Friday, December 4, 2009

Retrospective: Queen - Queen (1973)

**Because of the awesomeness of the Queen collection (at least the first half of the discography), I'm going to be breaking the band's releases down in manageable segments**

The first release by the band that would eventually define arena-rock, Queen (the album) is straight progressive rock, with hints of Christianity strewn throughout, just a little more accessible then some of Emerson, Lake and Palmer's releases, they keep it in the realm of understandable.
These first few releases (Queen, Queen II) had almost no fanfare, truly very few people even know they exist, especially within my generation, but they are some of the best of the band's releases. The blending of progressive elements and the eventual operatic vocal style and arena-rock that was to come, make for a vividly unique and memorable experience. If given the option, please give these early attempts a try.

1. Keep Yourself Alive - This song truly sets the tone of this record, it is quick, uses multiple harmonies (something the band would become famous for in later releases), and has some bouncy lyrics. You can't help but bob your head and sing along at the top of your voice (even if it's your first listen you will have gotten the lyrics by the end). One of my favorite Queen tracks.

2. Doing All Right - beginning at a slower tempo, "Doing All Right" sound like a love song, or at least a song depicting a man making the best of the situation. One interesting part is a quick, thirty-second break section, where the electric guitar comes in and it sounds like the song is going to take off - only to slow back down to the original tempo, for the last bit of the chorus. Just some of the progressive influences coming out.

3. Great King Rat - Not my favorite song on this album, but still pretty decent. It has a heavy drum feel, working hand-in-hand with Freddie Mercury's voice, some cool guitar parts, and an interesting time signature. Maybe it is just a straight-forward beat, but the combination of the drums and the vocals make it seem to be slightly off, but it works. In the middle of the song the tempo and sound changes considerably (with some references to The Bible and Jesus), to a slowed-down rock song, followed by an acoustic sounding guitar break, and back to the original pace/song. Although not the best, I am really digging the progressive sound of this album, and we're only three tracks in!

4. My Fairy King - Operatic vocals, almost no guitar and drums, mostly piano, "My Fairy King" is a hefty step away from the sound previously heard on this album. Piano is the instrument of focus, with solos and breaks, and duets with Mercury. Another song that isn't one of my favorites, but they all can't be excellent can they?
5. Liar - My favorite song on this album, and one of my favorite songs overall. "Liar" is another song with the heavy influence of religion and Jesus, but who cares? It contains several different tempos, time signatures, styles, lyrical changes, and overall feel throughout the song. This is how progressive rock of the seventies was meant to be, so complex it's simple to follow. I know every word of this song, and sing it loudly whenever possible.

6. The Night Comes Down - Another slower song, in a lighter tone. It seems kind of odd, this back-and-forth between heavy and light throughout the album, but still holding on to the progressive elements throughout. Again, not a song I enjoy too much, not bad, just not on par with the rest of the album

7. Modern Times Rock 'N' Roll - This song is what it says, "Modern Times Rock 'N' Roll." It's quick, has shredding guitar and rebellious lyrics. A straight-forward song, simple to follow and one of the least progressive inclined on the album. You can hear the eventual emergence of such songs as "Friends Will Be Friends," "Sheer Heart Attack," and "Bohemian Rhapsody" very clearly. The most easily accessible song on this record.

8. Son and Daughter - For some reason, beyond my knowledge, I do not currently have this song within my computer collection, even though I uploaded it from a physical CD. I will make attempts to fix this grievous error.

9. Jesus - Obviously a song about Jesus, but it doesn't seem preachy. It's a simple description of the Story of the birth, but told in a semi-rap (before rap, so I guess spoken-word) with a tune, and the chorus coming off as a song sung in church. Other then the fact that the name 'Jesus' is in the chorus, you wouldn't really know it was religiously themed, and the song end up getting really groovy and rocky towards the end. More progressive elements, with the tempo taking off and the lyrics going away completely, being filled with a dueling guitar part and a heavy drums background, then the story comes back once again. Something really unique and unexpected from what is readily known about the band.

10. Seven Seas Of Rhye (Instrumental Version) - Later re-released with lyrics, this version is simply instrumental. At barely over a minute, before the fade out, the song seems to belong to something more, and I'm glad they expanded it on their next release, Queen II.

11. Mad The Swine (Re-Release Only) - A B-side to another single, this song only became available in the 90's, due to the band not liking the recording quality at the time. Another song about religion, the song could do with a bit of a faster pace, but it still works. It sounds like something early Beatles or Beach Boys would release - simple guitar and drums and layered vocals. This song is a blending of the two dominant styles found on this record, and it blends them well. No progressive elements, and not too slow or soft, its an early rock 'n' roll song, a decade late. Still a good listen.

I think this album didn't make it big because of its progressive elements, and it didn't make it in progressive circles because of its slower, lovey songs. It seems that this release can't make up its mind over what to be. But I feel this is a very under-valued album, that if people nowadays would give it a try, it could excel in their minds. While eclectic, it holds a little for everyone - rock and progressive fans will like odd songs, and soft rock/alternative people will enjoy the even ones (it seems to work out that way, although I can't speak for "Sons And Daughter").

Wow a long post, and this is only part one. It's going to take me forever to finish all of their albums, although they will get easier the closer we get to the present, as the songs get more straight-forward and the newer albums fall apart. More is coming!

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