While Adele stalks the earth it’s just a matter of time before Queen’s ‘Greatest Hits’ is usurped from the UK sales throne but, until that day, isn’t it right that British record buyers’ tastes are represented by this as-yet unbudgeable regal monolith? Gawd bless you, ma’ams. Still, that’s just the tip of the shuddering iceberg. As for their 15 full studio albums, we’ve taken the cultural temperature, listened to the lot, and put them in some sort of hierarchical structure.
You don’t want to be too mean about a record that takes a skipload of risks, but, um, ‘Hot Space’ doesn’t work. It’s a rock band making a synth-heavy funk album, dumping their trade and failing to get to grips with the new tools. You can actually trace a direct line from ‘Dancer’ to queasy jazz-funk duo Chromeo, while ‘Body Language’ sounds like a dry run for Billy Ocean’s ‘When The Going Gets Tough’. This shouldn’t be happening. Even when they rediscover some rock on ‘Las Palabras De Amor’ it’s like Cliff Richard donning devil horns. But wait! Here’s ‘Under Pressure’.
14‘Made In Heaven’
For a posthumous album cobbled together from ghostly vocals and the input of a past-it band, ‘Made In Heaven’ isn’t too ghastly. Mercury was laying down as much as possible in his final days so the lyrics are heavy with portents and “cool reflection”, but at least it feels real. Not much to the tunes though, apart from a sentimental shiver at Mercury, Taylor and May sharing vocals on ‘Let Me Live.
13‘The Miracle ‘
Queen are coasting now, making a bargain epic of the title track that can’t even be arsed with a proper third movement and ripping off Ray Parker Jr’s ‘Ghostbusters’ on ‘The Invisible Man’ and Don Henley’s ‘The Boys Of Summer’ on ‘Breakthru’. ‘I Want It All’ is boisterous enough but too ordinary for this lot.
It saved every one of us! From what, we’re not certain. Good Queen albums? The ‘Flash Gordon’ soundtrack has a brief though, to bring grandeur to ridiculous sci-fi. ‘In The Space Capsule’ is one of many pin-sharp Vangelis tributes that bring starry-eyed wonder to the melodrama, but the band get the odd exultant release in the foot-on-the-monitor rock-out of ‘Hero’ and of course that amazing title track.
11‘The Game ‘
Heading, brakes off, for ‘Hot Space’, ‘The Game’ dabbles furtively with funk on ‘Dragon Attack’ and then lunges right for it with ‘Another One Bites The Dust’. That kind of thing really shouldn’t be in the vocab of a band like Queen but here they’re fluent. Shame about the rest of the album, all a bit of a drift barring the refrigerated rockabilly cool of ‘Crazy Little Thing Called Love’.
It’s a CD-shaped lump in the throat. Rumours about Mercury’s health were rife – with the great man keeping shtum – but hindsight ladles poignancy all over ‘Innuendo’, from the beautiful ‘These Are The Days Of Our Lives’ that served as a kind of epitaph to Brian May’s ‘The Show Must Go On’, written with Mercury’s struggle in mind. Dispassionately, the rest isn’t astonishing: the title track is another late-period attempt at an epic and ‘Ride The Wild Wind’ rocks about as hard as Prefab Sprout..
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It’s not jazz. As if knackered after scaling the heights of ‘News Of The World’, Queen let the quality control slip and allowed the bland, the dubious and the batshit through. So there’s the limp shrug of ‘If You Can’t Beat Them’, the fun but infra dig ‘Fat Bottomed Girls’ – livened up by May’s audition for Lynyrd Skynyrd – and some polyglot wailing from Freddie on ‘Mustapha’. ‘Don’t Stop Me Now’ bustles irresistibly.
8‘A Kind Of Magic’
Now entirely sure of their place in the 80s rock hierarchy – on the damned throne with a guitar tearing through the troposphere – Queen get their swagger on with ‘One Vision’, but the rest is slightly hamstrung as the soundtrack to immortal deathmatch movie Highlander. So, lots of references to “eternity” and “the prize” and vaguely conceptual stuff like ‘Who Wants To Live Forever’ and the buoyant title track. Freddie finds plenty of space to hare about with his ‘Fender’ mic.
