18 March 2014

Queen - Queen

As the path to untold successes and worldwide recognition goes, this must rank as one of the most understated beginnings in rock history. Queen had only been formed with the four well known members two years earlier under various guises such as Smile and Larry Lurex before settling on the now famous and resounding moniker. All multi-talented musicians with strong education backgrounds plus a wealth of diversity, Freddie with his flamboyance and ability to turn on a sixpence with a captive audience, Brian with a unique and distinctive tones on his "Red Special", Roger with dexterous but interpretable drumwork and the quiet member in the bassist John. Thing is, when this debut album first came out, nobody got it, and apart from the die-hard Queen fans, the ten tracks on this album are virtually unheard of.

Back then Queen had concentrated on gigging in colleges and small clubs in and around London when an opportunity came to record some of their recently penned material at De Lane Lea Studios in Soho. Many legendary acts had plied their trade inside those walls, but for an newish act still confined to cutting demos, it was nowhere near the finished quality product that they wanted. Phasing (an audio effect like a wave) was one of the methods they wanted in this album which in years to come would be a regular feature, but with virtually no funds, Queen had to rely on using the studios during downtime after other acts booked had recorded there. It's a good bet that even with some good production wizardry by Mike Stone and Roy Thomas Baker, this was destined to be a hurried item.

Their very first track is the May penned Keep Yourself Alive, released as their debut single which never charted given the lack of promotion or airplay Queen were given. Nevertheless, as their stock began to rise, it would remain on their set list right throughout their career. It has its own unique and memorable riffs, a hookline chorus that any budding rock act would kill for, good harmonies and just the tiniest of hints of what this band would soon be offering to the listener. May's songwriting continues onto the next track, Doing Alright, although eventually it was revealed that pre-Queen member Tim Staffell had also contributed. The Red Special man is also doing gentle piano keying as the tempo alternates from gentle rhythm, and some Doors-related bossa nova (drumstick hitting the metal edge of the snare) to power chording a couple of times with some Beach Boys-esque harmonies.

Throughout most of their career, all four members were individually credited, but it's generally accepted that Mercury did the lion's share of the songwriting, and he's written six tracks of the ten on their eponymous album. The first of these is Great King Rat, the first of many storytellings the great man would pen and one I certainly never tire of listening to, chunky wah wah pedal arrangements with the occasional acoustic strings. My Fairy King is yet another fantasy narrative which is heavily influenced by Led Zeppelin although the heavy laden ivory keywork does keep it feeling original. Now onto side two (vinyl reference here) where single number two Liar comes in. A six minute energetic epic, and one of Queen's heavier tracks before any thoughts of metal were dispelled for good after Bohemian Rhapsody. Sadly, the US edit was so seriously abridged, effectively cutting the content in half, it's a complete affront to the album version. So far Freddie's done reasonably well in the tenor/countertenor range, but in The Night Comes Down, he opts for falsetto voice which personally I've never liked, and this is possibly the weakest track on the album, "Lucy was high..." he warbles, just one of a few May-admired Beatle hallmarks shown, but the chord structure does feel somewhat disjointed. It's the only real letdown here.

In albums to come, May and Roger Taylor would be singing most of their self penned tracks and the latter musician makes his vocal debut in the brief Modern Times Rock n' Roll, just a simple track charting the trends of the age. It's back to end-all-and-be-all riffs with Son And Daughter and the first hints of the now famous Queen harmonies running through before the Bible telling Mercury written Jesus is yet another enjoyable if heavy track. Now for the slight confusing part, Seven Seas Of Rhye which I must emphasise is NOT the chart debut (that would follow on the next album, Queen II), this was written and recorded as a brief instrumental with the memorable piano opener before the lyrics and bridges were added in Queen II. I can only guess that this was included at the eleventh hour despite the recording time constraints.

Rolling Stone Album Guide "two out of five stars", NME "#54 on the list of greatest albums you've never heard", Allmusic, "patchy but promising", Chicago Herald "Good listening is guaranteed in 'Keep Yourself Alive' and 'Great King Rat.'" Some mixed reviews here, and all trying to illustrate the various forms of impact that Queen album number one had made to the keen ear then. And it's difficult to imagine what it was like long before the days of BR, Champions and Crazy Little Thing. I didn't like it much as a whole when I first heard it 25 years only to see it mature respectfully. Imaginative and well thought of at its most basic level in my opinion. And at its best? A well cut diamond they never got to finish polishing off.

7.5 out of ten. This is good and well worth a check.
Best track : Liar

Official Queen Facebook page
The band are very much still active. Follow their activities here on their official website
Buy the album here on Amazon
Listen to the album here on Spotify
For listeners on Deezer, there's a few extra demos and bonus tracks

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