Elektra Records, 1974
REVIEW BY: Bruce Rusk
ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED: 10/12/2004
Although not a great success at the time, Queen's 1973 debut had created a stir. Their sophomore release would add more fuel to their fire, scoring them a supporting gig with Mott The Hoople on their American tour that would lead to even more exposure in the states. Back home in the U.K., They got even bigger with a little help from an unlikely single, the hard-rocking "Seven Seas OF Rhye," which would reach #10, driving the album itself to reach #5 on the British charts.
Queen's beautifully bizarre mix of musical influences is no less bizarre on this outing. The album has two distinctively different sides, Brian May pens all but one track of side one, with Roger Taylor filling in the last slot. Side two, is exclusively the territory of Freddie Mercury compositions, featuring lyrically dense songs steeped in fantasy and mythology.
Side one starts off with some throwaway instrumental doodling on "Procession" which introduces the tasty power-balled, "Father To Son." "Father To Son" is classic Queen, with it's soaring instrumentation, punctuated with the great vocal harmonies Queen is known for. Although it does suffer from excessive repetitions of the chorus at the end, it's still a solid track. Next up, "White Queen (As It Began)" is pleasant little tune that sounds OK, but it doesn't really engage me and doesn't go anywhere except to slow the mood down nicely to segue into the next track. Guitarist Brian May pulls a rare lead vocal on "Some Way One Day," an acoustic ballad. May's wispy tenor fits very nicely with the acoustic arrangement of this song. Drummer Roger Taylor closes side one, providing lead vocals on his ode to good ol' mum, "Loser In The End." Taylor's gravely garage-band growl is perfect accompaniment for the gritty blues laid down by May and bassist John Deacon.
Side two is where things get strange. Enjoyable to be sure, but Mercury's mythology drenched fantasy trips have mystified me for many years. According to legend, Mercury created a fantasy based mythology that assimilates bits of Greek and Druidic myths, fairy tales, Shakespeare and who knows what else. Allegedly there's a common thread within Mercury's compositions throughout the entire Queen catalog that amounts to a collective set of songs telling the history of this mythology.
True or not I don't know, but the songs on side two are cool, and the first five songs do amount to what is basically a suite about all manner of fantastical characters. Ogres, fairies, and an evil Queen make up just part of the cast. Mercury's lyrical fantasy trip is sung with many different voices (most of the them Freddie's), and at all manner of different time signatures. The variation in instrumental and vocal themes within the individual tracks give the songs a much deeper texture and color that if they had been sung in standard rock fashion. Starting with the heavy "Ogre Battle" the songs meld into essentially one long track, continuing through the hyper-kinetic "The Fairy Feller's Master Stroke," into the more peaceful "Nevermore" and the menacing "March Of The Black Queen," and finishing up with the oddly out of place ballad "Funny How Love Is," which doesn't seem to fit in with the first four tracks. The songs don't really break until the final track, the aforementioned "Seven Seas Of Rhye."
Sonically, the production sounds a little thin and lacking in bottom, but the propensity for ultra-high vocals and May's style of playing tend to drive their music into those upper registers. That's doesn't prevent it from being a very good album. I have always found this a great listen, and an overlooked gem of the period.