Friday, February 27, 2009

Queen - Innuendo

6/10

This album, the band's last release before Freddie's death, is very uneven. Some of the songs are excellent; the title track is the most progressive thing Queen wrote since A Night at the Opera, and is about a million times better than what prog giants like Yes and ELP were putting out in the late 80s and early 90's. (Ironically, Steve Howe of Yes contributes the Spanish guitar solo) "I'm Going Slightly Mad" is a sad song Freddie wrote about the AIDS-related dementia from which he suffered; I like how some of the lines don't quite fit into the meter, as it adds to the "mad" feeling. The closer, "The Show Must Go On," is a dark song written by Brian May about Freddie's refusal to stop recording music even while he was in the very latest stages of his AIDS, and is wonderfully moody.

Some other songs are just okay. "The Hitman" and "Headlong" are kinda generic hard rock songs, "Don't Try So Hard" tries to sound melancholy but only partially succeeds,"I Can't Live With You" feels like a song from one of the 80's albums that didn't make the cut, and "Ride the Wild Wind" is a Roger composition that's one of his better songs, but it's not awesome or anything. "Bijou" is mostly a guitar solo, but it's a pretty good one.

And then there are a few of the very worst songs that Queen has ever recorded. "All God's People" is a terrible gospel song that features a horribly generic blues section in the middle, while "These Are The Days Of Our Lives" recalls all the bad things about the band's '80s output and none of the good things. And then there's "Delilah," which may well be the most reviled song in Queen's entire catalog. The song is an ode to one of Freddie's cats; "Bijou" was also one, but at least it wasn't obviously about a cat; "Delilah" features lyrics about the song's subject peeing all over the place and a terrible "meowing" guitar. I'm assuming the other band members couldn't bring themselves to reject this song, what with Freddie being in the state he was.

All in all, I can't quite recommend this album because there's too much chaff, even though the good songs are really, really good.

Thursday, February 26, 2009

Queen - The Miracle

5/10

This album just plain isn't very good. The two opening songs, "Party" and "Khashoggi's Ship," are just boring. The title track is somewhat good musically (in an 80s AOR kind of way), but the lyrics are so bad that I'm too embarrassed to quote them. Then we hit the awesome "I Want It All," which is a bit of a throwback to their early hard rock phase; it's easily the best song on the album and sticks out like a sore thumb. Then we hit "The Invisible Man," which I have mixed feelings about. It's catchy and has a neat bassline, but it's just a blatant ripoff of the Ghostbusters theme (which itself was a rip-off of Huey Lewis' "I Want A New Drug"). I mean, they even use the line "I'm in your bed"; which is awfully close to the Ghostbusters theme's "Invisible man/Sleeping in your bed". The second side is just dull; nothing really sticks out to my ears except for the synth-heavy "Scandal," which is marred by a poor line about cheesecakes. There's even a short throwaway instrumental at the end called "Chinese Torture". This is definitely one of the lesser Queen albums and one of the last ones you need. It says a lot that one of the most memorable things about this album is the four-headed monstrosity on the cover.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Queen - Live at Wembley '86

9/10

God, what a great album from Queen's final tour. The setlist is great, spanning Queen's entire career. My least favorite albums are underrepresented, with none from Jazz and only Under Pressure from Hot Space, and they even through in "Seven Seas of Rhye"! The sound quality is really good for a show recorded in a stadium (see the Emerson, Lake and Palmer triple-live "Welcome Back My Friends blah blah blah" for a poorly recorded stadium show), and Freddie's rapport with the audience is nothing short of amazing. There's a three-minute jam called "Impromptu" and a back-and-forth bit at the end of "A Kind of Magic" which are just as entertaining as any of the actual songs. There are a few weak spots, most particularly the medley of 50's covers on disc 2 and the fact that BoRhap, as usual, relies on backing tapes for the middle part, but I still feel comfortable giving this a 9.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Queen - A Kind of Magic

