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Queen - A Night At The Opera CD (album) cover

A NIGHT AT THE OPERA

Queen

 

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4.29 | 950 ratings

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siLLy puPPy
5 stars By the time their third album "Sheer Heart Attack" had been released and run its course, QUEEN found themselves perched on a rather peculiar precipice. Not only had that album launched them onto the world's stage with two huge hit singles, a Billboard top 20 album charting and a successful debut headlining tour that took them across the world on a 77 show live circuit that lasted several months but due to the rather unscrupulous shadiness of their business manager Norman Sheffield, the band was left in a state of unthinkable poverty despite the new found success, a state of affairs so utterly dismal that drummer Roger Taylor was even advised not to drum too hard because they couldn't even afford to replace the drum sticks if they happened to break.

This left QUEEN in a very strange position where they would either soon become irrelevant and fade into history as a mere footnote of obscure 70s flashes in the pan or on the contrary go back into the studio and create one of the best albums of all time. After acquiring the management skills of John Reid who had helped Elton John become one of the top stars of the 70s, the band went into many studios and cranked out their fourth album A NIGHT AT THE OPERA, which took the name of the famous Marx Brothers film and it should go without saying created their most successful and revered album of their entire career. Fate was truly on QUEEN's side as EMI Records not only welcomed the band's return to the studio but had enough faith to grace it with a lavish production job which would make A NIGHT AT THE OPERA the most expensive album ever recorded at the time.

With this do or die situation at hand, the 70s version of the Fab Four: Freddie Mercury, Brian May, Roger Deacon and Roger Taylor spent months in various studios crafting their most ambitious album yet and in many ways, the album that the previous three had been hinting at all along. A NIGHT AT THE OPERA took QUEEN's eclectic styles of genre skipping with a lush complex production that implemented unthinkable layers of overdubs and multitrack recording techniques. All the efforts proved successful of course with A NIGHT AT THE OPERA going platinum on both sides of the Atlantic and spawning the band's most successful single of their career "Bohemian Rhapsody," a multi-segmented song so magnanimous in nature that it single-handedly made QUEEN one of the most popular rock bands in history.

Like the albums prior, A NIGHT AT THE OPERA continued QUEEN's signature mix of catchy pop hooks, classically infused piano riffs, heavy rock bombast and progressive rock nuances. This fourth album puts all those attributes on steroids and finds Freddie Mercury's operatic flamboyancy reaching its apex. In addition to the expected styles, QUEEN added even more disparate genres such as skiffle, Victorian music hall and even Dixieland jazz which gives A NIGHT AT THE OPERA the ping pong ball effect where one track cedes into another seemingly unrelated one that often gives the impression that tracks were recorded by completely different bands however careful listening will reveal a few underlying themes. The tracks segue together in the same key, May's ubiquitous harmonic guitar overdubs and an extreme appetite for pomp and awe where no limitations are considered.

The state of affairs that found QUEEN starving while the bigwigs running the show got rich off their efforts found Freddie Mercury in a less than happy mood where he lashed out in the form of the album's opener "Death On Two Legs (Dedicated To?.)" which once the story is understood about the bloodsucking management makes perfect sense as the name Norman Sheffield can easily be inserted in the missing credit. The track opens with Mercury's infamous piano style which quickly finds May's equally eccentric guitar parts joining in. The track is a vituperatory heavy rock format with a catchy melodic development. While no names were mentioned, the thematic delivery ruffled feathers and found a lawsuit for defamation that was settled out of court.

Starting with the second track "Lazing On A Sunday Afternoon", the album begins to alternate between heavy rock tracks and more piano driven music hall styles which are rather short little ditties that offer the spirit of the variation experienced in the music hall era of English musical halls that remained popular from the 1830s well into the 1960s. QUEEN joined bands like The Beatles and The Bonzo Dog Doo-Dah Band in implanting this traditional form of music into their format. After track two's short stint, it is quickly followed by the outstanding Roger Taylor penned "I'm In Love With My Car" which not only remains one of QUEEN's most recognizable tracks with its heavily produced series of guitar sounds and unmistakable hooks but adds the humorous touch that fits in with the album titles Marx Brothers theme. While Taylor wasn't a main songwriter, he was sort of the George Harrison of the band meaning when he was allowed to contribute he only delivered top quality.

