Friday, 30 April 2010

Queen - A Kind of Magic (1986)

Tracklist:
1. One Vision
2. A Kind of Magic
3. One Year of Love
4. Pain is so close to Pleasure
5. Friends Will Be Friends
6. Who Wants to Live Forever
7. Gimme the Prize
8. Don't Lose Your Head
9. Princes of the Universe




Hahaha, it’s Magic! – 8/10

The 80s period was a time of synthesizers, but when those become boring and old again bands like Queen returned to the good old rock ‘n roll, with the occasional synth still popping up, but in a mature way. A Kind of Magic is in a way more of the synth-oriented pop-rock that featured on The Works, but is executed in a much more bearable way, including one of Queen’s greatest front covers. Lots of hits shot this album to the top position in the charts; at least in the UK. These hits are considerably less cheap and simplistic, leaving quality within the album like we were used to. The sudden recover from synth-addiction, it seems to be some kind of magic...

Some people like to talk of A Kind of Magic as an album that expands the direction of The Works. However, with synths being used much more appropriately and with songwriting being a lot more innovative, I think there is a slight, if not a huge difference. Gone are the synthesizer themes and beats, back are the rock riffs. However, keep in mind that this is 1986 and Queen is not playing material of the likes of Queen II or A Day at the Races anymore. What they now do is still a commercial extract of 80s rock ‘n roll. The album has its fair share of hits, including “One Vision”, the title track, “Friends Will Be Friends”, “Who Wants to Live Forever” and “Princes of the Universe”. “One Vision” is a down-to-the-bone rock track and for the first time since A Day at the Races we get an album opened by sheer rock. “A Kind of Magic” seems based on a looping bass line and a mysterious atmosphere, and additionally a great guitar solo by our dearest Brian May. “Friends Will Be Friends” is a cooperation between Deacon and Mercury. It’s a very hopeful track with a light catchy riff and extremely attractive melodies. No wonder that became a hit. May writes a hit with “Who Wants to Live Forever”; a very gentle track with orchestra. Though some say it’s Queen’s most overrated song, I think it just depends on how much you’ve heard it. Too many listens turn every song into an overrated piece of fruitcake. “Princes of the Universe” is the only composition on this record written solely by Mercury and features a damn good rocker which also became a bit of a soundtrack for the movie Highlander.

Apart from the hits, we’ve got some pretty enjoyable album tracks as well, though some of these tend to be a tiny bit dull at times. Myself I’m pretty fond of Deacon’s “One Year of Love”, which is a very soft ballad with very touching vocals by the late Mercury. It makes good background music as well. There’s of course hard rock track “Gimme the Prize”, with lyrics again forwarding to the movie Highlander. This track pretty much is the heaviest track Queen recorded since Jazz’s “More of That Jazz”. There are two synth-dominated tracks in the shapes of “Pain Is So Close to Pleasure” and “Don’t Lose Your Head”. The former features Hot Spacey arrangements with Mercury’s falsetto voice, but then disguised as a Magic-track, and the latter is just a pop song with no hints of Hot Space or The Works, but just happens to feature quite a lot of synths. The song fits the album well and its bombastic drums quite impress the listener as the title once more refers to the movie whose soundtrack this is.

Funny enough, this album sounds much better to me than the two previous records, even though there might be resemblances between them. The return of real rock to Queen is a real relief though, and I’m glad they from now on stuck to rock again. Of course, they were already showing us they could still rock with “Hammer to Fall”, but with A Kind of Magic they proved to have some magic left within them, which is enough to fill some more albums. If you like commercial Queen, then I would recommend this album to you. If not, you’d better take a listen at the early albums.

Strongest tracks: “One Year of Love”, “Who Wants to Live Forever”, “Gimme the Prize” and “Princes of the Universe”.

Thursday, 29 April 2010

Queen - The Works (1984)

Tracklist:
1. Radio Ga Ga
2. Tear it Up
3. It's a Hard Life
4. Man on the Prowl
5. Machines (Back to Humans)
6. I Want to Break Free
7. Keep Passing the Open Windows
8. Hammer to Fall
9. Is This The World That We Created?




Synths & Commerce Combined – 4/10

If Hot Space was just a big departure from the things done before, then The Works was the return to their more trademark rock sound, this time accompanied with some leftover elements from Hot Space: synthesizers. Oh how I wish those things were never invented. But then again, only in the 80s people really knew how to kill music with them. The Works is such an album featuring a rock band doing what they do, but this time drenched in synths. Commercially, it brought them many big hits, yet these are not really timeless masterpieces. I guess commercial success is just another double-edged sword to be reckoned with.

Hot Space was just a synth-driven album, but not commercial in nature at all in terms of hits. I can appreciate an album at that level, but The Works, which has probably been in the works for a very short time, at least it sounds like that, seems like Queen desperately trying to come back and fill the record space with mindless pieces of music that mostly remind of works of the past. This album feels like it’s all been done before, but then ten thousand times better. For example “It’s a Hard Life”, though a good song, which is a rarity on this album, reminds heavily of “Play the Game”. “Man on the Prowl” links back to “Crazy Little Thing Called Love” with its rockabilly styled composition. Also the other tracks have a kind of ‘heard before’-feel to them. The album begins with the synth-driven “Radio Ga Ga”. The first thing I noticed was the flat drumsound. Hey, these are synth-drums! They should’ve called this album The Synth-Works. The song itself continues along with even more synth-arrangements to create a synth-opener for a true synth-album. No more of that synth, as Roger Taylor would’ve sung in the 70s. What changed his mind? I don’t know, but he’s responsible for “Radio Ga Ga”. “Tear it Up” has some catchy parts but in fact just feels like an incomplete 80s rock song without too much content.

But there are some good sides to this album, even if that’s very hard to believe. “It’s a Hard Life”, though a remake of “Play the Game”, has the same magic of the original and is quite a good song. “Hammer to Fall” is a good example of the Philips slogan ‘sense and simplicity’. The riff is fairly simple, but oh so powerful. It has become one of my favorite Queen 80s songs. Especially Brian May’s solo really stands out. And furthermore I think “Keep Passing the Open Windows” could be a nice track, even though it’s synth-overloaded. Other tracks rank deeper into mediocre such as the famous hit “I Want to Break Free”, which is just another generic hit put together by John Deacon, who seems responsible for the lamer hits of Queen such as this one and “Another One Bites the Dust”. And let’s not forget “Machines (or Back to Humans)” by Brian May and Roger Taylor. The two worked hopefully on this track that pretends to be a potential track with lots of content, but in fact features more of the synth-covered cake we’ve already eaten, decorated with the occasional guitar chord on top. Oh and let us not forget the oh so epic closer ballad “Is This the World that we Created?”! Isn’t it oh so sensitive with Freddie crying about us having ruined this world full of murder and deceit? No it isn’t. I like songs with messages inside them, but I dislike them if they’re as superficial as this one, packaged in a quite boring song.

Need I say more? This album lacks quality in every corner, with the exception of a few songs. If you are really fond of synthesizers and everything that they dominate, and in the meantime don’t mind the extremely commercial, and thus simple, nature of the album, you should buy The Works. I think you’ll enjoy it. If you prefer quality music, then get “Hammer to Fall” and ignore the rest.

Strongest track: “Hammer to Fall”.
Weakest tracks: “Radio Ga Ga”, “Tear it Up”, “Man on the Prowl”, “Machines”, “I Want to Break Free” and “Is This the World That We Created?”.

Wednesday, 28 April 2010

Queen - Hot Space (1982)

Tracklist:
1. Staying Power
2. Dancer
3. Back Chat
4. Body Language
5. Action This Day
6. Put Out the Fire
7. Life is Real (song for Lennon)
8. Calling All Girls
9. Las Palabras de Amor
10. Cool Cat
11. Under Pressure


The Synths Strike Back – 6,4/10

And finally we’ve come to Queen’s most disliked album of all time, Hot Space. Nevertheless, it did contain one of their bigger hits, “Under Pressure” featuring David Bowie. The album is mostly disliked for its break with the traditional Queen way of making music. It is dominated by disco influences and synthesizers and sounds very different from any other Queen album. Actually I do understand that Queen wanted to experiment for once. You can’t possibly do the same or at least try to do the same all the time. Risks are needed and sometimes a band goes for it. Mostly I like such risks like on the Scorpions’ Eye II Eye, Megadeth’s Risk or Judas Priest’s Nostradamus, but I’m not so sure whether I’m all that happy with Hot Space.

It seems the terror is mainly hidden on the first few tracks of the album. “Staying Power” right away starts with this synth-bass line and a Freddie Mercury who is quite enjoying himself. Actually it’s him who gives most boring songs on here a good lift-up with his ‘yeah’ and ‘woo!’ in between. Synth-based themes come back in the May-penned “Dancer” although this one tends to become more of a rocker when the solo begins. Deacon strikes us with his “Back Chat”, which contains friendly synth-pop with another soaring solo. Apart from “Staying Power”, I could say these tracks are quite enjoyable. They’re perhaps different from anthems like “Fat Bottomed Girls” or “Love of my Life”, but certainly are charming in a way. Especially “Dancer” invites listeners to fill the dance floor. And that’s what Hot Space is all about. It’s about filling the dance floor. But then it’s a very dated 80s dance floor to be filled, and that’s on the negative side of the album. A climax has been reached with the Mercury-written “Body Language”, which is perhaps the most controversial Queen song to date. It’s based around a dirty synth-bass line, which actually is not that bad. What nails the song is Mercury’s longing for sex as he praises ‘your’ body, which he apparently desires. With quite dirty lyrics, executed in an even more dirty way, the song becomes dirty and infects the otherwise cool synth-bass. Perhaps a song like this should’ve been for Mercury’s solo career instead?