7/10

Queen's 1986 effort isn't their best but it's still pretty strong. It's a very 80's record, more so than their other albums during that decade, but that doesn't mean it's bad; there's some fine songwriting going on amidst all those cheesy synths. It's also sort of an unofficial soundtrack to the film "Highlander," which featured six of the album's nine tracks. The title track is an exuberant song in the traditional Queen vein, while "Pain is So Close to Pleasure" is an interesting bit of Motown pastiche, and "Gimme the Prize" is an awesome example of the motivational 80's song. "Who Wants to Live Forever" is a fine ballad; contrary to popular belief, Freddie didn't know he had AIDS when it was written, and didn't even write it (Brian May did).
I also enjoyed the use of strings in that song and "One Year of Love". However, there are still some duff tracks; "Princes of the Universe" is just absurdly cheesy, even by Queen's standards; it's practically a few overdubbed solos short of being a Dragonforce song, while "Friends Will Be Friends" just feels kind of generic to my ears, and "Don't Lose Your Head" is a dance track (although it's not as bad as most of the songs on Hot Space.) All in all, A Kind of Magic is a good album, if not Queen's highest point.

Monday, February 23, 2009

Queen - The Works

8/10

Queen's detour into R&B/dance territory ended quickly (thank Cthulhu), as "The Works" is more of a traditional rock album. It's not quite the same old Queen, as the synthesizers are still abundant, and there's not a whole lot of hard rock (the exception being the excellent "Tear it Up" and"Hammer to Fall"). Queen got a lot lighter and poppier in the 80's, but the quality of songwriting is still pretty high; "Radio Ga Ga," "It's a Hard Life," and "I Want to Break Free" are fine contributions from Taylor, Mercury, and Deacon, respectively. The one song which sticks out as being subpar to my ears is "Machines (Back to Humans)," which just comes off as being a lyrical ripoff of the previous year's Styx album "Kilroy Was Here"; Queen could surely have done better than ripping off one of the most stereotypically banal AOR bands. I also didn't like the fact that the pessimistic ballad "Is This the World We Created?" was put at the end of the album; it leaves a sour taste in one's mouth (although it would've been okay if it had been placed earlier). In addition, while it's not terrible or anything, "Man on the Prowl" feels like a rehash of "Crazy Little Thing Called Love". Despite these flaws, I heartily recommend this album.

Friday, February 20, 2009

Queen - Hot Space

4/10

WHY? Why did Queen decide to make an album comprised almost entirely of dance music? Actually, the answer is fairly obvious; after the runaway success of "Another One Bites the Dust," they decided to milk the dance-rock cow for all that it was worth. Unfortunately, unlike, say, ZZ Top's Eliminator, which combined the band's blues-rock with 80's dance beats, there's very little of the old Queen to be found here. There are so many synths that you'd never guess this was only the second album using them.

There are still a few decent songs, though; "Staying Power" gets things off to a good start, and there's something about the drumline in "Dancer" that I love despite the fact that it's obviously artificial. And then there's the closing track, "Under Pressure," the collaboration with David Bowie which was famously ripped off by Vanilla Ice. Unfortunately, most of the other tracks are just unmemorable, with "Body Language" sticking out because it's so bad, both lyrically and musically. The video for the song would be the first one ever rejected by MTV, showing that the channel was about as edgy 25 years ago as it is today. Except for Flash Gordon, this should be the last Queen studio album you purchase.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Queen - Flash Gordon

2/10

This is the soundtrack for a 1980 film based on the old serials, and there are only a few actual songs on it, the only good one of which is "Flash's Theme." The rest is just soundtrack music which happens to be played with rock instruments instead of an orchestra. For all I know, it could've worked tremendously well in the context of the film, but I haven't seen it, and all I know is that it doesn't work all by itself. This one's for die-hard fans only.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Queen - The Game

7/10

One thing that I haven't really mentioned about Queen is that they eschewed the use of synthesizers during the 70's; every one of their albums during that period contained in its liner notes something about how no synthesizers were used in the making of the album. The Game was the first album where they broke that promise, utilizing synths on some tracks, and they do a pretty good job of integrating them into their sound on tracks like "Save Me" and "Play the Game." Not all tracks use synths, though; the Elvis homage "Crazy Little Thing Called Love" (with Freddie's only guitar performance on record) and awesome funk-rock track "Another One Bites the Dust" do just fine without any. Unfortunately, the presence of some throwaway tracks ("Coming Soon," "Don't Try Suicide", "Rock It (Prime Jive)") brings the rating down a bit, but it's still a solid release.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Queen - Live Killers

