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Queen - Queen II CD (album) cover




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4.36 | 861 ratings

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5 stars I've been bludgeoned to death by Brian May's axe, and Freddie Mercury sings a requiem at my graveside while Deacon and Taylor hammer home the nails in my coffin.

That's how it's always felt listening to this album. Multitracked guitars ('Procession') herald the beginning of a forty-minute assault on my senses. Three minutes into 'Father To Son' I'm screaming for mercy. May's guitar has never been this savage, before or since. And it only gets worse/better: a screaming guitar slide akin to a Zero heading for an aircraft carrier reminds us we are only half way through the first epic track. This is glorious. This is the heart of progressive rock: choral arrangements of exquisite beauty surrounded by savage guitar, music powered by raw emotion, playfulness and high fantasy. And this is only the White Side: what on earth will the Black Side sound like?


On with the show. 'White Queen' drips with pathos. I'd not think this now, I'm sure *ahem*, but at age fourteen this track always made me cry. 'Stars of loveliness in her hair ... so sad, my eyes, she cannot see.' Sitar-like guitar is backed by an ethereal chorus, but I just know QUEEN can't keep the lid on it for long: they follow with an extraordinarily beautiful passage: 'it is forevermore that I wait ...'

Wisely, the band slow the pace for a song or two. 'Some Day One Day' continues to shimmer with beauty, but does so without the raw power we've already witnessed - and still to come. This is a gem. Lovely sparkly rhythm guitar, reserved vocals and even an understated solo. Such confidence, after only one studio album, to hold themselves in reserve, to create a track that is as much soundscape as song. Deacon's 'The Loser In The End' is a bit of a misstep, probably the result of band politics. 'I'll let you have a song on Side 1 if you let me have all of Side 2, OK?' It's a great rock 'n' roll song, but misplaced here. Even the lyrics take us away from the album's fantasy conceit.

I have no words for the Black Side. Well, I have a few, but they won't do it justice.

'Ogre Battle' is the album's other misstep: the lyrics are appallingly trite. 'Two-way mirror mountain'? 'You can't go east 'cause you gotta go south.' Er, what? But -and it's an enormous but - you won't hear sounds like this anywhere else, ever. The opening builds into an extraordinary harmonised vocal effect that is guaranteed to make your hair stand on end. This is Freddie Mercury, folks, an outrageous performer with a personality only slightly smaller than the United Kingdom, and it is on this twenty munites of music we get to see it in all its pompous, prog-rock glory.

Fabulous but it just gets better. 'The Fairy-Feller's Master Stroke' is an album's worth of power in less than three minutes, a cheeky (sorry, couldn't resist) little number containing more prog than half the bands featured on this site could manufacture in their careers. And on it goes. 'Nevermore' is a glorious ballad, an introduction to 'The March of the Black Queen', the centrepiece of this album, and the blueprint for the later (and inferior) 'Bohemian Rhapsody'. Nope, no words. 'Funny How Love Is' gives us some respite, and 'Seven Seas of Rhye' ought to have been the blueprint for groups like RHAPSODY. This is how you do it, boys.

We all know that QUEEN went on to bigger things. But they were not better things. What might QUEEN have become had they retained their progressive sensibilities? This is their best album, the best album of 1974 and one of the best of all time. Well, in my opinion.

The tide of progressive rock washed up to its highest point in 1974, and when it withdrew, left this album. You may not like it, but you must listen to it. Listen, and lament for what could have been, and for what we've lost.

russellk | 5/5 |


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