7‘A Day At The Races ‘
It was a bit of a disappointment after ‘A Night At The Opera’. Too soon, maybe? After all, ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’ was still ringing in everyone’s ears. There are treats though: Freddie does intimate on ‘You Take My Breath Away’, ‘Somebody To Love’ is dazzling and cajoling, ‘Long Away’ predicts Teenage Fanclub and ‘Drowse’ invents shoegazing. Yeah, thanks.
Queen turned up without convincing ID, galloping about like Black Sabbath on ‘Keep Yourself Alive’ and boogieing down like a less beery Led Zep on ‘Modern Times Rock’n’Roll’. The salacious prowl of ‘Son And Daughter’ gives a sleazy sign of what’s next though. And right there at the end, a brief rollicking burst of ‘Seven Seas Of Rhye’, an Algonquin knight pointing the way with flashing blade.
5‘The Works ‘
A volte-face in the nick of time saw Queen slink from ‘Hot Space’ disaster to Live Aid glory. ‘The Works’ did the deed, with ‘Radio Ga Ga’ making you feel sentimental about the old wireless even while Mike Read was presenting the Radio 1 breakfast show, and ‘Hammer To Fall’ delivering their most trouser-tightening riff in seven years.
4‘Queen II ‘
The satisfactorily named ‘Queen II’ shows the focus missing from Queen’s debut, except the lens is so gaudy it’s a kaleidoscope. ‘Loser In The End’ sees Roger Taylor keeping a bit of that Led Zeppelin influence with some throaty Plantation, ‘The Fairy-Feller’s Master-Stroke’ is hey-nonny-nonny camp, and ‘Seven Seas Of Rhye’ turns up in full, now a bare-chested tilt at grey rock windmills. Who cares if it’s mad? It’s alive! ‘Father To Son’ is the standout though, riffing hard before a parading chariot of a coda takes it into epic realms, Brian May shredding like a cartoon ninja.
3‘A Night At The Opera ‘
Now we understood what we were dealing with. Or we would have done if we’d ever seen its like before. ‘A Night At The Opera’ is as flash as you’d expect, staging music hall whimsy with ‘Lazing On A Sunday Afternoon’, warm Wurlitzer soul with ‘You’re My Best Friend’, hellbent score-settling with ‘Death On Two Legs (Dedicated To…)’ and waltzing priapic rock with Taylor’s ‘I’m In Love With My Car’. Then it goes and completely subverts your preconceptions of pop with ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’. It’s all very restrained.
2‘Sheer Heart Attack’
From ‘Brighton Rock’ on, ‘Sheer Heart Attack’ is immediately slimmer and itchier than Queen’s first two albums. Still ludicrous of course – they had an identity to forge – but poised for uncharted, er, chart climes. Look at ‘Killer Queen’, so perfect in length, shape and vamping girth, or ‘Now I’m Here’ with a years-ahead new wave judder and pustules of guitar bursting through. ‘In The Lap Of The Gods’ is a pocket-sized epic, delivering dire warnings of future (brilliant) excess, and as for ‘She Makes Me (Stormtrooper In Stilettos)’ – have Roger Taylor’s snares ever sounded so splashy?
1‘News Of The World’
Breaking America by this point, Queen chant away their progressive demons with ‘We Will Rock You’ then follow it with that hardy old staple ‘We Are The Champions’. Was Mercury thinking about aspirational TV sports montages when he wrote it? Whatever, both tracks seem almost too big for a mere album, but ‘News Of The World’ maintains the scale with the heads-down cardiac punk of ‘Sheer Heart Attack’ and ‘Fight From The Inside’’s crotch rock meets da funk. Always suckers for vaudevillian filler, Queen curb their flabbier instincts here and even get away with the dirty grinding ‘Get Down, Make Love’. Their sharpest, surest set.