The second half is a more familiar side as they make more use of normal bass guitar and add more guitars to the tracks. Roger Taylor saves the day with two splendid songs, “Action This Day” and “Calling All Girls”. The former is easily my favorite of the album, featuring a steady rock rhythm with a cool riff, not to mention it’s another duet between Freddie and Roger, and those always do the trick. The latter is more in the vein of “Dancer”, yet is based on an acoustic guitar instead of synths. Brian May brings us a real rocker with hilarious lyrics in “Put Out the Fire”, being somewhat repulsive mostly due to the flat production and sound, which I think was done on purpose for the disco effect. That doesn’t make it alright, though. Furthermore there’s a slick ballad “Life is Real”, which is good, but slightly to very much ruined by the sudden “Life is a bitch” at the end. All of sudden the atmosphere of a gentle ballad is ruined because of his ““cool”” use of words. “Las Palabras de Amor” is an instant stadium song, which could’ve been a much bigger hit if it were on a ‘normal’ album with ‘normal’ production. It’s a really powerful anthem with a strong synth theme. “Cool Cat” features Mercury on his falsetto-voice, while being accompanied by a very relaxing rhythm guitar. The song isn’t worth more than two listens in your life. And then finally there’s the much anticipated “Under Pressure”. It obviously sounds the most Queen. Despite it being a big hit I think it’s quite obviously one of the better songs of the album, mostly because the rest isn’t really interesting.

Additionally, even though I said about quite a few songs that they were enjoyable, it’s all just not the level it has been. As for the experiment, I think it succeeded. It’s mostly just the genre why I dislike it, not the failure in quality. Now, if all this talk about discos, dance floors and synthesizers has got you all excited, then I could recommend this album to you. Else, be warned.

Strongest tracks: “Action This Day”, “Las Palabras de Amor” and “Under Pressure”.
Weakest tracks: “Staying Power”, “Body Language” and “Cool Cat”.

Sunday, 25 April 2010

Kayak - Eyewitness (1981)

Tracklist:
1. Eyewitness
2. Periscope Life
3. Ruthless Queen
4. Want You To Be Mine
5. Lyrics
6. Chance for a Lifetime
7. Who's Fooling Who
8. Irene
9. Only You and I Know
10. Winning Ways
11. Starlight Dancer
12. No Man's Land
13. The Car Enchanter [*]
14. Ivory Dance '94 [*]

Supposed Swan Song of a Great Band – 5/10

Due to Merlin’s lack of commercial success things went drastically wrong with Kayak and before we knew it they were facing their end. The female backing vocalists left the band, reducing the band’s size to five members. They recorded this fake live album just before Max Werner, Peter Scherpeneel and Edward Reekers left. Soon afterwards new members were hired, like ex-member Bert Veldkamp on bass, but they eventually were a different band under the name of Europe. In other words, the original Kayak legend was ended with Eyewitness, a studio live album.

So what does this album feature? There are three songs never heard on a genuine studio album before: “Eyewitness”, “Only You and I Know” and “Who’s Fooling Who”. They could all have been on the Starlight Dancer LP in terms of style. All three songs are worth listening to. The rest of the album is filled with the bigger hits and mostly with songs from their commercial period. It’s sad to see there’s no Merlin material played. Now this is not the only sad thing. A live album can still be saved by the great interaction with the crowd. As I bought the CD with its beautiful front cover, I was expecting to hear the crowd welcoming me. Unfortunately, there’s no crowd. You heard me, there is no crowd! No fans cheering. It seems Eyewitness is recorded ‘live’ in the studio, featuring overdubs and everything. They asked five fans (or perhaps a bit more) to listen to the recordings and clap and cheer as they would do in a real concert. Apparently, Ton Scherpenzeel was ashamed of that decision (and he should be!) and released the CD version without the crowd. So what we have here is a stripped down live performance.

*sigh* Well... yes the performance is tight. Yay, we have three new songs. Even if it were a live album it would be very boring. There is never a ‘Thank You!’ or a ‘This is Ruthless Queen!’ announcer anywhere. Of course, recorded in the studio this is obvious, but hey! If you’re trying to fake a live album than at least give it a good shot! These re-recordings are not at all fun to listen to, even if they might sound good. The only song that is different from the studio version is “Periscope Life”, which now features a heavier guitar riff and some better keyboard arrangements. Apart from that, it’s all the way we know it. Nothing out of the ordinary. Except for the new songs of course, which are good. But still, I’d like to hear the version with the crowd once. As all CD releases released through Pseudonym records, Eyewitness features two bonus tracks as well. “The Car Enchanter” is just the same as Merlin’s “The King’s Enchanter”, but then with different lyrics to promote a paint-factory. “Ivory Dance ‘94” is a re-record of the b-side “Ivory Dance” and is funny and nice, but not essential. No matter how you see it, this album is far from essential and nowadays it is more of a Best Of than a live album.

All in all, Eyewitness is not a good record. Don’t expect anything breathtaking. The band plays good, the singers sing good, but hey: they always do so in studio. Get the new tracks through iTunes or something like that, and forget about the rest. This album is for collectors only.

Queen - Greatest Hits I (1981)

Tracklist:
1. Bohemian Rhapsody
2. Another One Bites to Dust
3. Killer Queen
4. Fat Bottomed Girls
5. Bicycle Race
6. You're My Best Friend
7. Don't Stop Me Now
8. Save Me
9. Crazy Little Thing Called Love
10. Somebody to Love
11. Now I'm Here
12. Good Old-Fashioned Lover Boy
13. Play the Game
14. Flash
15. Seven Seas of Rhye
16. We Will Rock You
17. We Are the Champions

The End of the First Chapter – 7,5/10

And that end is celebrated with the release of Greatest Hits, nowadays called Greatest Hits I. We are at the border of Queen’s big musical change and there’s nothing better than to quickly remind how it was before that change. I can’t say I’m particularly crazy for this tracklist, but it’s a solid overview of their greatest hits, as the album title already suggests.

The tracklist is quite pure. We are looking back at the best period in Queen’s life. Everything you’d expect to find is there: “Bohemian Rhapsody”, “Somebody to Love”, “Killer Queen”, “Don’t Stop Me Now”, unfortunately also “Another One Bites to Dust”, “We Will Rock You” and “We Are the Champions”. As I said, a solid hit collection. There are also a few surprises such as “Good Old Fashioned Lover Boy”, “Seven Seas of Rhye” and “Flash”. The old songs flow along with the newer songs perfectly, making this a good collection. There’s actually no reason to buy this if you own all the albums. There’s no special edit in either song either, since Queen started with single edits in the 80s.

All in all, this album gives a good overview of the hits of Queen’s finest era. Keep in mind though that Greatest Hits does not equal Greatest Songs. Once you accept that and don’t really want to buy all the albums but just like to have all the hits on a single album I can really recommend this compilation.

Kayak - Merlin (1981)

Tracklist:
1. Merlin
2. Tintagel
3. The Sword in the Stone
4. The King's Enchanter
5. Niniane (Lady of the Lake)
6. Seagull
7. Boogie Heart
8. Now That We've Come This Far
9. Can't Afford to Lose
10. Love's Aglow



A Milestone - 8/10

After two to three substandard albums Kayak delivers Merlin, a return-to-prog record featuring the same lineup as on Phantom of the Night and Periscope Life, how unbelievable it may seem. The first half of the album is led by the story of Merlin, the wizard who guided King Arthur during his reign. For the first time since 1976’s The Last Encore, the band sounds fresh again, and that’s exactly what makes this record stand out. It’s also the final album featuring both female backing vocalists, Irene Linders and Katherine Lapthorn, although the former will remain to write lyrics on later releases. Unfortunately, due to the lack of success at that time for this album, this makes the group’s final full-length release before the reunion in 1999.

We have seen many sides of Kayak, but never a symphonic record with our dearest Edward Reekers on vocals. Therefore the opening track sounds recognizably Kayak, but yet refreshingly new. “Merlin” has this arctic wind intro with Reekers singing the best melodies he has done since he took the vocal duties from Max Werner. After a while the song bursts out into a fast-paced symphonic rocker with heroic melodies and great atmospheric synths. Reekers sounds powerful in the rock verses and for the first time really fascinates me in a rock song. The song also shows the full potential of Kayak’s multiple vocalists. Though they never lent lead vocals to someone else since Pim Koopman left in 1976, they always had backing vocalists. In the break they perform a multi-vocal interplay with great harmonies. “Tintagel” takes the enchanting atmosphere created by the title track even further into a mystic ballad with piano accompaniments. On to a more rock song again with “The Sword in the Stone”, they took some royal melodies and make the listener feel medieval, as if he were living in the medieval ages. “The King’s Enchanter” features more of the catchy melodies and high-quality symphonic music, but the final blow is being given by “Niniane”. An epic end to the sad story of Merlin and King Arthur, depicted by a gentle piano ballad with a stunning reprise of “Merlin”-‘s vocal melodies and a great piano solo by Ton Scherpenzeel. There’s something magic about these five tracks. They belong together as they bear the concept of Merlin the Wizard with them. It’s been a long time since we’ve heard music of this great a quality from Kayak, even though previous albums had good songs.

The second half of the album continues the stuff already heard on Periscope Life, yet is infected with the same freshness of the first half that makes it more worthwhile. “Seagull” is the hitsingle for the album; a yearning ballad with an epic touch. “Boogie Heart” is a relaxing track with a funny hue to it. It’s actually a bit of a hippy song. “Now That We’ve Come This Far” is a ballad with, as usual, great vocals from Reekers and a very epic theme included. This might as well be one of the finest ballads Reekers recorded. There’s a disco-influenced track in “Can’t Afford to Lose”, which might as well be a left-over from Periscope Life, but it’s likeable. Album closer and atmospheric ballad “Love’s Aglow” features Ton Scherpenzeel on lead vocals for the first and last time. His voice has a sound closer to Max Werner than to Reekers, but still sounds different. It’s a bit more hoarse and puffy, yet fits this song perfectly as it goes absorbed in the ongoing atmosphere of the song. It’s a pretty satisfying album closer. The second half is not as good as the first and continues more in the pop-style we’ve already heard on the predecessor. This doesn’t take away that it features some of the more brilliant material of the era of this Kayak lineup.

