Friday, February 5, 2021

Queen 1: Queen

Most successful and, particularly, iconic musical figures have spawned clones. Lots of bands tried to emulate the Beatles, the Stones, Led Zeppelin, and so forth; singers from Frank Sinatra all the way to Madonna inspired imitators. But no other band in history sounds like Queen.
The main reason is the one and only Freddie Mercury, for whom the term “frontman” should be exclusively reserved. It was his voice that perked most people’s ears, plus his onstage presence was positively magnetic. But the other guys weren’t exactly slouches. Brian May built the guitar he played himself, and would eventually get his doctorate in astrophysics to back up his methodical approach to music. He, like drummer Roger Taylor, were excellent singers, and handsome in their own ways, but knew their place in this lineup. John Deacon, the quintessential quiet bass player, didn’t seem to add much beyond bad haircuts, but turned out to be a secret weapon in songwriting.
Their debut album sports some of the aspects that would define their work going forward, even if the distinct Queen sound isn’t there yet. Any band would be proud to have “Keep Yourself Alive” as their opening anthem, full as it is of fretwork, swagger, and energy. “Doing All Right” can’t decide if it’s a campy ballad or prog experiment; the fact that it predates Freddie’s arrival in the band might be the reason, except that the next two tracks sit firmly in fantasyland. “Great King Rat” is an unsavory character out of a nursery rhyme, whose demise is celebrated via a galloping rhythm, while “My Fairy King” begins the experimentation with layered, impossibly high harmonies.
“Liar” is interesting, as it begins with a basic drum solo, a minute or so of riffing on one chord and then another, before the vocal begins its narrative, complete with responses that solidify its genetic connection to a certain bohemian rhapsody down the road. “The Night Comes Down” was written by Brian, but sounds perfectly suited for Freddie; it’s another one where the intro doesn’t seem to point the direction of the track. “Modern Times Rock ‘N’ Roll” is an embarrassing slice of speed metal sung by Roger; luckily it’s over quickly. “Son And Daughter” is slower sludge with enigmatic lyrics that modern ears take as gender-questioning, whereas “Jesus” is much more straightforward, being a scene straight out of the Gospels. In a wonderful instance of foreshadowing, “Seven Seas Of Rhye…” provides a brief instrumental teaser of a song to be completed later.
The band’s albums were grandly reissued and slightly expanded on CD in 1991; Queen’s bonus tracks consisted of the outtake “Mad The Swine”, a later re-recording of “Keep Yourself Alive”, and a modern remix of “Liar”. Of these, only “Mad The Swine” made it to the next round of reissues 20 years later, where it was joined by demos of five album tracks recorded six months before the album sessions proper. (Since the version of “The Night Comes Down” on the album was mixed from the demo, it arguably appears twice.)

Queen Queen (1973)—3
1991 Hollywood reissue: same as 1973, plus 3 extra tracks
2011 remaster: same as 1973, plus 6 extra tracks

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