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AAA Music | 29 September 2020

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Queen – First Five Album Re-Issued

| On 13, Mar 2011

Queen hit the 40 years career this year, as well as 20 years from the sad day Freddie Mercury left fans around the world heartbroken. 40 years career is an impressive mark and Queen decided to celebrate it in style by joining Island Records (after being with EMI for 40 years); an itinerary exhibition which focuses on life before Queen and their first 10 years together as a band – that is, the 70s; and the release of the first five albums: Queen, Queen II, Sheer Heart Attack, A Night At The Opera, A Day At The Races (all with a bonus CD with previously unreleased tracks and cut versions) as well as Deep Cuts Vol. I

Queen, the debut album which bears the same, majestic  and daring name of the band, is mind blowing. It amazes me how, after all these years, tracks such as Keep Yourself Alive, My Fairy King, Liar, The Night Comes and my favourite Son And Daughter still sound fresh and challenging. The sound is clear yet it hasn’t lost the touch of rough and dirty that made me fall in love with the vinyl version years ago. The guitar riffs, the base and drums are just unbelievable; Freddie’s voice so sharp and yet still to reach its full potential.

The bonus tracks Keep Yourself Alive, The Night Comes Down, Great King Rat, Jesus, Liar and Mad The Swine – all taken from the sessions as the De Lane Lea studios except Mad The Swine, recorded in 1972, are the icing on the cake of what is a brilliant remastered album.

Queen II

One of my favourite ever albums, it caught my attention as a toddler like a magnet to a fridge. Perhaps it was the familiar sound (legend has it my mother – a massive Queen fan – use to play this record while pregnant), perhaps that beautiful picture on the cover (Freddie’s face, captured by Mick Rock, is one of my tattoes), or perhaps the mere fact that I developed my musical taste quite at an early stage made me love this record. I have memories attached to all the tracks on it; I cried and laughed with them and always felt comforted after listening to it.

This new master enhances the falsettos and the complex architecture of the sounds, from Father To Son to Some Day One Day – with Brian May on vocals – to The Loser In The End – proving us Mr Taylor is not only a talented drummer but a very good singer too, to the three songs that best interpret the genius of Mercury in this record: Ogre Battle, The Fairy Fellers Master Stroke (for those who don’t know, this track is inspired by the same titled painting by Richard Dadd, which you can admire at the Tate Britain) and The March of The Black Queen. Three pieces of music which push to the extreme Freddie’s vocals, touching baritones and falsettos; which prove the ability of each and everyone of the members of the band and their capability to create opera choruses in just the four of them. When I first actually understood what I was listening to I felt blessed, as if I had finally understood a life’s great secret.

The bonus tracks are once again worth the price of this version of the album, with See What A Fool I’ve Been – BBC 2011 Remix, White Queen Live, Seven Seas of Rhye – Inst Mix 2011, Nevermore – BBC and See What A Fool I’ve Been B Side version. Needless to say, the gems are White Queen Live and Nevermore – BBC, so good I almost cried.

Sheer Heart Attack

The third album released by Queen is also Roger Taylor’s favorite one, and it is not hard to see why. Considered, thanks to the previous albums, a pretty rock/progressive band, Queen surprised everyone with an album which mixes ballads with metal, rock with ragtime (Bring Back That Leroy Brown anyone? ) as well as approaching a more “radio friendly” style with Killer Queen, which contains the guitar solo Brian May is most proud of, as well as winning Freddie Mercury his first Ivor Novello award.

Opening with the tremendous Brighton Rock, a falsetto starting track which then evolves in a typical Freddie’s style, it has incredible guitar and drums sections, with the pick being the middle song guitar solo. Again, after all these years, it sounds as fresh as if it were written a moment ago. Killer Queen follows next: how can you refuse Mercury’s invitation to try more? A catchy, cheeky tune. Flick Of The Wrist picks up where Tenement Funster finishes, becoming one of my favourite tracks not only by the band, but in general. The fierce vocals, the choruses and the tempo are just astonishing. Queen demand attention with this track and hell yeah, they got it back then and 40 years on.

