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




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The Mentalist
5 stars It's debatable whether or not QUEEN is a prog band. Though I suppose any band that plays as diverse a range of musical styles as Queen while still sounding instantly identifiable deserve to be called progressive. Prog or not, A Night at the Opera has to be one of the all time great rock albums. The album is named after the Marx Brothers movie from 1935, which can't be a coincidence, as many of the songs on the album are spoofs on the music of that era. This album's so good I'm going to go through it track by track

'Death On Two Legs' begins with some beautiful piano playing and startlingly original guitar work. It's an angry song about corrupt management and is sung with real venom by Mr Mercury. Stunning vocal harmonies and awesome guitar playing abound.

'Lazing On A Sunday Afternoon' is a short but brilliant spoof on the popular music of the 1920s/30s (such as 'Keep young and beautiful' )when singers used to sound ever-so-upper-class while singing through megaphones, giving their voices that strange nasal quality. The effect is nicely recreated on this song. Brian May's little guitar coda at the end is beautiful.

'I'm In Love With My Car' is a good Roger Tayor song elevated to greatness by a mighty production. "Big" is the best way to describe the production values on this song.

'You're My Best Friend' In some ways this song seems to be a homage to early Motown music. A crisp, catchy pop song featuring yet another unique guitar solo by Brian May.

'39' Is a song that sounds suspiciously like 60s vocal group The Seekers. On the surface the words come across as a conventional song of love lost. However, on closer listen, it tells a poignant tale of quantum physics: a search-party is sent out "across the milky seas" to try and find new lands. It's unclear if "the milky seas" actually means the sea or if it means the milky way. On their return, it transpires that although many decades have passed on earth, they have only aged a year. (time travel seem to be implied here) So when our brave traveler looks in his now grown-up grandaughter's(?) eyes, he sees his wife looking back at him through the years. This explains the paradoxical line: "Write your letters in the sand for the day I take your hand in the land that our grand children knew."

'Sweet Lady' is a straight ahead rock song that ends with some highly inventive guitar work from May.

'Seaside Rendezvous' This song is nothing short of miraculous. It's another spoof on 1920s/30s song and dance routines and is done to perfection. Check- out the wonderful instrumental section where all the instruments - trumpet; trombone;violin - are recreated using only the voice (obviously inspired by the Mills Brothers, who played with Ella Fitzgerald in 20s and 30s) and some inventive sound manipulation. Perfect! An interesting aside about this song and Queen's take on the 20s/30s in general is, it's sometimes difficult to know if their inspiration for these songs actually came from the music of the 20s per se or whether it came via 40s/50s Hollywood and its nostalgia for 20s as seen and heard in, say, some Gene Kelly movies. If I were to hazard a guess, I'd say that 'Seaside Rendezvous was inspired by both the source material from the 20s/30s and 40s' nostalgia for the 20s. I hope that made more sense to you than it did to me.

'The Prophet's Song' This is the song that prog-heads rate highly. For the most part it's a heavy, gothic, deliberately over blown song full of heavy guitars and ponderous drums. Wonderful stuff: very atmospheric. And then comes the stunning multi tracked vocal section. Massed Freddy Mercurys singing in canon to the words "Ah, ah, people can you hear me". A delicate coda leads directly into...

'Love of my Life' This song is a masterpiece on every level. A tongue-in-cheek but moving take on the over sentimentality of late Victorian/Edwardian music hall love songs. It's beautifully written and performed, featuring some delicate and ornate piano playing from Freddy Mercury (he really was an underrated musician)and exquisite orchestral-sounding guitar textures from May.

'Good Company' is yet another glance backwards to the 30s, and gives a nod to none other than George Formby . The song features what has to be one of the most remarkable guitar breaks ever recorded. May pulls out all the stops to create, down to the last detail, an entire trad jazz band complete with sliding trombone, glissando clarinet and muted trumpet. This isn't about mind boggling technique, it's about the power of imagination. And on that level, Brian May raised the bar by a hundred miles.

Bohemian Rhapsody' Forget driving your car and head banging to the heavy bit! Forget making mock operatic gestures during the mock operatic bit. Forget playing air guitar to the guitar solos. This is not a novelty song. Forget all of that and sit down and actually listen to this song for a change. Listen to the harmonies at the beginning; the quality of the production, the nuance of the vocal inflections. Listen to the emotional intensity of that first guitar solo as it sings its lament. Listen to the audacity of the mock operatic section; a Gilbert and Sullivan send up of the highest order. Listen to the tongue-in-cheek fury of the heavy section. Listen to the spine-tingling, heavenly wash of guitar harmonies and orchestral- sounding dynamics as the music crescendos then sinks back down to earth. Listen!

Now everyone stand . Queen, we salute you.

The Mentalist | 5/5 |


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