As far as Queen albums go, I can't think of any other that look more iconic or stood out, and this now famous diamond shaped photocall is actually a predate of the equally renowned BoRap video (which seemingly is the latest abbreviated reference to their crowning hit). As history rolls on and its stock gathers more and more significance almost 40 years on, this album despite the notable sleeve will sadly remain overlooked by new fans wanting to explore this fine act's mystique.
Where their debut album was a bit hurriedly put together, and the band had solely relied on recording music when other booked in groups had finished their sets, this was Queen's first opportunity to add in all the mixing snippets with the time allotted solely to them. I've always maintained that Freddie and Co's most creative material was before the Rhapsody breakthrough, and if I had to say or be shot, this is my favourite Queen album. Or it could be their last one together, Innuendo. Damn, I've always been indecisive, but I understand a few fans of II include Billy Corgan and Steve Vai, so many a fine mind think alike.
This was the inlay cover on the original vinyl.
After the none too well publicised and, in my opinion, a seriously understated entrance into the rock world, with their self titled album, Queen II was a couple of great strides upwards. First, the quality. The recording sounds much sharper and disciplined than I. Second, they had a lot more written material to hand, and it seems from day one in the studio, they had a mindset of how this record would be set out. Die hard fans often refer to side one as the White Side, virtually all of it is written by May, with Roger Taylor writing the last track on it, while the other side is all Mercury's work.
So, the first track, Procession, it's a very brief May instrumental depicting a monarchic funeral, and although they were priding on the lack of synthesisers used, there is plenty of multi layering in the track. Still, it was commonplace back then, and this doesn't scuff the polish of the end product, I've always enjoyed listened to it, Next is Father To Son, it's another assured piece, introducing Freddie at his solid and equally assured with some metal traits during the vocal break. It then mixes into the next song, White Queen, where I can see how the White Side attained its moniker. It's much less heavier and more focused on the unplugged side of things while maintaining the storyline throughout.
Now onto Some Day One Day, a May sung semi acoustic, it's one of my secret favourite gems, and towards the business end there's more multi layering, However this one feels very rare as the Red Special leads have three different roles, hence my thumb up on this before Roger Taylor's only track, The Loser In The End closes the White Side. Here, it feels a tad distorted and very rocky that said, although not with the metal edge you might expecting. But onto The Black Side where opening up is the best one of the lot, Ogre Battle. Brilliant narrative, metallic gilt edge serration in the riff work, the battle effects are a tad laboured but the Mercury screams, which isn't something you hear much of in a Queen album, are such a beholding delight.
This is for me their best live version. In The Works and Magic tours, the song was so underused.
If there's only slight criticism I have on the album, then it's a little short on hooks, but this side redresses the balance. Back then, the foursome were applying some quirk filled twists in their recording, and The Fairy Fella's Master-Stroke certainly brings a little pep about with some spinet and notable harmonies before the downbeat piano ballad Nevermore reigns poignancy albeit for not much more than a minute. I'm listening to March Of The Black Queen, where the intro and first couple of verses sound academic, but there's a few twists in the plot with alternating Mercury vocals between falsetto and tenor. It takes a few listens to get the cut of it genes but certainly worth it in the end.
Final two tracks are the melodic and vox geared Funny How Love Is, with some Pet Sounds inspired harmonies and their first chart hit, Seven Seas Of Rhye. The instrumental track was already included in the debut album, but this is the three minute version that they were finally able to channel effort in. It is a fitting end to a fine 1970s rock album, but forty years on, there's nothing to suggest to me that Queen II will ever break beyond its cult status, and most of its new found fans will relate more to their hit making facets. Great shame, as I'll always maintain that the best material came about this time before they started believing in themselves, so to speak....
8 out of ten. Oh, now you have my attention, and maybe my money, time and heart.
Best Track : Ogre Battle