All in all, Merlin is a true comeback into the symphonic/progressive rock scene and finally features this lineup at its full potential. Unfortunately it’s also the last studio album Kayak would release in the 20th century. The album is however highly recommendable, though very hard to get. Nevertheless I can say it’s worth the trouble to get it.

Strongest tracks: “Merlin”, “Tintagel”, “Niniane” and “Now That We’ve Come This Far”.

Wednesday, 21 April 2010

Queen - Flash Gordon (1980)

Tracklist:
1. Flash's Theme
2. In the Space Capsule
3. Ming's Theme
4. The Ring
5. Football Fight
6. In the Death Cell
7. Execution of Flash
8. The Kiss
9. Arboria
10. Escape from the Swamp
11. Flash to the Rescue
12. Vultan's Theme
13. Battle Theme
14. The Wedding March
15. Marriage of Dale and Ming
16. Crash Dive on Mingo City
17. Flash's Theme Reprise
18. The Hero

Saviour of the Universe - 6/10

Ah well... I’m not used to reviewing soundtracks and I would rather not do so, but since Flash Gordon is being looked at as a true studio album instead of a soundtrack I will give it a shot. In order to understand the recordings that together form the album, it is highly recommended that you see the movie Flash Gordon first. Only then all the pieces of music gain an identity and only then can one truly say whether it is appropriate or not.

So will I. I rather enjoyed the movie and its music. The tunes are not so much greater than soundtracks of other movies that have gone long out of print, except for the fact that this is written and recorded by Queen. Of course it fits the movie; else it would never have been accepted. The tragic scenes are accompanied with atmospheric sad tunes, the tense scenes have these mysterious tunes and the battle scenes are accompanied by heroic tunes. Yet what makes this soundtrack better than any other is something I do not know. As for this being written by Queen, there is nothing inside the music that could make that clear, perhaps except for the opening song and last five tracks. Also, most of the music has been arranged with synthesizers, which is something Queen has not done before, thus making it not a trademark Queen soundtrack, in contrast with a later movie’s soundtrack like Highlander’s, which just featured music from their album A Kind of Magic. Apart from that the album features lots of voice samples from the movie itself, giving somehow an identity to the song and gives you the proper place in the story to think about, but is quite annoying. “Vultan’s Theme (Attack of the Hawkmen)” is a great heroic theme, same with “Battle Theme”, but why the hell did they implement the shooting sounds from the laser guns? Bad move that is.

The opening song “Flash’s Theme” is based around this monotonous bass line with sudden outbursts of choir vocals and became the lead single of this ‘album’. It’s an okayish rock song nobody actually cares for. It’s reflected multiple times in other themes like in “Flash to the Rescue” and in “Marriage of Dale and Ming (and Flash approaching)” and at the party end “Flash’s Theme Reprise”. I guess it’s okay for the soundtrack. “The Hero” is the real end to the saga of Flash Gordon which also is a bit of a reprise of the main theme but is a totally new track as well complete with verses and vocals that celebrate the defeat of Ming and the victory of Flash. There is some weird playing with Ming’s Theme later on the song and some other themes, but it’s a satisfying end to the story of Flash Gordon.

All in all, Flash Gordon is not an album you’ll be likely to listen to a lot. Perhaps once or twice as you just bought it or decided to review it, like me. It serves well as a soundtrack to the movie, but as an album it just doesn’t gain a higher score than the one I gave. Get the movie for the full experience and if you desperately search for one of those tunes to have on CD, then that’s where Flash Gordon comes in. Otherwise, it’s collector’s only.

Nicest tunes: “Flash’s Theme”, “The Hero”, “Vultan’s Theme” and “Ming’s Theme”.

Kayak - Periscope Life (1980)

Tracklist:
1. Astral Aliens
2. What's in a Name
3. Stop That Song
4. If You Really Need Me Now
5. Periscope Life
6. Beggars Can't Be Choosers
7. Sight
8. Lost Blue of Chartres
9. Anne
10. One Way or Another
11. Sad to Say Farewell


Chilly, funny, forgettable - 5/10

Periscope Life, the follow-up to the very successful Phantom of the Night, was being looked forward to by many American fans that got hooked by its predecessor. Despite its disappointing charting and success, the album pretty much picks up where Phantom stopped. They’ve continued down the line of commerce and pop music and this time there are no songs like “Daphne” or “Poet” to add some content. With an even more commercial sound than Phantom, this lineup produces its second full-length Periscope Life.

Have you ever heard ABBA? My guess is Scherpenzeel and the guys did so and quite liked it. Add a Dutch touch and what you’ve got are songs like “Stop That Song” or “Beggars Can’t Be Choosers”. Happy sweet and swingy pop songs with a request to be played in the discotheques. This kind of songs doesn’t do it for me, with the exception of the latter. “Stop That Song”, “Periscope Life”, “Sight” and “One Way or Another” all fall under this category. Sweet songs with perhaps a hook or two, but these hooks are not sharp, making you get lose from them as soon as the song is over. These tracks don’t have anything to them that makes you want to hear them all over again. They’re just way too happy, which makes them falter. “Beggars Can’t Be Choosers” sounds nice though; reminds a bit of “Golddust” with its offbeat drums. It also maintains one of the nicer, though happier, themes on the album.

And of course there are these ballads. “If You Really Need Me Now” features some classic Kayak melodies and is soothing. Just like on Phantom, vocalist Edward Reekers mostly shines on the ballads, as is the case here. “Sad to Say Farewell” is so beautiful a ballad that it makes tears come up in your eyes when listening to it. When you hear these songs you’d really think Kayak is back. Of course these ballads are based mostly on piano and synths, mostly due to Scherpenzeel the composer being a keyboardist. “Lost Blue of Chartres” is one of the greatest instrumental songs I have ever heard. Again based on piano, it contains these powerful themes and melodies... Truly amazing. “Anne” features recorders whistling the main theme and Reekers again shining bright. If it were for these ballads, Periscope Life would be a good record.

But there’s more to this record than ballads. “Astral Aliens” is the album opener and again attempts to be a rock song, which we saw failed enormously with this lineup previously with “Winning Ways” from Phantom of the Night. Since the production is just as slick as on Phantom and the lineup is the same, I don’t think they’ve improved that much, and right I am. It might fit in the ‘happy ABBA influenced song’ category again. “What’s in a Name” comes directly after the opener and features a fast-paced track and yet another attempt at a rock song. Though the attempt might have succeeded here, it doesn’t mean the track is all that great. It’s far from bad though, but I guess it’s the same problem as with all the other songs on here.

All in all, I think Periscope Life is a boring album. When it’s in the radio and plays I can enjoy it for the moment, but I’ve forgotten most of it afterwards. The ballads are good, since Reekers has a true ballad voice, but the rest is very forgettable and not worth the trouble it is to get hold of this album. Whether you are a pop-fan, a prog-fan or an ABBA-fan, stay away from this album. Collector’s only.

Strongest tracks: “Sad to Say Farewell” and “Lost Blue of Chartres”.
Weakest tracks: The others.

Sunday, 18 April 2010

Queen - The Game (1980)

Tracklist:
1. Play the Game
2. Dragon Attack
3. Another One Bites the Dust
4. Need Your Loving Tonight
5. Crazy Little Thing Called Love
6. Rock It (Prime Jive)
7. Don't Try Suicide
8. Sail Away Sweet Sister
9. Coming Soon
10. Save Me



A Half-Baked Queen Classic - 7/10

And that pretty much sums it up. We are at the start of a new decade with Queen’s The Game, and the difference with the past is quite noticeable. As will be clear in a mere listen, half of the album was written in the 1979 and the other half in 1980, which causes the differences in style and songwriting, even among the songs. The album itself contains fairly great hits such as “Another One Bites the Dust”, “Play the Game” and “Crazy Little Thing Called Love”. Actually this album was the only Queen album to reach #1 in the States. I recognize the album as solid in terms of ideas, yet it doesn’t feel all that well at times.

After the experimental Jazz album Queen returned with the crossover record The Game, which is the beginning of what the band would offer on later albums. Luckily we have some tunes on here left over from the 70s. Apart from that, the album is a lot more simplistic in style and is basically back to basic, especially in the dry “Another One Bites the Dust”. There’s an unnoted lack of true rock songs on the album, which mostly features pop tracks, some beautiful, some lame and some alright. At that point, the album falls apart and gets beaten by every predecessor. I don’t mind the fact they chose the more mainstream and pop direction, but the lack of good songs is the main problem here.

There are however some great tunes scattered all across, beginning with opening track “Play the Game”. It’s a very melodic track with a bit of an epic touch to it but drags along the line of anthems very well and makes a good entrance for The Game. Then there is “Crazy Little Thing Called Love”. It’s one of Queen bigger hits and not undeserved. They’ve adopted a bit of a rockabilly sound for this song and swinging rhythm guitars and overall created a true party song, perfect for a live concert. Then there’s “Rock It (Prime Jive)”, a Taylor-penned sung with his vocals as well. It begins with some gentle plucking on the guitars with Freddie singing an epic melody, just before it bursts into a driving fast-paced guitar riff with energetic drums. Actually the song is a bit ruined by the end where the familiar Queen choir shouts “we want some prime jive” and everything that follows. The rest of the song is actually good and rocks. Of course Brian May sings us a good song as well with “Sail Away Sweet Sister”. It begins as a gentle ballad with concerning vocals by May but soon evolves into a more explosive chorus, showing signs of the power ballad syndrome. This is surely one of the highlights of the second half of the album, together with epic closer “Save Me”.

