintive and melodic. Ride The Wild Wind is one of Roger Taylor's better compositions - an upbeat, rhythmic number with some great guitar underpinning it. All God's People is a laid-back and melodic Mercury number that is ok but doesn't stick in the mind too much. Unlike the evocative, beautiful Mercury swansong, These Are The Days Of Our Lives. The video was heartbreaking. Even now I get sad listening to it. "I still love you" whispers Freddie at the end. Likewise.


A lot of Queen fans pretty much disown Delilah, a quirky song Freddie wrote about one of his cats. As a cat-lover myself, I have always related to it. Fans will be delighted to hear Hitman next, though, with is powerful chunky riffs. There is a copper-bottomed May guitar solo on it too. Bijou begins with some excellent guitar then Mercury sings a floaty verse before it ends with more sumptuous guitar. It is really a track that is all about Brian May's guitar parts.

The Show Must Go On is a bombastic stadium-pleaser to end the album. It has actually never been one of my favourites, although I can understand its appeal. Overall, this album has a bit of a feel of the posthumous Made In Heaven about it. Apparently a lot of it was recorded in different bits and then put together, largely due to Mercury's ever-declining health. as good as it is in places, you can sort of tell. As a fulfilled album, I prefer The Miracle.

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BOHEMIAN RHAPSODY: THE SOUNDTRACK (2018)

 

The thing with groups like Queen is that their legacy is so damn good, there will always be multifarious ways of recycling it and long-time fans, like myself and many others, will still enjoy bits of it. However, this exercise seems pretty superfluous to me, musically. Obviously it functions as a movie sountrack, but as regards the musical content, it is a bit here and there, for me. I have all the tracks, and all the live ones apart from the Live Aid ones, so it is those I am interested in, and in the studio tracks which have received some re-tweaking.

So I won’t particularly go through the album track by track, but pick out those tracks which are of interest to me.

 

At the beginning, it is nice to hear the Twentieth Century Fox Theme with a bit of added Queen guitar. The majestic Somebody To Love, though, seems to be the same to me. The studio tracks are the Bob Ludwig 2011 remasters, which all sound superb, anyway. They are the definitive ones, no need for any further messing around with.


Now, Doing All Right is a song from Queen that I have always liked and I was interested to hear the new remix of it. It is great to hear Tim Staffell “rejoin” on vocals and the new mix has even more of a trippy, dreamy folk-rock feel but thankfully it has kept the heavy guitar and drum part from the middle in it, which sounds sumptuously powerful. I am a “heavy” Queen fan as opposed to a “whimsical” one, as my reviews of all the individual albums state ad nauseam.

The Keep Yourself Alive live recording I already have, but it still good to hear it in isolation. The sound quality and muscularity is excellent. Great bass on it, and drums too. Killer Queen as presented here, has a few additional Brian May guitar bits stapled on rather pointlessly, in my opinion (maybe, although listening to it again, I'm not sure there are any changes) Anyway, I don’t subscribe to the view that May’s tinkering is some insult to Mercury’s memory, however, any more than the remixing of Doing All Right is. On this occasion, I simply don’t think there was any particular need for it.

It is good to have a thumping rocking live version of the lyrically-preposterous Fat Bottomed Girls, as the studio version has always come up short, for me, due to its odd verse/chorus sound imbalances.

We Will Rock You (Movie Mix) is a mix of studio and live versions of the song, which, personally, I can’t really see the point of. Either have it as a studio version or a live one.


Now, the Live Aid material. Because We Will Rock You and Crazy Little Thing Called Love are included in other versions they are not included, which is a shame, as I would have liked the whole performance. It is great to hear the crowd’s cheer as they launch into Radio Ga Ga. Such memories of watching it on the day and my pleasure at seeing my old seventies favourites giving it some. Until that point I had been a bit underwhelmed. After sitting through Nik Kershaw, Paul Young and Howard Jones can you blame me? That Hammer To Fall riff changed all that. What is the quote? Oh yes - “sheer bloody poetry”. Freddie strutting around during this stole the show.

The remixed version of  Don't Stop Me Now was included previously on the remaster of Jazz. It is beautifully heavy. Love it.

All in all, I am not quite sure of the point of this, other than its purpose as a soundtrack. “Greatest Hits” type customers will want the actual greatest hits. I guess this is just of interest to completists, to be honest. I have to say that the sound quality throughout the whole album is absolutely top notch.

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