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Queen - Queen II CD (album) cover




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4.36 | 861 ratings

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4 stars My formal introduction to the music of Queen came through the video for "Radio Gaga" back in 1984. As a young headbanger, this song and the accompanying video did nothing to impress. Over the next couple of decades, I became familiar with Queen's classic hits and, yes, there was some pretty cool guitar in a few of those. But Queen were quite clearly not heavy metal and so not my interest. If I had only heard this album back in my youth, I might have jumped on the Queen mobile much earlier. As it is, I only picked this up a few weeks before the movie "Bohemian Rhapsody" hit the theatres in November of 2018. Now, I have 11 of the 14 w/Freddie Mercury Queen albums.

Queen's early albums are actually quite a treat for the fan of early seventies heavy rock. But while the debut captures the 1970 to 1972 sound of Queen, "Queen II" shows the band progressing its heavy rock anthems into Queen's unique style, while also developing their signature sound of almost show tune-like rock with Brian May's melodic singing guitar, Mercury's entertaining piano work, and the layered, chorus vocals that they would put to excellent use in the mid-seventies.

Songs which surprised me for their bombast and head-banging riffs are "Father to Son" and "Ogre Battle", the former really getting heavy in the middle, and the latter featuring a guitar riff that could have easily inspired Judas Priest when they wrote "Victim of Changes" from 1976's "Sad Wings of Destiny". As a fan of really heavy riffs of the early seventies, I love these two ultra-powerful tracks. But neither of these are just straight ahead heavy rockers. "Father to Son" features quieter piano parts played by Brian May, and "Ogre Battle" makes good use of the studio with the music beginning in reverse and then one by one, the instruments flip around to forwards. The ogre battle part has Freddie Mercury hollering out ogre cries while Brian May's guitar simulates the swinging and crashing of battle axes.

Side one also holds the dramatic "White Queen (As It Began)" with both soft, melodic vocals acoustic parts and a dynamic chorus with more of that pretty acoustic guitar contrasted with heavy rock guitar. Brian May sings, "Some Day One Day", a pretty acoustic track with melodic rock guitar, and Roger Taylor closes the album with his hard rock message to mothers of young men, "The Loser In the End". His drumming is interesting and effective without being overly pretentious.

Most of side two follows the course of music style that would make Queen unique. This is quite possibly because Mercury wrote all the songs on side two, while side one was mostly written by May with the one song by Taylor. "The Fairy Feller's Master Stroke" already has that theatrical sound so typical of Queen: fast beats and piano, singing guitar, excellent vocal melodies that sway while the lyrical delivery tap dances, and over-the-top chorus vocals. This song alone sets Queen well apart from their contemporaries. "Nevermore" is a soft and pretty piano number that's barely over a minute long. "The March of the Black Queen" is in a way a precursor to the song "Bohemian Rhapsody" because it goes through various musical styles and changes over its six-minute plus course. The song attempts to be as self-indulgent as Mercury could muster. Unusual time signatures, polyrhythms and polymeters, and so much layering that the tape went transparent. Once again, we have an excellent example of the kind of song-written Queen was capable of putting forward.

Other tracks on side two include the sweet and catchy but thankfully short "Funny How Love Is" and the single "Seven Seas of Rhye", a rousing short piano and hard rock guitar track that is an easy pick for a best-of list.

What's to love about this album are the wonderfully creative blend of softer piano and melody songs, the hard and heavy rocking guitar and drum tracks, the incredible vocal works, and the imaginative and original song structures that prove Queen were masters in the recording studio. This level of creativity and boldness set the band apart from their peers. The one weak point I feel is that the recording quality could have been better. Some of the sublime moments on the album lose a bit of impact because the quality of the recordings isn't consistently warm and clear. I also find some parts have much louder mastering, at least on the 2011 remaster, particularly "Loser In the End", which is the one whole track that sounds cleaner and clearer than the others.

I now have much more appreciation for the later releases of Queen and even love "Radio Gaga". But still, I think the first three albums best capture the heavy side of Queen as well as the band's early ventures in studio experimentation.

FragileKings | 4/5 |


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