That was the good part of the album. The others could be baked a little better. “Dragon Attack” has an annoying riff which is presented as the riff of riffs, while it just isn’t great. “Another One Bites the Dust” has a catchy and funky bass line, but apart from the cool second verse doesn’t hold anything of interest. Hell, the break is even dead boring with the odd sound effects while Taylor just drums the same boring rhythm on and on and on like a machine. “Need Your Loving Tonight” is enjoyable at best but doesn’t feature anything great. It’s one of those songs that depend on the real standout tracks for it to shine. “Don’t Try Suicide” is the dumbest Queen track ever recorded in terms of lyrics. Besides the music being wannabe funny and terribly misplaced at a topic such as suicide, the lyrics show Freddie’s lack of knowledge about the human psyche. I am not a psychologist, but even I know people who want to commit suicide would not be stopped with a phrase like “nobody cares”. If nobody cares then you can go ahead, right? Seriously, for that song only I’d want to throw an album into the trash can. At last we have “Coming Soon”, another Taylor-penned track with vocals shared by Mercury and Taylor. Actually the song is quite nice but fails to really stun the listener, but as most of Taylor’s songs it is fun to listen to and flows along with the album.

In short, The Game is quite half-baked. With one foot in 1979 and the other in 1980 the two faces of Queen meet here. High quality against medium quality. Unfortunately it is the medium to low quality that sets the tone for the whole album, yet The Game is also the last of Queen’s old school records containing real epics of the likes of “Sail Away Sweet Sister” and “Save Me”. Goodbye 70s! On the other hand we will hear more of the type of “Another One Bites the Dust”, which for some will be a delight, but for me a disappointment. Hence I will not recommend this album to new Queen fans. Instead you should have a look at the amazing Queen II or A Night at the Opera.

Strongest tracks: “Play the Game”, “Save Me” and “Sail Away Sweet Sister”.
Weakest tracks: “Don’t Try Suicide”, “Another One Bites the Dust” and “Dragon Attack”.

Queen - Live Killers (1979)

Tracklist:
1. We Will Rock You
2. Let Me Entertain You
3. Death on Two Legs
4. Killer Queen
5. Bicycle Race
6. I'm in Love with my Car
7. Get Down, Make Love
8. You're My Best Friend
9. Now I'm Here
10. Dreamer's Ball
11. Love of my Life
12. '39
13. Keep Yourself Alive

1. Don't Stop Me Now
2. Spread Your Wings
3. Brighton Rock
4. Bohemian Rhapsody
5. Tie Your Mother Down
6. Sheer Heart Attack
7. We Will Rock You
8. We Are the Champions
9. God Save the Queen

Bleh... - 6/10

Ugh... if there was one album that I did not look forward to to review it’s Live Killers. Despite it being quite a success as Queen’s first live album, it sounds awful in terms of production and sound. Queen’s performance is no doubt excellent, though heavily edited in studio, but fails to impress me because of this terrible production. It’s not as bad as Yngwie Malmsteen’s War to End All Wars, but still annoying. Then exactly what is wrong here? It just sounds like a mess. The vocals seem lost on the background of the mix, the guitars are panned heavily to the right and the drums, especially the cymbals, overrule all other sounds. Deacon’s bass is well audible but nearly merged with the guitars at times. The production is quite bassy.

Alright, on to the actual music. This is all in good condition. Queen is different live than in studio, but not less good. It’s fun to hear Freddie play the audience and the vocal harmonies sound different but has its charms. Since this is still in the 70s, the setlist consists solely of 70s music, which is great. The content is compiled from different concerts, thus not making this album a one-concert performance, which does take away the ambience albums like Live at the Bowl or Queen Rock Montreal do have. According to many sources, testified by existing bootlegs, there were much better concerts in the 70s that could have been released, but instead they assembled Live Killers. I will never say it’s a bad live album, just not good enough for me, despite the good tracks. The one interesting track on here is the opening track "We Will Rock You", which is a fast rock rendition of the anthemic stadium hit everybody knows. But this song also features on later live albums in better production quality.

So, would I recommend this album to anyone? Well, if you desperately search for an official Queen live release of solely 70s material, then I guess you could give Live Killers a go. I would recommend albums like Live at the Bowl or Queen Rock Montreal instead for those who want to hear a good official Queen live album.

Kayak - Phantom of the Night (1978)

Tracklist:
1. Keep the Change
2. Winning Ways
3. Daphne
4. Journey Through Time
5. Phantom of the Night
6. Crime of Passion
7. The Poet and the One Man Band
8. Ruthless Queen
9. No Man's Land
10. First Signs of Spring



Commercial Success Strikes Once Again – 6,5/10

Phantom of the Night is the album to mark a lot of changes concerning both the band and its success. The entire rhythm section has been renewed once again and so has the vocal section; this is the first lineup that would hold on for more than just two albums. With their first release they marked their big breakthrough in the USA with top-5 hit “Ruthless Queen”. Kayak has never succeeded in making a truly bad album, so when they went commercial, they still did it with style. Though not as great as their previous works, they still delivered an album that would top most other commercial albums, yet I don’t believe the current lineup is showing their full potential here.

As said before this album again features changes in the lineup. Vocalist Max Werner suddenly didn’t like his voice anymore and wanted to drum instead. He only sings lead vocals on “No Man’s Land” here. Together with Ton Scherpenzeel’s little brother Peter Scherpenzeel on bass he takes care of the rhythm section. Who’s to sing now? Edward Reekers was promoted from Kayak-fan to Kayak-vocalist and no matter what you say, wow that man can sing! He is totally different from Werner, having a more accessible and less raw voice. His range is impressive and the sound he emits is beautiful. He was the right man for the charts. The backing vocals have been enforced with two ladies, Irene Linders, Ton’s wife, and Katherine Lapthorn, Peter’s wife, resulting in a whole different Kayak sound. All these changes, a more accessible vocalist and a female backing choir, are destructive to the trademark Kayak sound, yet it creates a new sound. Phantom of the Night is a lot more polished, very smooth and very accessible. The only problem is: since when is Kayak accessible? And that’s where this record goes wrong. Though this album made them tour in the USA, they disappointed the progressive rock fans.

It’s all clearly visible with opening song “Keep the Change”. Though it’s a nice song to hear, there is nothing to recognize here. Werner’s voice, the classic Scherpenzeel compositions; it’s all gone. They are truly going mainstream, releasing such hits like “Ruthless Queen” and the title track. Supposed rock tracks like “Winning Ways” have become polished and smooth, resulting in a poppy track. There are some recognizable Kayak themes in “Journey Through Time” and “Crime of Passion”, but they are not executed like in the past. “No Man’s Land” is the sole track to fully sound like the old Kayak, mainly due to the absence of Reekers and the female backing vocals. Since it’s Werner singing here it sounds mostly like a leftover from the Starlight Dancer sessions. Reekers soon seems to shine mostly in the gentle tracks. Ballads like the title track, “Ruthless Queen” and “First Signs of Spring” rely mostly on his voice, but do sound very nice. He has a truly enchanting voice at those ballads, but does less good a job on the more ‘active’ songs like “Keep the Change” or “Winning Ways”. There he is just the singer, not a notable one. The compilation of these tracks sounds good, but not great and do not leave you hungry for more. There are however two standouts.

Every album has their classics, and so does Phantom of the Night. The first you’ll come across is “Daphne”. Lyrically based around the myth of Apollo and Daphne, it has this classic epic formula: it begins gently with gentle pianos and the vocals, which by the way are excellent here, and soon becomes faster and shows Reekers at his full potential. In structure and style it’s a bit of a copy of “Starlight Dancer”, but certainly stands its own. The second classic would be “The Poet and the One Man Band”. It’s quite a strange song with a poppy ambience, but has this special touch to it: a bit of a mix between pop and funk with its fair share of prog. The neat synth solo near the end finishes it with style. And that’s another good thing about the album. How slick the production and the songs might be, Kayak still has solos. They still have songs with substance and that is why this album is not bad. They might have pursued a direction I’d rather not have them pursue, but they do it with style.

All in all, Phantom of the Night is very different from older Kayak albums. The main change would of course be the switch of vocalists. The album sounds quite slick in both sound and production, but that’s probably why the mainstream embraced this album. If you are new to Kayak I guess I could recommend this album, if you are a pop fan. If you prefer progressive rock then check out masterpieces such as Royal Bed Bouncer or The Last Encore.

Strongest tracks: “Daphne”, “The Poet and the One Man Band” and “No Man’s Land”.
Weakest tracks: “Winning Ways” and “Journey Through Time”.

Monday, 12 April 2010

Queen - Jazz (1978)

Tracklist:
1. Mustapha
2. Fat Bottomed Girls
3. Jealousy
4. Bicycle Race
5. If You Can't Beat Them
6. Let Me Entertain You
7. Dead on Time
8. In Only Seven Days
9. Dreamers Ball
10. Fun It
11. Leaving Home Ain't Easy
12. Don't Stop Me Now
13. More of That Jazz

Please, More of that Jazz! – 8,5/10

Well, well... after the horrible News of the World album Queen surely recovered it with this record known as Jazz. This is the hardest Queen release to really have a stable grip at. It flies from one corner to the other in terms of musical style, and seems to be executed well in every aspect. It’s pretty different from every other Queen record, and even the songs on the album are all so different from each other. It goes from an attempt at Arabic folk to some laid back rock; from a sensitive ballad to a happy pop song; from fast-paced hard rock to a classic-dance track; and from funk-influences to smooth ‘n catchy glam rock. One word to describe Jazz: impossible!

