on 20 April 2010
As a Queen fan of, well, my whole life, I felt it was time I offered a few words of support for what I beleive to be Queen's best album. However I must admit I'm not a conventional Queen fan, in that I don't actually like any of their well known (pop) songs. Its all about the rock for me, and all my favourite songs are the ones that (diehard fans aside) no one has heard of, and for the most part happen to be written by Brian May. The man has to be rock's most unassuming genius. Why I rate this album above their others is the production which is, by Queens standards anyway, basic and raw boned. There's none of the over the top theatrics you would normally associate with Queen. Don't get me wrong, I'm all for progression, but they just went a bit too far at times for my tastes. I've never understood why 'A Night at the Opera' is lauded as Queen's finest recorded statement, I've always found it to be a bit too poncey, for want of a better expression. On NOTW the music does the talking and isn't submerged under countless overdubs and effects. Anyway, apart from the obvious highlights, the razor edged punk of 'Sheer Heart Attack' is surely Queen at their most savage, while the bluesy 'Sleeping on the Sidewalk' is raw but in a different context. This song is often written off as sloppy or rough, but thats why I like it; its just the sound of 3 very talented musicians jamming together in a room, which has to be unique for a Queen album. The album's highlight is undoubtedly 'Its Late', Brian May's criminally overlooked masterpiece. You get a great descending riff, a stomping middle eight and not one but two high tempo rock out bits all rolled into one fantastic song. As if that wasn't enough, Roger Taylor does his best thunderous John Bonham impression throughout, giving off a sense of power never heard before or since. Compare this drum sound to the relatively weedy one he has on the subsequent album, 'Jazz' and you'll see what I mean. I know there's different production values and all that, but why wouldnt you want your drums to sound this good all the time? But I digress. When it comes to the rest of the album I can take or leave it, obviously 'We Will Rock You' is a solid gold classic and even the albums most experimental song, 'Get Down, Make Love' has a good old fashioned straight ahead rock chorus. But the rest of the material is on the softer side, though easier on the ear than most of their other ballads; 'All Dead, All Dead' has a pleasant Beatles-esque quality to it. Overall then, if youre new to Queen and, like me, you avoid best of collections and want to really hear what a band can sound like, this is a good place to start. For those who want to continue in a rock vein, the 'Sheer Heart Attack' album is definately next best, though of course you will find gems on almost all their albums if you are patient enough to sit through Queen's need for experimentation. 'News of the World' then gives a glimpse of what Queen's sound could have been if they'd stuck to what they did best and just rocked, before they stumbled towards the graveyard of all the top bands: the 1980's. (Actually, that's a bit harsh, apart from Hot Space, Queen's 80's output wasn't that bad).
Since I altered the world's stance on this album with my wise words, Queen have of course re released their back catalogue with extra tracks, and i wonder if i may wade into the 'deluxe' edition debate? So far as NOTW is concerned, the extras are nothing to write home (or on Amazon) about, except for the sole previously unreleased track, 'Feelings, Feelings'. What a tune! A catchy up tempo rocker that would had improved the album still further if a longer, finished version had appeared on it instead of say, 'Fight From the Inside' or 'Who Needs You?'. The world could have lived without those songs, right?
The deluxe versions of the other Queen albums are, on the whole, a touch disappointing for me. Its interesting to hear unreleased songs and non album b sides of course, but there aren't enough of these. Otherwise you get live versions of well known songs (some of which are already available) and rather pointless instrumental and edited 'single' versions of well known songs. The songs taken from radio sessions don't exactly take the breath away either, in fact on the sessions for the 'Sheer Heart Attack' lp, it sounds like its literally just Freddie singing live over the regular album tracks.
As for the remastered sound, I personally have only noticed a minimal improvement, (not that they sounded that bad anyway) but maybe its just the 'rig' I listen to them through. Overall then, its almost tempting to cry 'rip off!', but I've bought them all again anyway. Except for effing 'Hot Space' of course.