As per the previous track, this also melts into Lily Of The Valley – another beloved one. The tempo changes into a ballad, with piano and beautiful choruses. Freddie’s voice is beautiful, crystal clear.

Stone Cold Crazy is an amazing track: a great beat throughout it, Freddie’s vocals almost rapping on it, running fast in a crescendo of musical orgasm. Bring Back That Leroy Brown, instead, feels as if it has been stolen from the 50’s New Orleans jazz bars and then mixed with ragtime. It is by far the weirdest track on the album, but also one of the most interesting and key to understand the importance of the legacy Queen left behind. A band capable to play around with a variety of sounds and make them unique, always making sure that whatever they played at, it sounded Queen.

She Makes Me (Stormtrooper In Stilettos) sees Brian May back on vocals, supported by what it is a fairly less complex sound (but not harmonies!). Another proof of what they are capable of.

The bonus tracks (which are pretty much what the mad collector and fan is interested in) are Now I’m Here – Live Hammersmith, Flick of The Wrist – BBC, Tenement Funster – BBC, Bring Back That Leroy Brown – A cappella, In The Lap Of The Gods – Live Wembley.

Now I’m Here live from Hammersmith sounds incredible. How I wish I could go back in time and actually listen to this played live! Other favourites among the bonus ones are Flick Of The Wrist and Tenement Funster from BBC and the a cappella version of Bring Back That Leroy Brown.

A Night At The Opera. Starting from a sumptuous name and finishing with one of the best songs ever written, this album is a work of art. Borrowing the name for this and the follow up album from the Marx Bros movies, the album opens with the angry, sharp, rock meets metal Death On Two Legs (Dedicated To…) (if you wonder to whom it was dedicated, to the band’s ex manager). Screamed out loud choruses and anger dripping from the vocals, guitars, base and drums, it is the perfect act of revenge, the perfect death sentence, perfectly executed in 03.43.

Queen surprise the listener once again with the second track Lazing On A Sunday Afternoon, where Freddie fools around with operetta. Next up another beloved one – I’m In Love With My Car. Roger Taylor is on vocal duty and oh boy, he can sing. I love the pitch of his voice, the guttural sound and the falsettos he makes, enhanced by the guitar riffs and his steady, strong drumming, mixed with the car engine sound and piano. The song screams “sex” to me and never fails to turn me on.

Moving on to ’39, what we find here is a beautiful, melancholy ballad, where Brian May is on main vocal duties and Freddie shines in the choruses. A track filled with emotion and romance.

Sweet Lady needs a mention if only for the beautiful drums in the opening section, but let’s not forget Freddie’s voice: sharp, guttural, almost primordial in his pitch.

Seaside Rendez Vouz is another take at operetta, while The Prophets Song is a taster of what will come next. In the 08.21 minutes of the song the listener feels as if in the middle of a musical apocalypse. Daunting at times, it unveils the band’s talent for complex compositions, with looping choruses/cries, heavy drums and guitar riffs and the lyrics, a mixture of genres (from religious chants to rock to prog) The prophet here is Mercury himself, once again demanding full attention and adoration for him and his majestic band. You must be deaf and blind not to answer the call with this track.

Love Of My Life follows up. Probably one of the most beautiful love songs ever written, this piano ballad is filled with melancholy and grief for a love lost. It is sad, yet incredibly beautiful and delicate. The guitar riff and the choruses only add to the beauty and power of Freddie’s vocals; so does the piano intermezzo, which perfectly marries the guitar becoming a match made in heaven. Simply outstanding.

