Queen Album Reviews
Bassist and vocalist Tim Staffell quit trio Smile, but not before introducing his flatmate Freddie Bulsara to the band, joining astronomy student and guitarist Brian May and dentistry student and drummer Roger Taylor. After a lengthy audition process, electronics student John Deacon was hired on bass, forming the Queen lineup that would endure until Bulsara, who adapted the stage name Freddie Mercury, passed away from AIDS in 1991. Rather than touring, the group retreated into the studio for a year to hone their distinctive sound, with intricate multi-tracked backing vocals, May’s guitar leads (he created his guitar tone by using a 10 watt amp for recording) and Mercury’s dynamic presence as front man. While the group’s style didn’t evolve too much over the years, apart from to remain in step with prevailing trends, they always presented a fair bit of diversity; of the two dominant writers, Mercury tended towards show tunes and May tended towards hard rock, while Deacon and Taylor had less distinctive styles and wrote in more of a pop/rock vein.
This democratic approach to writing meant that the group’s albums tended to be incoherent; most of the time it feels like Queen write lyrics to have something to put music to, rather than communicating anything particularly heartfelt or profound. Because of the range of writers, lyrical subjects and styles, none of their albums hang together perfectly.
But that’s the negative side; the writers all had a good sense of melody and a distinctive palette of sounds to work with, and their albums almost always have a handful of really good songs – few other groups with a twenty year tenure have such an even distribution of radio hits throughout their discography, as radio listeners are just as likely to be acquainted with ‘Killer Queen’ from 1974 or ‘Bicycle Race’ from 1978 as they are with ‘A Kind of Magic’ from 1986 or ‘The Show Must Go On’ from 1991. And their albums strike a nice balance between innovation and accessibility; even though some of their material could be categorised as progressive rock or metal, they’re not difficult for casual music listeners to grasp.
Queen also have a ton of talent at their disposal – you could build a strong argument that Freddie Mercury is the greatest singer of his generation, with a huge range. Brian May’s a distinctive virtuoso guitarist, and John Deacon is a very solid bass player. Drummer Roger Taylor’s arguably the weakest link as a musician, but he’s still a key member with his high harmonies an important part of the ensemble sound.
In terms of albums, their strongest era was 1974 and 1975, where they released three terrific albums consecutively – Queen II, Sheer Heart Attack, and A Night At The Opera. After that, they became a little less intricate and less interesting in terms of their albums, and Mercury, whose writing anchored their great early records, became less consistent as a songwriter. But they still have some terrific tracks scattered on their later records, and as late as 1991 Innuendo has some of their best ever songs.
Ten Favourite Queen Songs
The Show Must Go On
Somebody To Love
White Queen (As It Began)
The March of the Black Queen
Fat Bottomed Girls
Fight From The Inside
Another One Bites The Dust