No doubt Queen were one of the most diverse bands to ever walk on this Earth. But this can play both as a blessing and as a curse: on one hand, jumping from genre to genre, from mood to mood and from idea to idea is definitely an entertaining path. Just when you thought you had them figured out, boom, they’re in another zone that they’d never been in before. All this is approached with musical inventiveness of course – the memorability of the melodies and the tightness of the instrumental background are in most cases present when you get down to the heart of their compositions. But on the other hand, as great as it is to always be kept on your toes with each new song, the resulting albums can be quite messy. There is no consistency to speak of when it comes to Queen, even more, there is no coherence and no feeling that the band actually has a damn clue of what direction they’re heading in.
The band’s 70s albums are the best ones to get that feeling and 1977’s News of the World may be the most representative for Queen’s laissez-faire approach: it accentuates both the good and bad faces of the same coin. From stadium rock to punk, from piano ballads to blues and from jazz to flamenco strumming, it’s all here, packed in this 40-minute album.
Only two of these songs ever really attained the classic status, which in the case of Queen means that everybody from your grandma to a new-born baby will know how they go. What’s interesting though is that within the context of the album, We Will Rock You feels more like an intro, a mere sound-check to see if everything’s plugged in before getting into the real songs. And then comes We Are the Champions, the victory anthem to end all victory anthems; surely, its overuse every single time a goddamn sports team wins something is enough to make one forever sick of it, but indulge with me in an exercise. Try hearing it with fresh ears and think about why exactly it became such an anthem. The answer is that this is simply one of those songs that did exactly what it set out to do – if the purpose is to remember the road that led to the victory with its ups and downs, then the buildup within the verses is the perfect representation of that; if then you want to be able to raise your hands in the air and sing along like being on top of the world, then the climactic chorus gives that exact feeling; and if all this time you want to resonate with the message, then the lyrics are just universal.
But underrated gems can be found on News of the World that are just as good. Mercury takes Deacon’s motivational message in Spread Your Wings and takes it to unbelievable extremes – even if you don’t listen to the actual words, his voice will perfectly convey that desire to just get away and break free. Get Down, Make Love is a sex-and-swagger bomb about to explode at any second, while It’s Late ranks among the band’s best multi-part compositions and that should say enough. Ricky Gervais once said that for a song parody to work it first has to be strong musically, and if that’s true then Sheer Heart Attack is just that – it hilariously mocks the punk ideology, but at the same time it’s one damn convincing punk song.
Then we have the rest of the album, which is not terrible or inadequate or anything, but it’s just sort of there. Am I interested in hearing Queen do a straight-up blues number? Sure, at first. But will I ever feel the need to return to Sleeping on the Sidewalk? Not really, think I’ll just turn to my blues collection for that. I mean, it’s cool that the band transitions the angry into the depressed, the hard-rocking into the draggy or the ambitious into the late-night cool-down and does all this so effortlessly within in the same album, but in the end I just can’t bring myself to call News of the World, as a whole, great or essential. This is still Queen though and the classic songs are plenty.
Categories: Album Reviews