I have never seen so much diversity on one studio record by one single band. Mostly if you combine different styles it results in too different atmospheres to be a really good combination, but Jazz does the trick. Although there is no jazz music on the album, all the styles that do feature mix together very well. The album is no commercial hitbag and is no progressive masterpiece, but certainly stands its own. We are welcomed into it by the Arabic chants of “Mustapha” and this is one of Queen’s most odd album openers ever. As Freddie chants “Allah, Allah, we’ll pray for you” the music kicks in and doesn’t sound too Arabic at all. Actually they just recorded a rock song in an exotic scale and with Persian lyrics, yet it sounds so unique and odd, but in a good way. From one subject to another, “Fat Bottomed Girls” begins with stadium chanting and harmonies by the familiar Queen choir. When it’s over we get to hear a laid back rock riff eventually evolving into a real stadium anthem, slightly resembling glam rock. Gone were the Arabic influences. Next track “Jealousy” is a more piano driven sensitive ballad with a stunning vocal performance by our dearest Freddie Mercury. Gone were the glam rock influences. “Bicycle Race”, though beginning with the choirs again, more resembles the sloppy happy pop songs seen before on Sheer Heart Attack and A Night at the Opera, but changes a bit after a while. The main chorus is quite massive and choiry, the verses are sloppy and happy, a bit rappy, the bridge is more rocking and epic again, and the break features bicycle bells. Gone is the sensitive ballad.

I could go from song to song, but that would just be boring. I will limit myself to the highlights. “If You Can’t Beat Them” is a swift Deacon-penned anthem with a unique character, “Let Me Entertain You” is an odd hard rock song which is great yet has some unpleasant reminders to “Get Down, Make Love”. “Dead on Time” rocks your socks off and features a complex and fast riff and is one of the better rockers since “Tie Your Mother Down”. “In Only Seven Days” is another great ballad by John Deacon; “Dreamers Ball” is a song with a bit of an old sound to it, reminding of ballroom dancing. “Fun It” is a more funk-influenced Taylor-written composition with a rare sharing of vocals between Mercury and Taylor, perhaps slightly forwarding to the ill-famed Hot Space release of the future. Yet this track is a lot more original and features a great guitar riff. Brian May returns with his voice on “Leaving Home Ain’t Easy”. It’s not as spectacular as his other compositions such as “Long Away” or “’39”, but certainly enjoyable to say the least. Then comes two album highlights. “Don’t Stop Me Now” starts off with the familiar piano tunes and the vocals, but soon evolves into a fast-paced piano-based pop song. The vocals preach an irresistible melody and the lack of guitars in the accompaniment was a great move, it only adds more to the guitars in the solo, which is terrifically melodic. Closing track “More of That Jazz” is also great. It features an unusual rhythm and cool arpeggiated chords, before the heavy guitar joins in, thus transforming it into hard rock track with Taylor on vocals. Somewhere in the middle parts of other songs start to interfere, which is a pity, but with modern audio editing technology they can be edited away to create a version which is unbeatable.

As you can read, Jazz is a very diverse recording. A lot of different styles show up here and all compositions are good, varying from enjoyable to great. Especially Roger Taylor is in top form on this album in terms of composing. Yet this album doesn’t live up to the unbeatable positions of A Day at the Races or Queen II. I would not recommend Jazz to the Queen newbie, but to the more experienced Queen fan, since this album demands some Queen listening experience.

Strongest tracks: “Fat Bottomed Girls”, “Fun It”, “Don’t Stop Me Now” and “More of That Jazz”.

Saturday, 10 April 2010

Queen - News of the World (1977)

Tracklist:
1. We Will Rock You
2. We Are the Champions
3. Sheer Heart Attack
4. All Dead, All Dead
5. Spread Your Wings
6. Fight from the Inside
7. Get Down, Make Love
8. Sleeping on the Sidewalk
9. Who Needs You
10. It's Late
11. My Melancholy Blues


Depressing World News – 4,5/10

After a row of five good albums Queen finally show themselves uninspired and boring. It had to come one day, no band can make solely good albums and Queen is no exception. It continues down the road paved by A Day at the Races, but takes some unexpected side roads that lead to a ravine. In they fall and out comes News of the World, which in every aspect sounds like a repeat of previous albums with some uninspired new turns. If this would be today’s world news, it would be rather depressing.

Don’t get me entirely wrong; this album is not totally without talent. There are certainly enjoyable tunes spread across and in fact this is just a necessary step in their career. Considering this contains the simple “We Will Rock You” and the anthemic “We Are the Champions” it would be unfair to discard this album as worthless. These songs might disappoint tremendously on the studio record, but when played live they really come to life. That doesn’t take away that the album versions are pretty boring though. After having recorded great rock songs on previous albums such as “Tie Your Mother Down” or “Death on Two Legs”, Taylor writes another rock song named after Queen’s third album “Sheer Heart Attack”. Can a rock song be any more boring? It sounds as clich├ę as possible, with the necessary heaviness aboard, but with a strong lack of originality. What is funny is the intended replication of a damaged LP in the break.

The May-sung “All Dead, All Dead” does not live up to earlier May compositions but is in essence an enjoyable song, coloured only by the songs around it, which, in this case, make it stand out. Taylor returns again on vocals with the forced “Loser in the End”-replica “Fight from the Inside”. Again we have a boring riff, unoriginal arrangements and a forced ambience. I guess we all lack inspiration sometimes. “Sleeping on the Sidewalk” is an old-styled bluesy track and falls under the same category as “All Dead, All Dead” in terms of quality, and so does the Deacon-written “Who Needs You”, which sounds flamenco-ish. And then the worst song of the decade is the terrible “Get Down, Make Love”. I find this track the most abominable, the most repulsive song Queen ever recorded, perhaps with the exception of “Body Language”.

Oh, but this release contains good songs as well. The Deacon-penned track “Spread Your Wings” beautifully plods along to become one of the best epic pop ballads by Queen. It is a shame it was rarely played live on official recordings; that guitar solo really is brilliant. Quite simple, but brilliant. A great May-written rocker is found in “It’s Late”. It begins with some acoustic plucking, but soon displays a tight and cool riff, which drives the entire song. The chorus explodes, thus giving the power ballad effect, and later becomes a full fast-paced rocker. Another great track is “My Melancholy Blues”. It took me a while to fully get it, but it’s indeed a blues-influenced ballad with beautiful vocals by Mercury. But unfortunately three truly good songs won’t save this album from its downfall. Strange enough, this album did quite well and is nowadays even being looked at as a classic and great Queen record. Yet I think the album is an obvious shift to a more commercial sound and sounds very bland. Only three songs are over three-and-a-half minutes, an obvious sign of mainstreaming their sound.

All in all, I think News of the World shows 70s Queen at their worst. Though there are some good songs scattered across the album, the majority is very bland, boring and unoriginal. I would never want to recommend this album to any possible new Queen fan, even if this was their only album. In fact, if this was their debut album, they would’ve been slammed in the face and could’ve whistle at their record deal and arena success.

Strongest tracks: “Spread Your Wings”, “It’s Late” and “My Melancholy Blues”.
Weakest tracks: “Get Down, Make Love”, “Fight from the Inside”, “Sheer Heart Attack” and “We Will Rock You”.

Kayak - Starlight Dancer US (1977)

Tracklist:
1. I Want You To Be Mine (demo)
2. Ballad for a Lost Friend
3. Turn the Tide
4. Nothingness
5. Still My Heart Cries For You
6. Starlight Dancer
7. Love of a Victim
8. Land on the Water
9. Do You Care
10. Back to the Front
11. Irene (demo)


A good mix, but... – 7/10

Starlight Dancer got a different release in the United States of America and was actually a bit of a mix between The Last Encore and the genuine release of Starlight Dancer. Furthermore there is one entirely new track and two demo versions the American record label Janus Records apparently preferred. Since I’m not an American, it’s hard to see this release as a real album instead of a compilation.

Why the hell they replaced the official versions of “Irene” and “Want You to Be Mine” with demos is beyond me. The original versions sound a lot more complete and less empty. Besides that, they renamed the track to “I Want You to Be Mine”, and I think the “I” makes the title less flowing. But I guess the panpipes in “Irene” are enjoyable. Then they included “Ballad for a Lost Friend” on the album, which later appeared as a b-side of “Phantom of the Night”. The song reminds again of The Last Encore, whose best tracks are also included on this edition. Furthermore I find the selection of tracks from Starlight Dancer quite surprising. Why choose “Turn the Tide”? Why not “Where Do We Go from Here”, “Dead Bird Flies Forever” or “May”? Or even “Golddust”? I do understand the title track, of course, there would be no naming this album like that without the song. And then there is the different cover art, which is identical to The Last Encore’s cover art, except from the album title of course.

The selection of tracks from The Last Encore is very well chosen and covers the best of the album. I understand not all good tracks could feature on this release, but there’s a significant selection nonetheless. The great anthemic “Land on the Water” and “Do You Care”, combined with the more aggressive “Still My Heart Cries For You”; the obscure “Back to the Front” alongside the fast-paced “Love of a Victim” and the great ballad “Nothingness”. I think it’s quite a good compilation, but it’s evidently lacking songs and is incomplete. I would probably recommend this compilation to possible new fans, but with the knowledge of the full versions of both albums in mind, this release is not desirable. The demo versions and the new song feature on compilation box Three Originals anyway, together with the genuine Starlight Dancer, Phantom of the Night and Periscope Life releases.

