Saturday, 24 October 2015

News Of The World - Queen - album review

This record, released in 1977, marked a transitional phase for Queen, the end of their "classic" period, and the dawn of a more uncertain time.

Less time was taken recording this album than had been occupied making some previous ones, and the finished product had less polish, and more grit, than people had become accustomed to. Some, but not all, of the songs exhibited a more stripped down feel.

News Of The World also saw Roger Taylor and John Deacon making further inroads into the songwriting dominance hitherto exerted by Freddie Mercury and Brian May. This factor affected the content of the album. Stylistic unity was diluted, but horizons were broadened.

The influence of punk on this record, in purely musical terms, is debatable. However, the energy and spontaneity possibly owe something, even subconsciously, to the shifts in the cultural climate. The album's flavour may simply have been born of a desire, unconnected with new movements, to go in a less complicated or grandiose direction.

Of course, by far the best known songs on the record are "We Will Rock You" and "We Are The Champions", opening the running order and tending to obscure and overshadow much of what follows. Like so many popular songs, these two anthemic tracks enjoy a prominence far out of proportion to their artistic merit.

One of the highlights for me is "All Dead, All Dead", a typically introspective and ethereal Brian May composition. It has a pleasing melody and an understated, enigmatic character. One of the most unjustly overlooked Queen album tracks, in my humble opinion.

"My Melancholy Blues" has received greater recognition, as one of Freddie Mercury's most likeable and dextrous piano ballads. The composer's vocal and piano talents are well projected here, and it was an inspired choice as the closing track.

So where on the record do we encounter the new rougher, leaner Queen? Well "Sheer Heart Attack" is an obvious place to look. Frantic and relentless, with lyrics which touch on sentiments being vented by the younger bands emerging at the time. Lacking the finesse which characterizes many Queen tracks, critics might charge that this was a clumsy attempt to appear "hip" and "relevant". I would disagree with such assertions, as this was no great departure for Roger Taylor, sonically or lyrically. "Fight From The Inside" covers similarly urgent and abrasive terrain.

"Get Down, Make Love" is an unusual track, and one which is in keeping with the disorientating nature of some of this record. It is difficult to know what the melodic or musical origins of this song were, and its structure and rhythmic patterns anticipate other Freddie songs such as "Bicycle Race".

The simple and immediate "Sleeping On The Sidewalk" is also in accord with the overall thrust of News Of The World. It was by all accounts recorded rapidly, and it benefits from the resulting lack of artifice. A chance to hear some bluesy Brian May guitar work, which was a rarity on Queen records. The lyrics' ambivalence about fame and fortune, and the vagaries of the music business, were a recurring theme in the band's catalogue.

Ironically it was John Deacon who contributed one of the most "Queen-like" items on the LP, "Spread Your Wings". In fairness, this may have something to do with the arrangement with which the song was furnished. John also supplies "Who Needs You", a composition more in line with his "pop" reputation.

The other number in the patented Queen mould is Brian May's "It's Late", but even here we discern less emphasis on the perfectionism and layered approach of earlier times. The earthy guitars and the muscular rhythm section are testimony to this. As elsewhere on the set, Freddie's full vocal range is subordinated to a more raspy, throaty sound. That said, the song has a strong and affecting melodic appeal.

Despite new areas being explored, even casual observers would be able to identify this as Queen. In contrast to its predecessor, A Day At The Races, this record at least shows the band evolving. It may not be their best achievement, but the "attitude" and sporadic directness makes it an intriguing and enjoyable listen. It still sounds fresh, partly because it exudes some belief and conviction.

In its eclecticism and nods to "modernity", this record also set the group on the path towards what would start to crystallize on 1980's The Game. It was an uneven and patchy road, but the modern Queen sound began to emerge here.

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