Bohemian Rhapsody. The track which has held the number 1 spot for 14 weeks and the only track to become Xmas number 1 twice in two different occasions. The track which lead to the vast use of promotional videos (the band was on tour and could not perform at Top Of The Pops, hence the video). I don’t really know what to say about this track that hasn’t been said before. It is, simply as that, a masterpiece, a work of genius. Everything is perfect: the piano, the vocals – the cry and the plea – the guitar riffs, the base parts and the drumming, the choruses – oh, those heavenly, opera style choruses, how I love those angelic voices! Queen have you in the palm of their hands with this track: they tingle gently your ear, they seduce you and then they abuse you, raping you and leaving you bruised to the floor, with a bittersweet taste in your mouth, craving for more.

The finale of this majestic album could not have been more appropriate than the National Anthem performed by Brian May on guitar and accompanied by Taylor on drums and timpani.

Bonus tracks are, again, worth every penny you paid, with Keep Yourself Alive Long Lost Retake, Bohemian Rhapsody – Operatic A Cappella (a masterpiece), You’re My Best friend – Backing Track, I’m In Love with My Car – Guitar & Vocal Mix, ’39 Live At Earls Court (another little gem) and Love Of My Life Live Single (so beautiful it will reduce you to tears).

A Day At The Races is the fifth album from the band, filled with optimism and the mixture of genres which made us fall in love with the band.

Kicking off with Tie Your Mother Down, a full on rock, dirty track, infected with über catchy riffs and choruses, it is a proper rock anthem.

Anthem is, perhaps, the main motive of the album, with tracks as distant from each other as You Take My Breath Away, The Millionaire Waltz, Somebody To Love, White Man and Teo Torriate. Yet, despite being so different, they are all connected by the anthem feeling they all exude.

You Take My Breath Away is a touchy, sad, melancholy ballad, dominated by the piano sound, daunting vocals and sensational silences. This plea to a lost lover, the prayer and beg is just perfect and precious, like a little jewel.

In The Millionaire Waltz the band has a go at operetta and waltz once again, creating a song which can be divided in three parts: the introduction – in perfect operetta style, presents us the setting of the track in a crescendo of emotions; the middle part: sees the piano giving way to the guitar, drums and the sharp, almost screamed cries of the vocals, melting into a rock waltz, where all instruments are joined together in a musical orgy; and the finale: where the piano and gentle, whispered vocals take the lead again to then go in a crescendo in the chorus, where the guitar and drums are a strong presence once again.

Somebody To Love is the perfect follow up to Bohemian Rhapsody, thanks to the ambitious orchestral instrumental part and the choruses. Freddie reaches new heights with his vocals and proves once again, in case it is needed, that he is not only gifted with a beautiful voice, but knows how to use his tool.

Drowse has Taylor back on main vocals again, in an old fashionable rock ‘n’ roll number, a nice intermezzo before Teo Torriate.

Teo Torriate (Let Us Cling Together) is another interesting number from Queen. Composed in the fashion of opera (lest not forget Mercury was an Opera enthusiast). In this track the band also sings in Japanese (a country beloved by the band). It has all it takes to be another masterpiece: piano parts, daunting guitar riffs and the vocals, which space from almost whisper tones to high pitched parts to the almost clerical chorus. The perfect finale for the album.

The bonus tracks in this remastered version are equally interesting, with Tie Your Mother Down – Backing  Track, Somebody To Love – Live, You Take My Breath Away – Live, Good Old Fashioned Lover Boy – Top Of The Pops Mono and Teo Torriate – HD Mix. Once again, my favourites are the live ones, which allow you to experience the power and magic of the band live.

I am very pleased with the quality of the remasters and the choices of the bonus tracks. The sound is clean and, thanks to technology, some drum and base parts are enhanced throughout the five albums. I am also very happy that Island is highlighting the ‘70s period of the Queen career: we are all aware of Live Aid and Live At Wembley but, in my opinion (and I am sure many fans will agree) it is great to see such a great creativity period for the band being taken from the shelf, dusted and polished. I sincerely hope this focus will then lead to the release of live audio and footage from this period: I will be more than happy to pay for those releases in a decent quality, and I am 100% positive many, if not all, fans will be happy to dig into their purses for “some more of that jazz!”

Author: Alessia Matteoli