Sunday, July 18, 2010

Freddie Mercury Makes a Bad Decision

I'm fascinated by the moments when acts momentarily lose the plot. Those occasions when desperation, a cocaine habit or just sheer wrong-headedness convince them that it would be a good idea to go off in a new bold, direction. Maybe release an album that could be the soundtrack to a film about a race of people called The Elder that the bass player has just thought up? Or how about a double album of instrumentals about plants? Clear a space on the wall for the platinum disc, Jeeves!

Queen had their wobbly moment in 1982. In a sense it was unexpected; they were following-up an album, The Game, that had got to number one in the UK and US, and had yielded two no. 1 singles in the latter country. One of those was Another One Bites the Dust, and it's tempting to imagine that Freddie Mercury concluded from this that, you know,maybe their fans would love to hear more funk and disco songs.

The result was Hot Space, a dog of an album where half the songs were unsuccessful attempts at sounding like Chic, while the other half were unsuccessful attempts at sounding like Queen. Some of the much-maligned funk stuff isn't that bad: both Staying Power and Body Language have plenty of hooks. It's the rock songs that are the real clunkers: Brian May's Las Palabras De Amor is the wettest thing he ever wrote, while it probably takes longer to listen to Calling All Girls than it took Roger Taylor to write it. The final track is Under Pressure, which was recorded and released a year before the rest of the album and sits there on the track listing like a university student at a family party, aloof and slightly embarrassed.

Yet, Hot Space was an important album for the group because it had a legacy. Queen weren't stupid, and learned their lesson. They came back in 1984 with The Works, which gave them a clutch of hits and some fresh momentum. But it was an unadventurous, by-the-numbers album, and as the 80s progressed, their records got duller and duller. A band once known for being innovative and taking risks settled into churning out tame corporate rock that had you yearning for a few Bismillahs or Galileos. Or maybe even some funky bass lines and horn arrangements. No, on second thoughts, maybe not.


  1. I am ill equipped to comment on matters relating to Queen, I have bought only one album from their extensive catalogue and it isn't Night At The was the A Kind of Magic (a moment of weakness at the back of seeing, Highlander in those heady days of '86)

  2. Ah, that might explain why you only have the one album, then! The three albums they made in 1974-75 (Queen II, sheer Heart Attack and A Night at the Opera) are the best ones, and I think Sheer Heart Attack takes the medal. It has Killer Queen, Brighton Rock, Now I'm Here and Stone Cold Crazy on it, and the standard is high throughout. and side 2 is mental, but mental in a good way. Come to think of it, the second sides of Queen II and A Night at the Opera are pretty mental too. Side 2 of Hot space is mental, but not in a good way.

  3. I'm sold on the Sheer Heart Attack plug, I will give it a listen

  4. As I always say: never buy anything Queen recorded after 1980.
    The Miracle has quite possibly the worst cover since The Scorpions' Lovedrive.

    I'm not a massive fan, BUT they were the best act at Live Aid by a mile. Probably because they rehearsed a tight, hit-packed, don't-push-the-new-single twenty minute set for days beforehand.

  5. Hold on BA, if someone followed your advice, they'd miss out on "gems" such as "The Invisible Man", "Breakthru", "Headlong", "Friends will be Friends", "Back Chat" and ...oh.

    It's easy to forget what a good live band they were. In the special features of the Milton Keynes DVD, there's an interview with Freddie Mercury where's he's talking animatedly about how the tour is developing and how the shows are getting better. Watching it, you realise something that in reality should have been obvious - they LIKED being on stage. They LIKED touring. None of that existential "oh, touring is a real grind" that other artists would come up with.
    The only way you can be really good at something is if you enjoy it.

  6. The Invisible Man? That used to get played ironically at out local rockers' pub jukebox. They introduced the bamd members on that one: "Here's Freddie". "Hey, Hey it's Brian May!", "Rrrroger Taylor" and befitting the bassist, plain old "John Deacon".
    The video featured a pre-coke-hoovering Daniella Westbrook. Wasn't it about the dangers of video games? They sould have been preaching about the dangers of Class A drugs for Ms Westbrook's benefit.

  7. When I was a Queen-loving youngster back in the day, my U2-loving friend used to use "The Invisible Man" as a stick to beat me with for liking such an uncool band.

    Looking back, I really should have taken the long view and been more assertive, saying something like "Yeah, yeah? Well, when Bono and his pals come up with something as good as "Seven Seas of Rhye", come back and we can talk"

    Instead, I just took the lumps. *sighs*

  8. I saw them live that year at Ingliston.

    They were blown off stage by the J Geils Band.


  9. We only have your word for that.

  10. I love everything queen did up to and including Jazz. Freddie was the star but they were all excellent musicians and songwiters. Although some of Rrrroger Taylor's songs were a bit lame, his was the low point of Sheer Heart Attack. Let's not forget Day at the Races and News of the World two forgotten(?)classics!!! Come on Jimmy get with it, tune into some classic period queen and drop oot!!!