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A Night at the Opera – take 1?
on 4 November 2005
Musically Queen II was an album of genius, and in terms of hard rock an album Queen would never really better, but apparently sales were not particularly good, so 3rd album Sheer Heart Attack marks something of a commercialisation of the band, (this is only relatively speaking of course, and compared to the bands ‘80’s output there is still a phenomenal amount of intelligent experimental material on display). Where Queen II was mostly all either incredibly hard progressive rock or very gentle ballads however, Sheer Heart Attack sees the band stretching their range to all areas in between, and with touches of opera, calypso and ragtime (to name a few) this marks the first time that Queen would really start genre-hopping. From this album on the one thing you would be guaranteed with every Queen album (at least until they jumped on the synthesizer bandwagon in the early 80’s) was a huge amount of variety. In short, Queen II may be the better rock album, but Sheer Heart Attack is a much more rounded work. Queen would really perfect this template with their next album A Night At The Opera, and it’s very easy to listen to Sheer Heart Attack as an early attempt at this sound.
Taking the songs by author:
Freddie Mercury’s songs are noticeably more commercial this time round, particularly in the playful lead-off single ‘Killer Queen’. ‘Flick of the Wrist’ is a harder rock song, and features a great chorus and some wild swirling Eastern sounding guitar lines from Brian May in the background, while lyrically with it’s railing against the music business this a clear forerunner to A Night At The Opera’s ‘Death On Two Legs’. This segues seamlessly into Mercury’s next track ‘Lily Of The Valley’, one of two short but beautiful piano ballads on the album. Side Two opener ‘In The Lap Of The Gods’ is probably the most insane song on the album, starting with a minutes worth of over the top vocal operatics before drifting into some weird vocal FX’d lounge song – wonderfully bizarre. ‘Bring Back That Leroy Brown’ is another wildly experimental song, as Brian May plays ukulele and John Deacon plays upright bass for this comedy ragtime number – if you don’t like this you have a serious problem with your sense of humour! Finally finishing off the album is ‘In The Lap Of The Gods…Revisited’ which is really nothing like the earlier version of the song, but is instead the first of those Queen songs that seem to be designed specifically for huge audience participation singalongs (such as ‘We Are The Champions’ or ‘Friends Will Be Friends’) – another great song, and one that must have been a close contender for a single release.
Brian May still covers the bands rock epics, holding the three songs with the longest running time on the album. With opening track ‘Brighton Rock’ it’s easy to see how, as the song contains a massive middle guitar solo where May firsts starts experimenting with the effects he can gain by using a delay pedal to accompany himself. May follows up on the delay experiments on single ‘Now I’m Here’, only this time on Freddie’s vocals, while ‘Dear Friends’ is a departure, being a short sweet piano based lullaby. Finally May provides the vocals himself to ‘She Makes Me’, a long slow strum along where the very weakness of May’s voice just adds to it’s fragile nature – a lovely song, though due to it’s plodding length probably one of the albums lesser tracks.
Roger Taylor’s sole contribution ‘Tenement Funster’ is again a departure from his previous songs, as he ditches the hard rock for a more laid back style. Some great chords and squealing car guitars (again foreshadowing ‘I’m In Love With My Car’) make this a great song.
John Deacon also makes his songwriting debut, and comes out of the blocks with ‘Misfire’, a song so good I’d rank it as the best on the album. A lovely calypso rhythm, great melody, intricately layered bass and guitar lines – a perfect pop record in under 2 minutes.
This album also gives us one of only a couple of instances (at least, before the bands final 2 albums) of a song co-written by all the band – ‘Stone Cold Crazy’, a real manic up-tempo rock song, and after ‘Ogre Battle’ probably one of the heaviest they ever recorded.
Yes – A Night At The Opera is indisputably Queen’s masterpiece, but with both Queen II and Sheer Heart Attack released in the same year 1974 sure was a good year for Queen.