6/10

The performances on this 2-disc live album are pretty good, but the tracklist leaves something to be desired. They shorten "Killer Queen" while stretching out "Now I'm Here" to nine minutes with an audience sing-along bit. There also is only one song from the debut ("Keep Yourself Alive"), and Queen II is COMPLETELY unrepresented. Also, they really never should have tried to perform Bohemian Rhapsody live, as they have to rely heavily on pre-recorded vocals for the middle part. I did like May's extended solo in "Brighton Rock" and the inclusion of two versions of "We Will Rock You," the first is much faster and harder than the studio version, while the other is fairly faithful to the original. Live Killers is okay, but hardly essential.

Monday, February 16, 2009

Queen - Jazz

5/10

I have no idea how this album got its title, as there's nothing remotely jazzy on here. In fact, jazz is one of the only genres that isn't touched on in this album; it's too diverse for its own good. Songs like "Fat Bottomed Girls" and "Bicycle Race" are cheesy in an embarrassing way instead of a fun way. (Admittedly, my impressions of the former are heavily influenced by Spinal Tap's "Big Bottom," which I greatly prefer.) Other tracks include the too-lightweight "In Only Seven Days", the dull 1940's throwback "Dreamer's Ball" and the godawful Roger-penned disco track "Fun It". (I find it highly amusing that a song written by the drummer features such a horrible sounding drum machine.) There are some decent tracks, such as the Broadway-esque "Don't Stop Me Now" (made famous from its appearance in Shaun of the Dead), "Let Me Entertain You", which manages to stay on the right side of cheesiness, and the so-silly-it's-good Arabic rocker "Mustapha" (insert "post-9/11 world" joke here). It's nice that Queen tried to write songs in vastly different styles on this album, and it's unfortunate that there were more misses than hits.

Friday, February 13, 2009

Queen - News of the World

7/10

This album starts off with those two staples of arena rock, "We Will Rock You" and "We Are The Champions." You've heard the former if you've ever attended a sporting event, and the latter if you've ever watched a championship game, so I won't go into them in detail. But aside from those two songs at the beginning, this is a surprisingly subdued album from Queen; there's little of the operatic flair that was their trademark. Songs like the almost-punkish "Sheer Heart Attack" and the ballads "All Dead, All Dead" and "Spread Your Wings" aren't nearly as over-the-top as most of the band's material, but they don't suffer much as a result. The songs are also less polished; one track, "Sleeping on the Sidewalk," was recorded in one take (you can hear some bass mistakes near the end). All in all, News of the World is decent, but not spectacular, with some silly tracks like "Get Down, Make Love" and the cheesy Latin-tinged "Who Needs You" bringing my score down. Actually, the second side as a whole is considerably weaker than the first.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Queen - A Day at the Races

6/10

The second of Queen's "Marxist" albums pales in comparison to its predecessor; too many of the songs are just plain boring. "You Take My Breath Away" is too dreary and goes on too long, and the otherwise decent "The Millionaire Waltz" has an atrocious part where Freddie attempts to emulate Edith Piaf (!) There's still some good material here, though, as the opening "Tie Your Mother Down" gets things off to an energetic start, and the "Run to the Hills" prototype "White Man" is a pretty good hard rock song, but they're the only remotely heavy songs on here. Of course, Queen wasn't just about heaviness, and there are softer tracks that are still strong, such as "Somebody to Love" (no relation to the Jefferson Airplane song of the same name) and "Teo Torriatte (Let Us Cling Together," which is by far the best of the ballads on this album. It's too bad that the good tracks are surrounded by mediocrity.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Queen - A Night at the Opera

8/10

This album is Queen's most famous; not suprisingly, this is largely because it contains "Bohemian Rhapsody." However, there's lots of other awesome stuff on it; my favorite track is the eight-minute "The Prophet's Song," with its heavy guitars, apocalyptic tone and awesome a cappella sequence in the middle. Other great tracks include "I'm in Love with My Car," my favorite song that Roger Taylor ever wrote, and "Death on Two Legs," which was written about the band's ex-manager and which prompted a lawsuit (although how hurt could he have been by the song? No one knew it was about him until he sued) and the sci-fi folk song "'39". Freddie also contributes two amusing music-hall numbers, "Lazing on a Sunday Afternoon" and "Seaside Rendezvous."

