Thursday, 16 February 2017

Hot Space - Queen (1982 album) - review

Following on from my recent blog post about my attendance at Queen's 1982 show at Elland Road, Leeds,  I thought that I would take a look at the album which they had released shortly before that concert, Hot Space.

This was Queen's first "proper" studio album for two years, which in those days seemed (to me) like an eternity, but by modern standards this would be no big deal.

I can't really remember whether there were signals in advance of the musical direction which the record would signify, but in the end it turned out to be a mixture of decided funk and dance influences, with some more "traditional" Queen sounds alongside.  In some ways this was a more pronounced and decisive take on the blend which had been represented by 1980's The Game.

This album is sometimes seen as the album which triggered a period of uncertainty and soul-searching for the group. It met with a lukewarm critical (and in some territories, commercial) reception, and these factors may all have contributed to a crisis of confidence, and a lack of direction, which were not fully remedied until Live Aid in 1985.

Looking back now, to me the record stands up reasonably well. The sound, in its breeziness and exuberance, is very much "of its time", but the continuing excursions into more rhythmic styles met with mixed results. I think the inventiveness and stylishness of the production tend to obscure the lack of fresh and potent ideas in the songwriting department.

Of the "dance" orientated pieces, only "Back Chat" really works, not because it is an outstanding composition, but because of the atmospheric production, and the effort which was evidently expended on arriving at the finished article. "Staying Power" worked much better in concert, and "Body Language" remains as puzzling to me now as it was over thirty years ago.

The two Roger Taylor songs, "Action This Day" and "Calling All Girls" are likeable but minor.  "Life Is Real (Song For Lennon), has some intriguing lyrics, but comes across as rather "Queen by numbers".

"Put Out The Fire", a basic rocker, perhaps heralds the beginning of a shift in Brian May's songwriting efforts from the mainly introspective towards a greater emphasis on social commentary. The inclusion of "Under Pressure" almost occurred to me as a rather tired gesture, as it had always seemed to me as a "standalone" single, and putting it as the final track on Hot Space felt like an admission that the creative well was running somewhat dry.

So I would contend that Hot Space is greater than the sum of its individual parts. Although it is by common consent one of the weaker records released by the band, the freshness of its production, and the diversity of the material, make it an interesting listen to this day.

Wednesday, 15 February 2017

Queen live at Elland Road, Leeds, 1982 - my recollections

A recent internet discussion has rekindled memories of my most memorable concert-going experience, when I saw Queen perform live at Elland Road stadium in Leeds in May 1982.

In all honesty, although I am a massive music lover, I have never been one for attending big concerts in person. I have seen dozens, if not hundreds of bands in pubs and clubs over the years, but bigger venues have seldom had the pleasure of my attendance.

The first thing to mention is that we didn't even have tickets for the Queen gig beforehand. We travelled to the venue on the day, primarily with the intention of soaking up the atmosphere, and possibly standing outside the stadium to hear the music.

Anyway, partly by bus, and partly on foot, we made our way to Elland Road, and kind of mingled with the crowds. I recall that it was a bright and sunny day.  Memories are naturally rather hazy, but I guess that the support acts (Heart, Joan Jett and the Blackhearts, Teardrop Explodes) must have started playing around late afternoon, with Queen planning to make their appearance once the sun began to go down.

I was with my older brother and a friend, and we spent much of the afternoon and early evening standing outside the gates of the stadium, hoping to catch a glimpse of band members or assorted hangers-on.  We were eventually rewarded when none other than Freddie Mercury walked past, literally feet away from us, although we were standing on the other side of some metal railings at the time!

Eventually the time came for Queen to go on stage, and at this point we were still standing outside, although as their performance got under way, we could hear the music pretty clearly. Imagine our delight when, after the first couple of numbers, the security guys allowed some of those standing outside to enter the ground. I'm not sure who authorised this, but I've always liked to think that Queen (or their management) had something to do with it.

I can't even remember whether our friend was still was with us at this stage, but my brother and I were very lucky to be standing quite close to the front left of the stage, so we had a splendid view. This was my first experience of any kind of live rock or pop concert, and initially the sheer spectacle, and the attendant assault on the senses, rather blew me away.  Gradually, though, I began to appreciate the sheer brilliance of the performance. At the time Queen were at, or near, their peak as a live band, and there were very few acts anywhere who could rival them at the time.

The major documents of the 1982 UK/European tour are the audio and video recordings of the later Milton Keynes show.  However, I think that Brian May for one has gone on record as saying that the Elland Road show was superior.  Queen's act in the early 1980s was characterized by abundant energy and the tightness of the ensemble, and these elements were very much to the fore that night in Leeds.

I was quite young at the time, and some of the musical and artistic nuances are therefore lost in the mists of time. I recall clapping and waving my arms quite a bit, in addition to singing along enthusiastically with most of the songs. All too soon, the concert was over, and we joined the thousands filing out of the stadium. I remember that local residents were still standing on the pavement outside, soaking up the sights and sounds.

From memory, I think that the last bus had already gone by the time we emerged, so we walked the several miles home, still in a state of euphoria and well-being because of what we had just witnessed.