Kayak - Starlight Dancer (1977)

Tracklist:
1. Daughter or Son
2. Starlight Dancer
3. Want You To Be Mine
4. Letdown
5. Irene
6. Golddust
7. May
8. Turn the Tide
9. Dead Bird Flies Forever
10. Sweet Revenge
11. Where Do We Go From Here


Take a Step Down – 7,6/10

Alas, the great rhythm section of the previous two albums decided to call it quits and thus drummer and composer Pim Koopman and bassist Bert Veldkamp leave the band, leaving Ton Scherpenzeel the only composer in the band. The new combination of Charles Louis Schouten on drums and Theo de Jong on bass has, though unintended, clearly dismissed the enchanting sound of the previous two albums, yet didn’t give an awful sound in return. Scherpenzeel was still in charge of the songwriting and this guy rarely has bad ideas (with the exception of “Love me Tonight/Get on Board”).

Starlight Dancer is one of the most difficult albums to rate. Though it contains real gems and treats like the title track, “May” and “Dead Bird Flies Forever”, there are those songs that don’t really turn me on, but are quite nice when being played such as “Daughter or Son”, “Turn the Tide” and “Letdown”. At times it sounds as just a random compilation of songs recorded around the same time. Yet a bad album this is not. Those songs I mentioned in the latter group mostly don’t have anything really memorable to keep them going. There is a good theme or two, some enjoyable tunes at the moment of listening, but afterwards, no one remembers them. Quite a “Letdown” that is. Tracks that leave a more memorable impression include the first group. “Starlight Dancer” is easily a classic Kayak song; it begins with a gentle piano intro and vocals but later emerges into a heroic and epic up-tempo symphonic rock song of the likes only Kayak can produce. The same formula is spotted in the brilliant “May”, which I consider even more glorious than the hit “Starlight Dancer”. Kayak also never disappoint in the instrumental tracks, which are few, but really beautiful. “Irene”, dedicated to Scherpenzeel’s wife, is one of the most sensitive and beautiful instrumental tracks I have ever come across. No wonder it’s still a live track in today’s setlist.

Apparently vocalist Max Werner felt sorry for Scherpenzeel having to write all the songs alone, so he wrote one as well. “Golddust” was the result and to be honest I quite like it. It’s a short and swift offbeat track with memorable melodies and great piano accompaniment. The song sounds like Kayak through and through, even though it lacks either Koopman’s or Scherpenzeel’s hand, since it seems there is a different keyboardist playing here. Considering Werner’s composing qualities, it would’ve been nice to hear more of them on Kayak albums. Scherpenzeel doesn’t disappoint either with the funk-influenced “Want You to be Mine”, which also became a hit and a favorite stage track. “Dead Bird Flies Forever” and “Where do we go from Here” are always considered a duo by me. Why I do not know. Both are very epic in sound, slightly reminding to The Last Encore album, which always is a positive song. And there’s of course solid rock track “Sweet Revenge”, which really shows some balls, yet is produced with too poppy a sound, causing it to come alive only on stage, yet the studio version is quite good and blends in nicely with the ballads. As you see the majority of the tracks are still good quality, as Kayak’s albums will always have, yet there are uninspired tracks scattered throughout the album in the shapes of “Daughter or Son”, “Letdown” and “Turn the Tide”. The fact that one of them is the opening song on my version of Starlight Dancer decreases my will to listen to this album.

In short, Starlight Dancer is a good record, but doesn’t live up to Royal Bed Bouncer or The Last Encore, and is slightly more commercial in sound, thereby containing more hits. But, if you are not familiar with Kayak, Starlight Dancer might be more easy to ‘get’, so I guess I would recommend this to those unfamiliar with the band.

Strongest tracks: “May”, “Dead Bird Flies Forever”, “Where do we go from Here”, “Starlight Dancer” and “Irene”.
Weakest tracks: “Daughter or Son”, “Letdown” and “Turn the Tide”.

Queen - A Day at the Races (1976)

Tracklist:
1. Tie Your Mother Down
2. You Take My Breath Away
3. Long Away
4. The Millionaire Waltz
5. You and I
6. Somebody to Love
7. White Man
8. Good Old Fashioned Lover Boy
9. Drowse
10. Teo Torriate (Let Us Cling Together)


I like the races – 9/10

The fifth album of rock legends Queen, A Day at the Races, is a bit of a departure from their old-school style. Where every album from Queen II to A Night at the Opera was a bit more bombastic and featured clear progressive influences, ADATR is a bit more straightforward and features more gentle songs. It’s also the first of the second wave of types of Queen-albums in terms of musical style. This doesn’t exclude similarities with previous efforts, but it’s certainly different.

This release does not highlight the idea of a change immediately with the hard rocking “Tie Your Mother Down” as the first track. A great hard rock riff with clear high-pitched vocals by Mercury is undoubtedly Queen in the vein of “Death on Two Legs” or “Ogre Battle”. To this day the song is a preferred classic and always was a good stage song. A song like “White Man” also pretends we’re still in 1975 with its classic hard rock and Queen trademark effects. The change is more in the other tracks such as “You Take My Breath Away” or “The Millionaire Waltz”. Both are much more displaying a pop atmosphere, being silent ballads, and rely more on the lead vocals and piano than on the guitars and choirs. “Long Away” is a May-styled acoustic rock track in the vein of “’39” and “Some Day One Day”, but blends in quite nicely with the new-style songs. “The Millionaire Waltz” is a catchy waltz-styled pop track with an unnecessary yet enjoyable rock part in the middle. The highlight is undoubtedly May’s great solo. Another new-styled track is the Deacon-penned “You and I”, which is a swinging song.

Possibly an attempt at topping “Bohemian Rhapsody” is “Somebody to Love”, with hints at some gospel-influences with its use of the Queen choir. It’s very piano-based and quite epic, understandably one of their bigger hits. While Queen introduced sloppy funny songs with Sheer Heart Attack’s “Bring Back That Leroy Brown” they managed to put one on A Night at the Opera that actually was enjoyable, and they did it again here with “Good Old Fashioned Lover Boy”. The song has a light touch to it and a swift, slightly funny, atmosphere throughout, yet manages to be musically challenging, which is the innovative aspect of this track. Again the choirs are heavy on this track, but choirs will always be a part of Queen, since they have three vocalists and all want to and deserve to sing. They always take good advantage of it. Roger Taylor wrote a track as well with “Drowse” but somehow is slightly beside the mark with this one. It’s an unnoted track that just passes by without being really noticed. The theme is semi-catchy and all, but shows much similarity with unintended lullabies, yet is beautiful, in a way. The thing is, this is the first time we hear Taylor sing a ballad, and I like it, but I prefer him on the rock songs like “I’m in Love with my Car”. The conclusion to A Day at the Races is splendid in the epic shape of “Teo Torriate (Let Us Cling Together)”, with a chorus sung in Japanese. It’s one of the best album closers by Queen and is epic throughout, with solely piano and vocals in the verses, accompanied by some rare bass lines and then the epic chorus begins, first in English, later in Japanese.

The biggest change is less progressive influences. Though the experimenting is far from over, there is no “The Prophet’s Song” or “The March of the Black Queen” here, nor anything like it. This does not lessen the album quality; they replaced one good aspect with another and thus give us something different to chew on, which is a very good decision for any band to do. A Day at the Races turned out to be one of my favorite Queen albums, and even beats the somewhat unstable Opera-album. If people would ask, I would definitely recommend A Day at the Races.

Strongest tracks: “Long Away”, “You and I”, “Good Old Fashioned Lover Boy” and “Teo Torriate”.

Kayak - The Last Encore (1976)

Tracklist:
1. Back to the Front
2. Nothingness
3. Love of a Victim
4. Land on the Water
5. The Last Encore
6. Do You Care
7. Still My Heart Cries For You
8. Relics From a Distant Age
9. Love Me Tonight/Get on Board
10. Evocation
11. Raid Your Own House
12. Well Done

The Very Last Encore – 9/10

After the already great Royal Bed Bouncer, Kayak continued in the same vein and released The Last Encore. The ties with debut See See the Sun are now fully disconnected and this album is more of the best side of Royal Bed Bouncer. Though this album did not contain a single to climb many charts, I find it to be Kayak’s finest album, even though some come very close. Unfortunately, this is the last album to feature this lineup and the last album before the reunion in 1999 to feature fellow composer and occasional vocalist Pim Koopman, leaving solely Scherpenzeel to fulfill that task on later albums. But here, we can fully enjoy the golden combination of composing talents, Werner’s unique voice, Slager’s shiver-sending guitar solos and brilliant songwriting one more time.

When I heard this album for the first time I hated it. I thought it to be the worst Kayak album ever and was ready to put it in the sideboard to let dust cover it, but something unexplainable was drawing me back to the album and eventually I fell in love with it. This album’s hooks reveal themselves only to those who can show patience for the music, because that’s what it needs. “Back to the Front” for example sounds so odd at first glance. Some piano chord is being played in fast staccato with Werner’s always odd voice singing lots of words in a monotonous melody. Eventually when the song really starts we get to recognize music there, but it’s not the catchiest music ever, yet once you found the hook, you’re hooked and can’t slip off the hook! Whether the song is a fast-paced rocker like “Love of a Victim” or “Still my Heart Cries for You”, or a sensitive ballad like “Evocation” or “Nothingness”, or an epic anthem like “The Last Encore” or “Land on the Water”, every song is in every aspect topnotch. Slager gives us less of his more complex solos but instead plays subtle, appropriate gentle solos with perhaps more musical value.

There is however one thing that restrains me from giving this album the perfect rating. There is one little abomination is the shape of “Love Me Tonight/Get on Board”, which is just awful. It’s easily the worst song Kayak ever recorded or dared to put on an album. It begins as some 1950s piano recording with some weird voice in the effect of an old 1940s microphone singing a stupid tune from a 1930s movie. The second part is some fanfare-inspired march-like thing, which is drenched in the same dated sound. Luckily this track doesn’t last for three minutes, but it still breaks up the album. And then there is “Raid Your Own House”, which is a nice song, on par with the rest of the album, apart from its bridge, which sounds so un-be-lie-va-bly uninspired. Apart from these little complaints the good side of the album overshadows this by far and modern technology allows us to skip certain songs without too much trouble, so we can still name The Last Encore the best Kayak album, even without the abomination.

