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Queen - Sheer Heart Attack CD (album) cover




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3.96 | 672 ratings

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5 stars Bangers and Mash from the Indian Takeaway (but no Synthesizers)

I'm saying it's part of talent these days to have a business brain. You have to instinctively have an awareness of all the things that will work to make you successful. Good music is just not enough. Freddie Mercury

There were few bands reviled to the extent that Queen were by both the music press and my buddies for such heretical utterances when Sheer Heart Attack hit the shelves in 1974. My teenage cronies and I were unanimous in the view that Purple, Zep, the Stones, the Who and Sabbath had all 'paid their dues' by languishing filthy and undiscovered while living on roadkill and berries from a dilapidated Transit van before the big time beckoned. Yep, Keef, Ozzy and Ritchie had suffered for their art with no compromises and we somehow felt their purity still intact by virtue of their perpetual adolescence and avowed contempt for material baubles. The fact that our heroes all had country retreats with sprawling estates, 5 cars, a wife and at least 3 mistresses plus the moral compass of day-tripper Vikings, did little to dispel our keenly felt sense of outrage that there were frivolous imposters in our midst. These 'johnny come latelys' had the gall to admit to business acumen, degrees, vaulted ambition and to cap it all: Didn't want to change the world!? As Davie, our 'Yeti with a litter of puppy fat' remarked with unwitting prescience as Freddie and the boys strutted their way through 'Seven Seas of Rye' on a TV set:

Queen are just an art school poofs band ! (Davie never did make clear his twofold ambiguity if it was the band, their fans or both that were guilty of such 1st degree campness.

Looking back now after 37 years have passed it's a little dispiriting having to acknowledge that some clichés do hold true i.e. we criticise others for the faults we embody ourselves and often end up becoming what we profess to despise. 'Davie' is now a Regional Manager for the Royal Bank of Scotland, 'Flab' became a member of a far-right political organisation after graduating from Glasgow School of Art, 'Baggy' swapped the counter culture to join the police force and 'Nosebag' (don't ask) abandoned his '77 Punk No Future manifesto by retiring his Korean imported strat to the attic and became a history teacher.

Brighton Rock - Based loosely on Graham Greene's novel of the same name this May song explores the unlikely holiday romance between a naive young girl 'Jenny' and fledging gangster and borderline socio-path 'Jimmy'. It was originally planned to be a duet for male and female vocals but Mercury with his habitual chutzpah, ended up tackling both the roles himself by utilising his command of soprano coloratura for the 'Jenny' part. Rarely have Queen sounded as relentlessly heavy as this and Brighton Rock showcases a raw and visceral energy easily on a par with any Zeppelin behemoth you care to name. Sadly, such commanding weight slowly left their work in the years to come. The lengthy guitar solo at the tune's centre probably catapulted its author to overnight 'axe god' status and deservedly so, as multi layered and delayed harmonised strands of contrapuntal melody was completely unparalleled from a single moptop in 1974.The music itself had been around for a long time before being spliced into Brighton Rock as there is evidence that many of the ideas explored and developed existed under the title Blag by May's previous band Smile.

Killer Queen - Mercury has stated this number is about a high class call girl and the only Queen song where he wrote the lyrics before the music. Given his penchant for fibbing through those big white pearly teeth of his my dear, it's probably only whimsically credible. Either way it hardly matters on a song that is as good as the very best material penned by Bowie, Elton John, Brian Wilson, Ray Davies or the Beatles (Penny Lane might be a distant cousin). If you can imagine Noel Coward holding court at the piano in an exclusive bordello with a glam-rock cocktail ensemble lending support, you are at least half way up the Portobello Road guvnor. May's tactile cat-scratch punning glissando during the line playful as a pussycat gives me goosebumps every single time. The word play and provocatively risqué ambiguities throughout are a sheer delight:

To avoid complications she never kept the same address In conversation she spoke just like a baroness Met a man from China, went down to Geisha Minor Then again incidentally if you're that way inclined

Tenement Funster - Perhaps the only Roger Taylor vehicle that has stood the test of time as the subsequent contributions from Queen's flaxen mucky pup had the uncanny habit of dragging their albums just short of flawless status. e.g. I'm in Love with My Car, Drowse, Fight From the Inside, Fun It, Rock It (Prime Jive) are but unsightly pimples on the hindquarters of her/his majesty. Kudos to Rog therefore for this little gem which contains a brilliant melody over some inspired chord choices together with a carefully paced arrangement wedded to some genuine pathos in the lyric:

I got a way with the girls on my block Try my best to be a real individual but when we go down to Smokies and rock they line up like it's some kind of ritual

Such disillusion and thinly veiled disdain for womankind in a young man of 25 betrays a creature jaded with acting out the vicarious dreams of others. (I also think he's a crap drummer.)

Flick of the Wrist - The first in a particularly virulent duo of Mercury songs that address the corruption and dissolution inherent in the music industry (The other being Death on Two Legs from a Night at the Opera.) Some commentators have posited that the inspiration for this number was Queen's erstwhile manager/shark Norman Sheffield but the singer has denied this. This was a track that was written while May was still recuperating from illness and the 3 remaining band members had to leave suitable spaces in the arrangement for May's guitar parts on his subsequent return. There is a deliciously evil middle eastern tonality in the tense claustrophobic verses which is finally released in a glorious and soaring 'western' chorus. Great use of startling operatic backing vocals to wind the excitement levels up yet another notch. Judging by his resume, producer Roy Thomas Baker had considerable experience in classical music and opera recording techniques during his tenure with the Decca label, and the band reap the dividends here with a hitherto unprecedented flavour being added to rock. Brian May's guitar solo must be one of my favourites of any genre, as he exploits the Arabic flavour of his surroundings with a thrilling and slithering 'snake charmer' solo.