It's not all perfect, though. I find the Deacon-penned "You're My Best Friend" to be cloying, and have no idea why it was the album's second single. "Good Company" is just dull, especially seeing as it comes just before "Bohemian Rhapsody," and the 3/4 number "Sweet Lady" would be decent if not for some terrible lyrics ("You call me sweet like I'm some kind of cheese"). As for Bohemian Rhapsody, there isn't a whole lot that I can say about it that hasn't already been said, but I will note that I just don't think it feels complete without "God Save the Queen" at the end. An excellent album, if not a flawless one.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Queen - Sheer Heart Attack

8/10

Queen's third studio effect is pretty solid, if a little lightweight at times. See, most of the tracks here are really short; out of thirteen songs, seven are three minutes or less. That means that even if you think a particular track sucks, it'll most likely be over before you know it. The downside is that if you like it, it'll also be over quickly. Things get started off well with the awesome Brighton Rock, which has a great May solo. The lyrics concern a conversation between two lovers, with Freddie doing both the male and female parts; I usually hate when male singers do female parts, but it works here. Other songs of note include "Killer Queen," the band's first international hit, "Misfire," a light Caribbean-style number which was the first written by bassist John Deacon, and the proto-thrash metal "Stone Cold Crazy," which was famously covered by Metallica (with added profanity). The problem with putting so many short songs on an album is that some of them are pretty much bound not to work; I disliked the generic "Now I'm Here" and was glad that the dull piano ballad "Dear Friends" was barely a minute long. All in all, though, it's still a fine release.

Monday, February 9, 2009

Queen - Queen II

10/10

This is kind of an important album for me. You see, up until a few years ago, I really couldn't have cared less about music. You see, I was a video game fan. I was a Nintendo fanboy, and I was also a JRPG fan. This caused problems during the N64 era, as I refused to buy systems made by other companies, and there were a grand total of two decent RPGs produced for the N64. One of them was Paper Mario, and the other was a game called Ogre Battle 64. I had enjoyed the SNES game, the first in the series (an SNES sequel had gone unreleased in the States until it was released in an extremely laggy port for the PSX).
In my senior year of high school, I found out that the Ogre Battle series was named after a Queen song. I wasn't too familiar with Queen (knowing little beyond their most famous hits), so I decided to pick up the album which had Ogre Battle on it, and I was blown away. I had Queen's entire discography within months. And my video game obsession eventually dwindled; today all I own is a DS and a few games for it.
Queen II is kinda sorta vaguely a concept album. Instead of being divided into "Side A" and "Side B", the sides are called "White" and "Black," with most of the "White" songs written by Brian May and all of the "Black" songs written by Freddie Mercury. There's a pretty heavy medieval theme running throughout most of the songs, which is surprising since most of the material isn't that folky. The production is creative, with lots of awesome vocal harmonies and creative tricks (for example, the end of "Ogre Battle" is the beginning played backwards)
This album exists on a grandiose scale. From tales of father-son relationships ("Father to Son"), beautiful romantic ballads ("White Queen," "Some Day One Day" and the too-brief "Nevermore") and awesome battle epics ("Ogre Battle," and "The March of the Black Queen,") this album has it all. The one blemish is "The Loser in the End," the token Roger song which closes out the first side; it's one of his better efforts, but it just does not fit in with the rest of the album at all.
It's a crying shame that that the single "Seven Seas of Rhye" was the only song on the album that remotely resembled a hit; while the majority of their later work is great, I would've been perfectly fine with Queen recording a few more albums just like this one. Oh well. Since I got more into music and amassed an impressive album collection, this album doesn't blow me away nearly as much as it used to. Still, it's one of my favorites, and easily gets the 10. It's just as well that this album caused me to be more of a music fan that a gaming fan, since Square/Enix bought up the company that made the Ogre Battle games and have done nothing but sit on the franchise.
One last note: The current releases of Queen albums all come with bonus tracks. I generally don't include bonus tracks in my score, but the B-side "See What a Fool I've Been" may well be the gayest thing ever recorded, which is weird because I don't think even Freddie was sure he was gay when this album was recorded. There are also two remixes. The "Ogre Battle" remix isn't that bad, but the "Seven Seas of Rhye" remix is an abomination which stretches the song out to twice its original length and fills the excess time with oom-tiss dance music. Ugh.