Next up is "You're My Best Friend," a tender ballad that allowed bassist John Deacon to shine where he not only wrote the song but played the Wurlitzer piano as well as his usual bass. This would prove to be another huge hit for QUEEN which hit the top 10 and has remained one of the band's most popular having appeared on every sort of Greatest Hits compilation conjured up over the years. Like Taylor, Deacon proved to be a vital ingredient to the band's overall chemistry even if his contributions to songwriting were overshadowed by the dualistic prowess of the formidable Mercury and May team.

The next two tracks were all written by May with the self-described sci-fi skiffle track "39" being written and sung by Brian May. This acoustic guitar tale of a group of space explorers who engage in a time defying journey finds Deacon playing a double bass and Mercury and Taylor relegated to only serving as backup vocalists. Contrast ensues when the next heavily distorted and heavy rocker "Sweet Lady," also a May construct, zigzags in waltz timing but finds a more 4/4 rich timing in various segments giving the true rocker of the album a rather progressive feel with one of May's heaviest off-the-leash guitar solos on the entire album.

After the honky tonk jangle piano flashback of the Mercury piano driven "Seaside Rendezvous" which found a wealth of wind instruments such as clarinet, tuba, trumpets and kazoo and even a thimble induced tap dance section, the second side of the album finds May's outstanding "The Prophet's Song" adding some progressive rock touches, which is one of the album's most ambitious tracks as well as longest as it extends past the eight minute mark. Graced with a toy Japanese koto, a strong guitar driven melody, passionately delivered lyrics and an unusual vocal canon that is bathed in psychedelic production techniques, this track displays a wild display of ever-changing dynamic shifts as it refers to the Book of Genesis with the famous line "return like the white dove" in reference to the tale of Noah's Ark. It also showcases some of the band's most outstanding vocal harmonies on overdrive. Probably one of my all time favorite tracks by QUEEN.

While the Mercury piano ballad "Love Of My Life" and the May banjo / ukulele Dixieland score "Good Company" are more of brief intermissions than actual serious compositions, they prove to be more like mood generating fluffers for the larger than life "Bohemian Rhapsody" which has remained QUEEN's most recognizable contribution to the music scene in all of history. This idiosyncratic behemoth was developed as Mercury's classic piano runs which dictate the other instrumentation but the score runs the gamut from tender piano ballad music to the famous ending opera segment that exhorts operatic themes in true Wagnerian pomp with references to Scaramouche, Galileo, Figaro, Beelzebub, Bismillah and of courses the fandango. The famous heavy metal ending and reprise to the piano melody have made this standout track immortal and entire books could be written about it. The track hit the top 10 once again in the 90s when it appeared on the film "Wayne's World" proving that the track had multi- generational appeal.

As the album ends with the short reworked cover version of "God Save The Queen," the British national anthem, it signifies that a new royalty had arrived with the release of A NIGHT AT THE OPERA and with a new royal seal appearing on the album cover, it was clear that indeed a strange updated musical act had usurped the rock and roll crown and delivered one of the most ambitious, most expensive and most outlandish albums to have emerged in the 70s. While i find this album to the masterpiece that most deem it to be, it doesn't necessarily start out that way. While some tracks are clearly stronger than other, a masterpiece isn't about every track existing on an equal playing field but rather how they are juxtaposed next to each other and what their purpose is. A NIGHT AT THE OPERA has instantly lovable tracks but once the instant flash wears off, allows repeated listens to unleash new magic. That's exactly what A NIGHT AT THE OPERA offers. An ever changing series of reactions that allows this to remain a classic in modern times just as it must've been when it was released. The only downside to this album is that the band was never able to replicate its grandiose heights again but nevertheless it made QUEEN a household name for the rest of time and continues to have new periods of interest.

siLLy puPPy | 5/5 |

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