Lily of the Valley - Beautifully sung piano framed Mercury ballad with slyly teasing backing vocals and a carefully paced dynamic development that builds to an impressive climax during its modest 1 min 45 seconds orbit.

Now I'm Here - Composed by Brian May from his hospital bed while convalescing from a bout of hepatitis which was considered serious enough to even place a doubt about his continuing with the band. One of the truly unimpeachable classic rock songs that everyone and their pet cicada could probably yodel by heart. The audio pun of stereo panning the location of the Now I'm there vocal riposte might seem a tad redundant now but it was revolutionary at the time and we are thereafter treated to 'that' riff which has earned its rightful place in the pantheon of the goosebump gods where it rubs anointed shoulders with Satisfaction, My Woman From Tokyo, Black Dog, Smoke on the Water, Brown Sugar and Rebel Rebel. No, I have no idea what the lyrics are about so all I can reveal is that Hoople does refer to Mott the Hoople who Queen toured previously with as support act and that they quote quite liberally from Chuck Berry's Little Queenie towards the fade.

In the Lap of the Gods - Queen pitch their camp inside Cecil B Demille's roomy tent with the needle ramping dangerously into the screaming pink hereabouts. The intro is the fruit of a misguided daydream of Liza Minelli duetting with a pitch shifted Noel Coward while Liberace vamps on piano and Dame Joan Sutherland attempts to shatter the cocktail glasses held by all. Mercifully however, such tongue in cheek decadent bombast retreats to reveal a very memorable and robust song featuring Queen's signature multi tracked harmony vocals. Perhaps a little experimental dry run down the aisles of la Scala they would explore with such daring and brilliance on Bohemian Rhapsody?.

Stone Cold Crazy - My acquaintances in the metal fraternity advise me that this track was pivotal in the development of speed metal. Yeah so? Is fast blather better than slow blather? Whatever, this reminds me of Led Zep in places circa Communication Breakdown but what makes it unique as an uptempo rawker is Mercury's inimitably fey delivery even when he's convinced he wrote 'swaggering macho' on the parcel. Dynamic contrasts can still be hugely effective on songs as short as this as evidenced by the unaccompanied vocal sections lending even more weight to the huge sound of the whole band in toto. Reputedly the very first song Queen ever performed live in front of an audience.

Dear Friends - For years I thought this a tell-tale Freddie number but it was actually written by May who contributes the piano accompaniment. One of the very best and perfectly succinct Queen ballads that carries a trace of lullaby in its lineage but not in this case aimed at a child, but we so-called fully fledged adults.

Misfire - The first song written by 'the quiet one with hair like a spaniels ears' and although it's tempting to dismiss this breezy and light Deacon tune as surface filler, it is however just too damn plain vanilla addictive to be relegated to bubble gum pop. If Abba or Fleetwood Mac had come up with something similar, they would have been showered in Ivor Novello awards. Once sampled you will find it easier to nail a jellyfish to the ceiling or teach a cicada to yodel that get this invasive melody to vacate your waking hours. BTW Deacon played all the guitars on this track.

Bring Back That Leroy Brown - Fred was a big Jim Croce fan and the latter may have provided the inspiration for this authentic pastiche of 30's style vaudevillian jazz. Check out the delightful and faithful period style of May's ukulele/banjo vamp and Deacon's upright slinky bass. As is the norm for a Queen track there must be at least 4 layers of ingenious harmonies on the backing vocals alone but they somehow always just manage to avoid overcooking the puddy. (That's not luck, it's hard won talent)

She Makes Me (Storm-trooper in Stilettos) - Almost a 70's update to the Velvets Venus in Furs as envisioned by May (Venus in Clogs?) Similar to Lou Reed's creation, it has a droning oriental trippy feel punctuated by a huge metronomic reverberating snare. Is it just a coincidence that the subject matter in both touch upon (gulp) S & M themes?

In the Lap of the Gods (Revisited) - Another classic sing-along showstopper that displays the pomp and (mitigating*) circumstances this band so excelled at with one of their anthemic slices of preening peacock rock.(* a brilliant hook can be a mandate for all manner of other excesses) Queen wrote and performed an astonishing number of songs that were tantamount to God's gift to the cigarette lighter (the only time such a modest device was ever held aloft in supplication it would seem) I never saw them in the live realm but I'm sure they would have blown my little cotton socks clean off and right up into the firmament.

It's interesting to note that there are many observers from the Indian intelligentsia who place the achievements of Freddie Mercury (nee Farrokh Bulsara) on the same plateau as that of Salman Rushdie and Vikram Seth i.e. taking the coloniser's art form and representing it in a manner richer and more dazzling than many Anglophones thought possible.

Not a baby clanger in sight and it really is practically impossible to unearth any discernible flaws in this enduring document. Some will point to the lack of any secular concerns or personal revelations on the lyrics front but Freddie is on record many times happy to confirm he was an unashamed fantasist who sought only to entertain not educate his audience.

He and his collaborators succeeded and will continue to do so for untold generations to come.

ExittheLemming | 5/5 |


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