Friday, February 6, 2009

Queen - At the Beeb

5/10

This is a compilation of Queen's first two BBC sessions in 1973. As a result, of the eight songs, only one isn't from the debut. All in all, these renditions are a bit stripped down, but not too far from the studio versions. Ogre Battle has considerably fewer effects than the version that would appear on Queen II and Roger sings the last verse of Doing All Right, but the song which is changed the most is "Son and Daughter," which is lengthened to seven minutes, most of it filled with aimless jamming. The way they bowdlerize the "shovel shit" line is also amusing. On the whole, however, this one's only for completists, as almost all the songs come from the debut and there's not a whole lot of variation.

Thursday, February 5, 2009

Queen - Queen

7/10

Queen's debut isn't quite as good as some of the band's later output, but it's still pretty strong. "Keep Yourself Alive" gets things off to a great start, but some of the slower numbers drag a little. Brian May's guitar tone was extremely distinctive even at this early stage. Freddie's songs tend to be multi-parted and lean towards fantasy lyrics, while May's tend to be more compact and about more prosaic subjects. Roger Taylor's first songwriting effort, "Modern Times Rock 'n' Roll," is pretty bad, but fortunately, it's less that two minutes long.

All in all, this isn't the best place to start, but it's not bad by any stretch of the imagination; it's a bit more of a typical 70's hard rock album than what would follow.

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Queen - Intro

Queen needs no introduction. Combining glam rock's decadence with over-the-top operatic vocals, they are best known today for arena rock hits such as "We Are the Champions", "We Will Rock You" and "Bohemian Rhapsody." They became one of the most popular bands throughout the 70s and 80s. Then singer Freddie Mercury died of AIDS, and they broke up, only to reform over a decade later with former Bad Company singer Paul Rodgers. (Yes, I will be reviewing those albums. Yes, I'm scared.)

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Atheist - Elements

8/10

This album was only recorded due to a contractual obligation, as the band wanted to break up after Unquestionable Presence. Despite the fact that it was recorded under duress and all the material was written and recorded in less than six weeks, it's still pretty good. It's probably the least of Atheist's three albums, and it's definitely more melodic and accessible than the other two, but it's still pretty strong. There's a little more obvious Latin influence, especially on the instrumental track "Samba Briza," with its Latin guitar and piano playing. It's also longer than the previous two albums, although a few tracks sound a bit like filler. All in all, it's a fitting end to the band's all-too-short career.

Monday, February 2, 2009

Atheist - Unquestionable Presence

10/10

Unfortunately for the band, bassist Roger Patterson died in an car accident before the band's sophomore effort began recording. (What is it with metal bassists and dying in automotive accidents? There's him, Metallica's Cliff Burton, and... okay, that was it.) He was replaced by Tony Choy, who uses a "slap bass" technique that's pretty unusual in metal. If you're not familiar with this term, imagine the incidental music from Seinfeld and you've got a pretty good idea of what it sounds like. This one gets the 10 mostly because I really like that bass sound; I feel that all other aspects of this album and Piece of Time are pretty much equal, but the bass puts Unquestionable Presence over the top.
If anyone thinks that death metal is just screaming, loud guitars and cartoonishly gory lyrics, play this for them. This is cerebral music, and you'll miss much of the impact if you just put it on in the background; you have to pay very close attention. My only complaint is that just like the debut, it's just too short.

Sunday, February 1, 2009

Atheist - Piece of Time

9/10

Wow, this is a great debut. Kelly Schaefer's vocals are in the Chuck Schuldiner raspy style instead of the stereotypical death metal "Cookie Monster" style, and they fit the music perfectly. The mix is split between vocals, guitars, bass and drums in a much more even fashion than most extreme metal albums; the bass is practically a lead instrument at some points. However, the songwriting is excellent, and not nearly as boring as some later tech-death bands; it's not complicated just for the sake of being complicated.. This is amazingly advanced stuff for 1989 (although it wasn't released in the US until 1991); some would call it the first technical death metal album ever. My only real complaints are about some cheesy vocals synths on the last track and that the album's just over half an hour long; it'll leave you begging for more.