8 of 9 people found the following review helpful
A great album, but still a lacklustre follow-up,
This review is from: A Day At The Races (Audio CD)
A Day At The Races - Queen’s 5th album – is a great record in its own right, but it’s also sadly rather disappointing in some respects. The biggest downside when evaluating this album is that it is inevitably in competition with the bands previous masterpiece A Night at the Opera, and while it matches that work in terms of epic sound design and massive layering of vocals and instruments, unfortunately the songwriting is undeniably weaker. Most of the songs on A Day at the Races have clear counterparts on A Night at the Opera, and compared like for like without exception these songs come off second best.
John Deacon’s sole contribution ‘You and I’ is a decent enough cheerful strum-along, and it boasts a great middle 8, but it’s undeniably inferior to A Night at the Opera’s ‘You’re my Best Friend’. Similarly Roger Taylor’s ‘Drowse’ is a beguiling childhood reminiscence made even more dreamy by Brian May’s hypnotic slide-guitar, but it’s no ‘I’m In Love With My Car’.
Brian May’s songs suffer similar comparisons – with ‘White Man’ trying to be this albums ‘The Prophet’s Song’, but despite acting as a framing device for the album as a whole the song isn’t particularly strong. Album opener proper ‘Tie Your Mother Down’ is a reasonable rocker, but probably more suited to the live environment, which probably accounted for its relatively lowly chart single status (peaking at an unimpressive number 31). Album closer ‘Teo Torriatte’ is almost brilliant – the verse is haunting, and the middle break is stunning, but sadly the actual chorus suffers the twin indignities of both a school choir backing and the 70’s trend for singing bits of songs in foreign languages, both of which now sound terribly naff. May’s best song is the one for which he provides the vocals, the magnificent ‘Long Away’, a hidden gem which features some great Byrds-style jangly guitar picking.
It’s left to Freddie Mercury to provide the albums highlights with the magnificent gospel-rock of ‘Somebody To Love’ and the brilliantly constructed ‘Good Old-Fashioned Lover Boy’. Elsewhere ‘You Take My Breathe Away’ is an odd ballad, mostly featuring just Freddie on piano, but featuring some gorgeously dense layered close harmonies, while ‘The Millionaire Waltz’ is the most fractured song on the album, going all the way from fragile ballad to hard rock and taking in a detour to a Brian May guitar waltz along the way – utter madness, but interesting.
In retrospect it could be argued that A Day At The Races is the last of Queen’s truly ridiculously (and gloriously!) over the top albums. Yes, their remaining couple of ‘70’s albums still retained the bands genre-hopping, and production wise the band were still taking things to extremes up to the end, but in terms of song composition – especially where Freddie was concerned – the following albums would see a trend towards more standard basic songs rather than more over the top free for alls the band had previously glorified in. In that respect, while A Day At the Races is therefore a rather disappointing follow-up to A Night at the Opera, it’s still a fine album on it’s own terms. A very good album – but suffers from being compared to a work of genius.