In short, The Last Encore picks up where Royal Bed Bouncer had left and again raised the bar for its follow-up. I would recommend this to possibly future Kayak fans anytime.

Strongest tracks: “Land on the Water”, “The Last Encore”, “Do You Care” and “Relics from a Distant Age”.
Weakest track: “Love Me Tonight/Get on Board”.

Friday, 9 April 2010

Queen - A Night at the Opera (1975)

Tracklist
1. Death on Two Legs
2. Lazing on a Sunday Afternoon
3. I'm in Love with my Car
4. You're My Best Friend
5. '39
6. Sweet Lady
7. Seaside Rendezvous
8. The Prophet's Song
9. Love of my Life
10. Good Company
11. Bohemian Rhapsody
12. God Save the Queen

Easy Come, Easy Go – 7,5/10

And in the year of 1975 it was there: the big album that was their first big hit all over the world. Who does not know this album? It contains two of Queen’s biggest hits ever, which were permanent live tracks back in their touring days. Mostly when I encounter such an album I review it with a rather skeptical approach, planning to break it down piece by piece, but if I’d do that to A Night at the Opera, I would just be lying, for this is truly a great album. Not as great as some others, but certainly one that could possibly deserve all the praise it got.

A Night at the Opera is a very diverse album. Where we have raw rock track like “Death on Two Legs” and “Sweet Lady”, there are these goody-goody happy songs like “Lazing on a Sunday Afternoon” or “Seaside Rendezvous”; and where there is a “Killer Queen”-equivalent in “You’re My Best Friend”, there are true epics in “The Prophet’s Song” and “Bohemian Rhapsody”, all the way up to sweet and touching ballad “Love of my Life”, and everything in between. Though it doesn’t differ so much from Sheer Heart Attack in terms of musical style, even though it might slightly more varied and polished, the biggest difference is in the balance. Where SHA still contained mostly hard rock tracks with a few poppy tracks and funny things in between, ANATO tends to have less hard rock tracks and more of those poppy and funny tracks. This is not necessarily for the bad, especially since the album is not torn apart near the end now, but is a bit fragile throughout, which, how odd it may sound, fits better as an album. The funny poppy songs are more spread, the rockers are equally distributed and the sing along anthems turn up every now and then, thus making Queen’s most praised album a diverse one.

The quality of the tracks, however, is a bit diminished. If you noticed how I disliked “Bring Back That Leroy Brown” is my Sheer Heart Attack review, you can imagine songs like “Seaside Rendezvous” and “Good Company” won’t do well either. These songs rely on funny atmospheres with often staccato rhythms and these funny lyrics. Songs like these are funny, but I don’t want my music to be funny; that doesn’t make good LISTENING material, which is what music is all about in my opinion. “Lazing On a Sunday Afternoon” is, though short and also funny, also nice to listen to as a nice extra. Strong rock tracks like “Death on Two Legs” or “I’m in Love with my Car” truly make the album shine, especially the latter, which is sung by our dearest Roger Taylor. Brian May also gives a good vocal performance on the anthemic “’39”, a sung driven mostly by acoustic guitar and a great vocal melody. Rocker “Sweet Lady” contains the odd change of rhythms in the chorus, but is a good song itself. Then there’s “The Prophet Song”, a song with a real epic character and one problem. That problem is the overlong break in which Freddie is just singing and chanting and multi-tracking his voice numerous times and lastly dubbing it in numerous of effects, thus stretching the song past the eighth minute. The rest of the song is downright great, great composition, great guitars and stunning, epic melodies, but the break should’ve been a guitar solo, not a voice solo.

Then come the big hits. “Love of my Life” is undeniably a beautiful ballad and worthy a recognition as one of Queen’s greatest songs. Mostly relying on piano, it is a very sensitive song. After the skip-worthy “Good Company” we have Queen’s biggest hit ever: “Bohemian Rhapsody”. Even though I’m mostly not keen on hits, this song is undeniably a brilliant song. A description it would not need, though I can say it begins as a piano ballad, then falls into the opera-ish part, then rocks your socks off, and concludes as the ballad it always was, ending with a gong. I suppose the “God Save the Queen” arrangements by May are very nice, but absolutely not necessary. They’re merely a satisfying ending to the epic “Bohemian Rhapsody”.

In short, A Night at the Opera is a good album, but features a little too much chit-chat to become truly magnificent in my eyes. It’s a very diverse album and I would definitely recommend it to people who are new to Queen, even if it’s only for “Bohemian Rhapsody”.

Strongest tracks: “Bohemian Rhapsody”, “I’m in Love with my Car” and “’39”.
Weakest tracks: “Seaside Rendezvous”, “Good Company” and the middle part of “The Prophet’s Song”.

Wednesday, 7 April 2010

Kayak - Royal Bed Bouncer (1975)

Tracklist:
1. Royal Bed Bouncer
2. Life of Gold
3. (You're So) Bizarre
4. Bury the World
5. Chance for a Lifetime
6. If This Is Your Welcome
7. Moments of Joy
8. Patricia Anglaia
9. Said No Word
10. My Heart Never Changed
11. Alibi [*]
12. Mountain Too Rough [*]
13. Woe and Alas [*]
14. Mouldy Wood [*]
15. Lovely Luna [*]
16. Forever Is A Lonely Thought [*]
17. Still Try to Write a Book [*]
18. Give it a Name [*]
19. Bulldozer (demo) [*]

Let the Classics Roll – 9/10

Royal Bed Bouncer... an album considered Kayak’s best by many, and it’s certainly one of their finest moments. Where the first two albums were mostly a search for the proper Kayak sound you could say this is where they found it. Though Koopman’s compositions are extremely few here, Scherpenzeel dominates the album with the most pleasant of tunes; Slager gives us some of his best guitar solos here and Werner’s odd raw voice sounds in better shape then ever. They also replaced bassist Cees van Leeuwen with Bert Veldkamp, but I haven’t noticed anything specific in playing style of both. Anyhow, what I’m trying to say is: the band is in top form.

The compositions are so very subtle and sweet, even though sometimes very fast-paced like on “Royal Bed Bouncer” and “Chance for a Lifetime”. There is enough variation between tempos, tones and moods, yet all of it is very soothing to the ear, which is Kayak’s unique sound. Though the tone gets a little on the happy side with themes like “Royal Bed Bouncer” and “(You’re So) Bizarre”, the quality is increasingly better than on both Kayak II and See See the Sun. An album like this one is the power behind Kayak and it’s something no other band can mimic or copy. It seems they’ve found a way to have short songs and in the meantime be progressive and brilliant as well. And of course this album contains the classics “Life of Gold”, “Chance for a Lifetime”, “If This Is Your Welcome” and “Moments of Joy”. If you like Kayak, there is no way you can turn this album down.

Some of the highlights I will describe. “Life of Gold” is a very gentle ballad with emotional vocals by Werner and a great sensitive guitar solo by Slager. It’s mostly piano based and has this great epic feel to it. “(You’re So) Bizarre” is a more happy song with odd vocal melodies and rhythms, but that’s exactly what makes it great. “Bury the World” is one of the best Kayak tracks ever, being the only one featuring Koopman and Werner sharing lead vocals, while at the meantime the backing music is stunning. It flows over to the fast “Chance for a Lifetime”, a fast song about building a spaceship, but aside from the cheese it’s a good song, with a terrifically melodic break. “Moments of Joy” was the first Kayak song I ever heard in my life, and it’s a great piano ballad with great melodies again flowing into your ears. “If This Is Your Welcome” mostly shines in the instrumental part, having whining guitars combined with a solid piano-rock accompaniment. Koopman is doing a great job on the drums here as well. The CD release of the album has come with a fierce amount of bonus tracks, mostly consisting of tracks from the first two LPs and their b-sides. Why the hell those are on this album is beyond me. I would’ve lived if they just included “Bulldozer” on it, which is a great blues-driven instrumental and a great bonus to an already great album. It kind of reminds me of the pre-Kayak single “Fluffy” in a way...

All in all, Royal Bed Bouncer is the way to go if you start with listening Kayak. I think I am not unfair at all if I say this lineup is the strongest Kayak lineup ever to have existed. A shame they only recorded two albums. Anyhow, this album is a must-have for any Kayak-fan.

Strongest tracks: “Life of Gold”, “Bury the World” and “Moments of Joy”.
Weak tracks: none!

Queen - Sheer Heart Attack (1974)

Tracklist:
1. Brighton Rock
2. Killer Queen
3. Tenement Funster
4. Flick of the Wrist
5. Lily of the Valley
6. Now I'm Here
7. In the Lap of the Gods
8. Stone Cold Crazy
9. Dear Friends
10. Misfire
11. Bring Back That Leroy Brown
12. She Makes Me (Stormtrooper in Stilettos)
13. In the Lap of the Gods... Revisited

Slowly Breaking Through – 8/10

With Queen II they slowly came into the picture, but Sheer Heart Attack opened the world for them with grand hit “Killer Queen”. This album was in style quite groundbreaking though quite similar to Queen II, featuring trademark hard rock songs combined with a proggy touch. The thing, however, that separated Sheer Heart Attack from its predecessors is the more poppy touch to some songs like “Bring Back That Leroy Brown” and “Misfire”. Though I’d rather have them stay in the hard rock scene I can’t blame them for choosing the big pop audience on later releases.

