The Austin Chronicle


Reviewed by Richard Whittaker, July 29, 2011, Music


Queen (Hollywood)
Queen II (Hollywood)
Sheer Heart Attack (Hollywood)
A Night at the Opera (Hollywood)
A Day at the Races (Hollywood)

Before Freddie Mercury's trademark mustache, before the Studio 54 hedonism, before perfecting stadium rock, Queen emerged from its prog-tinged glam cocoon as a vivid pop-rock butterfly, blazing five ambitious albums in four years (1973-1976). Europe already has the next three of these outtake laden double-disc sets, including, frustratingly, a stripped-down News of the World. Beating Rush to the punch on multipart suites, Queen demonstrated there was no influence, from Pink Floyd and traditional jazz to seaside sing-alongs, that the UK quartet wouldn't synthesize, and in turn, no theme of its own they wouldn't revisit. The multitracked call-and-response of "Liar" is a moot court prelude to the demonic trial sequence "Bohemian Rhapsody," while a curtailed instrumental version of "Seven Seas of Rhye" quickly returned in full throat as a rare highlight of the decidedly patchy Queen II. Even that often miserable sophomore slump (buried under the inelegant guitar wank of "Father to Son," scarcely to emerge) plays its role in the band's growth, contributing not only Mick Rock's iconic shadow-drenched cover portrait but also to a draft of "Rhapsody's" outro in "The March of the Black Queen." Fortunately, seven months later, Sheer Heart Attack shed bloat for delicious bombast, informing courtiers and courtesans that the regal splendor of A Night at the Opera and A Day at the Races was imminent. Brian May's inimitable homemade guitar – botched together using a fireplace and motorbike springs – became rock's Excalibur/Swiss Army Knife, flipping from grandiose power chords to barrel organ. Behind his melancholic piano, Mercury slinked from baritone to soprano, bedding his lover on roses picked from the Beach Boys' garden with "You're My Best Friend" before deliciously spitting out venom at "Death on Two Legs." So now, about that new News of the World ....

(Queen) ***

(Queen II) **

(Sheer Heart Attack; A Night at the Opera) ****

(A Day at the Races) ***.5

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