The album begins very powerfully with the powerful hard rock riff of “Brighton Rock” combined with Mercury’s falsetto vocals. Yet it is already a lot more accessible than Queen II material. Second track “Killer Queen” scored a big hit for the lads from Great Britain, and it’s understandable why. The song has a lot less of the heaviness, but no less of the catchiness and brilliantness of the melodies. Add a great guitar solo by May to that and you have a terrific song. The beauty of this album is the diversity of it. Where we had the two very different opening tracks, tracks three, four and five are this album’s magnum opus. Basically it’s a long song divided into three parts. The first is the Taylor-sung “Tenement Funster”, which is less heavy than it would’ve been on Queen II, but adds a great relaxing song to the album and is definitely one of early Queen’s highlights. Taylor has got such a powerful raw voice and it gives great contrast with May’s sweeter voice and Mercury’s clear voice. Part two is “Flick of the Wrist” and is a mysterious track with a fast-paced chorus, but contains more of those catchy melodies. Then the opus ends with the gentle “Lily of the Valley”. Live classic rocker “Now I’m Here” and metal song “Stone Cold Crazy” are two more highlights with great catchy riffs.

There’s some material I’d rather not have, though. “Dear Friends” is a short ballad interlude, followed by another short interlude “Misfire”, a happy pop song, and that one is followed by yet another interlude “Bring Back That Leroy Brown”. These three shorts songs are not truly awful tracks, with the exception of “Bring Back...”, but totally kill the power of the album. This “Bring Back...” song is a want-to-be-funny type of song that Queen will make more of in the 70s, and those are quite annoying. But all these short songs don’t add to the album, they just stop it. And then they are followed by “She Makes Me” to make the remainder of the listeners fall asleep right away. It’s a very gentle ballad, sung by May, and consists mainly of this acoustic chord-riff, which in itself is not bad, but the execution of it serves better as a lullaby than anything else. Luckily we have a very satisfying end to the album with “In the Lap of the Gods... Revisited”. The first version is an odd but good song with odd low vocals by Mercury, but the revisited version is nothing alike. This is a gentle song with an epic feel to it and a massive stadium chorus which would make a good live classic and bares some resemblance to the later “We are the Champions”, but is way better than that overrated hit.

To end this relatively short review, I can say Sheer Heart Attack is a great album, with unfortunately an emergency stop somewhere in the middle. It is possible to overlook those songs though, and thus enjoy the good side of the album. I’d highly recommend this album to anyone who wants something of Queen, though if you’re keen on hits, you may want to wait for later albums.

Strongest tracks: “Killer Queen”, “Tenement Funster” and “In the Lap of the Gods...Revisited”.
Weakest tracks: “Bring Back That Leroy Brown” and “She Makes Me”.

Kayak - Kayak II (1974)

Tracklist:
1. Alibi
2. Wintertime
3. Mountain Too Rough
4. They Get to Know Me
5. Serenades
6. Woe and Alas
7. Mireille
8. Trust in the Machine
9. His Master's Noise
10. We Are Not Amused [*]



It’s becoming serious now – 6,5/10

Having released such an odd debut album with See See the Sun, Kayak wanted to develop a less playful sound and be more serious and so they released their second LP without a title. They also had a great hit with “Wintertime” and they also had lengthy songs, just like on their previous album, yet there is a huge difference. This album is way less catchy at first glance and it sounds way better organized, though they are still needing to discover their new sound to the full. Though the album is filled with great tunes, it has some true moments that really sound uninspired. That’s a shame, because that is the downfall of this release.

Where See See the Sun was more of a playful release and very much trying to be progressive, Kayak II is a mere shadow of that. This is still being progressive in the good ol’ way of odd rhythms and time signatures combined with decent length, but Kayak is going for a change here. As we see on later albums, they are developing a short progressive pop style featuring short length prog songs with a more serious approach. Kayak II, however, is not yet fully dubbed into this new Kayak sound and therefore is an interesting record. Though this album features quite straightforward rock attempts with “Alibi” and “Serenades”, long epics like “They Get to Know Me” and “Trust in the Machine” are clear remains of the previous album. Gentle ballads like “Mountain Too Rough” and “His Master’s Noise” certainly remind of the upcoming “Royal Bed Bouncer” and “The Last Encore” releases with their refined and extremely catchy vocal melodies. However, tracks like “Woe and Alas” are mediocre at best with their odd and not-catchy tunes. But since both tunes flow along with the album, I guess we can forgive Kayak this.

Where Kayak lose themselves is the silent parts. Though some are good to listen to, such as the verses of “They Get to Know Me”, the break is downright boring with its silent arpeggios by some synth-ish instrument. It takes quite some time before it evolves into the good not great guitar solos at the back. No wonder that song lasts for nine minutes! “Trust in the Machine”, though ‘merely’ six minutes, suffers from the same mistakes. Though the song itself is up-beat and quite cheerful, they fill the break with machine-like sounds. You might say, wonderfully progressive, but I’d say just cut the crap and give us some more music. That song also ends with good not great guitar solos, which seems like a pre-Bouncer Kayak formula for lengthy songs. The addition of b-side “We Are Not Amused” to the CD is not a bad idea from a collector’s point of view, but from the listeners point of view it is. This track is shamefully cheerful and a bit of a nuisance because of its massively annoying chorus with its stadium chants.

I bet you’d like to read some positivity about this album now, wouldn’t you? As I said, “Mountain Too Rough” is beautiful and features the best side of both Scherpenzeel’s piano and Werner’s vocals. Songs like this one are Kayak’s strength: great piano ballads with great melodies and not showing off by making it extra lengthy, but playing them very subtly to sooth the listener’s ear. “They Get to Know Me” is actually a nice song, apart from the break. It has a good riff, enjoyable silent verses and a very swinging solo part before the break, neatly varying the synth solos with the guitar solos on a great piano accompaniment. And furthermore we have the Koopman-sung “His Master’s Noise”, which is a very short but delightful ballad in the style of “Mountain”.

In short, this album has its moments and is a necessity for Kayak’s development, but it’s not yet incredibly stunning or anything like that. There are sure some great tracks on here, but nothing I’d consider Kayak’s best, except maybe for “Mountain”. If you can get hold of this CD, I would only recommend you to do so if you are a collector.

Strongest tracks: “Mountain Too Rough”, “They Get to Know Me” and “Trust in the Machine”.
Weakest tracks: “Woe and Alas” and “We Are Not Amused”.

Monday, 5 April 2010

Queen - Queen II (1974)

Tracklist:
1. Procession
2. Father to Son
3. White Queen (As it Began)
4. Some Day One Day
5. The Loser in the End
6. Ogre Battle
7. The Fairy Feller's Master Stroke
8. Nevermore
9. The March of the Black Queen
10. Funny How Love Is
11. Seven Seas of Rhye



The Early Masterpiece – 9,5/10

After getting to know the band with their first LP, they strike relentlessly with their second self-titled album, leaving us no chance not to get into their music. Though the album was pretty underrated at the time of release and didn’t contain any great hit singles, perhaps apart from the full version of “Seven Seas of Rhye”, it’s been looked upon as a true Queen classic now. It’s easily Queen on their most progressive moment, featuring high quality compositions with enough hooks, surprises and geniality to keep you fascinating even after too many spins. Radically spoken, this might be the best Queen album ever.

The album has been nicely divided into two parts. Though lending their names to the old LP sides, Side White and Side Black are true opposites. White contains compositions with a more positive theme and more gentle songs, all but one of which are composed by Brian May. We even get to hear his voice on the acoustic “Some Day One Day”. His voice is a lot sweeter than both Mercury’s and Taylor’s, and is actually quite nice to listen to in a pause between the more present voices of the other two singers. His other compositions are more complex in sound and feature Mercury’s voice (except for the instrumental “Procession”, which is an intro to the album). “Father to Son” is an epic-driven song of quite a length, but it will pass by like any other. From beginning to end it keeps the drive going and the chorus is really epic. The highlight is obviously May’s solo. There’s some trademark Queen multi-tracking with voices in the interplay. In the end it flows over to “White Queen (As it began)”, which is another great piece. It starts off gently with May arpeggiating some chords and with Mercury gently singing with lots of emotion. In the chorus May comes in with his heavy distortion guitar, thus making it a great powerballad, again with a great guitar-solo. Side White ends with the Taylor-sung “The Loser in the End”, a relaxing rock song about children leaving their parents’ homes. Taylor has a great voice for this kind of relaxing rock tracks.

Side Black on the other hand is a lot darker and heavier with more dark fantasy-related themes and solely Mercury-penned tracks. From the heavy but melodic “Ogre Battle” all the way to the full rendition of previous LP’s “Seven Seas of Rhye”, we are bombarded with catchy melodies, pleasant surprises and heavy riffs. A highlight of this side is definitely the fast and raw “Ogre Battle”, which begins with a mirrored heavy riff, first played backwards then flows over into the forward version with most melodic verses. After the last sound of the gong it flows over to “The Fairy Feller’s Master-stroke”, which is our next highlight. This one is considerably less heavy, but faster and very melodic, though it quickly descends into a mid-paced song. The next track “Nevermore” is one I consider to be part of the “Fairy Feller” track, but is a short piano ballad with some great emotional vocals. Then we have “March of the Black Queen”, which is in many ways a sort of prototype of the to-be-written “Bohemian Rhapsody”. Also a real opposite of “White Queen”, “Black Queen” takes us with heavy riffing and march-like melodies and rhythms on a journey of many dark themes, with great performance by all members. Also very well audible are the vocals of Taylor, May and Mercury, all multi-tracked enough times to form a big choir. This track is arguably one of the best tracks Queen ever recorded.

In short, we have a very adventurous and progressive early Queen album with Queen II. They are now more familiar with composing great songs, but have not yet fallen into the tempting trap of the charts. This album is pure Queen and would never be equaled with future releases, although some come really close. This album is a must-have for anyone daring to call him-/herself a Queen fan.

Strongest tracks: “White Queen (As it Began)”, “Ogre Battle”, “The Fairy Feller’s Master-Stroke” and “The March of the Black Queen”.