Review Summary: Rightfully overlooked.
What are the first things an ordinary person might associate with Queen? Massive, heavy rock anthems? Humourous mock-operas? An infatuation with kitschy ragtime songs? Yes, of course, but what about new wave pop-funk? No? Well, steer clear of this one then.
Queen had a long hot streak in the 70s, generally staying in "rock" mode and writing classics that everybody is familliar with, even if their albums were occasionally erratic (A Day at the Races
was a step down from A Night at the Opera
scaled back the rock anthems). 1980's The Game
was the beginning of the band's long downward spiral: a muddled album entirely lacking the customary earthshaking hard rock (dedicated instead to pop/rock/funk/disco) suffering from a distinct drop in quality ("Another One Bites the Dust" and "Dragon Attack" notwithstanding).
Fans worried by The Game
were horrified and outraged by 1982's Hot Space
, an aberrant excursion into dance-pop/new-wave/disco/funk that somehow spawned the band's last great song, "Under Pressure". While that song is remembered and loved by many, the album is nothing but a footnote in the band's history. So, 25 years after the entire fuss, has this album been accordingly sha
t on by everybody?
The album overall
First of all, it must be noted that this album's production has aged horribly and now it sounds incurably dated. Hot Space
is full of clattering drum machines, generic 80s keyboards/synths and archaic booming electronic drums. Brian May has been obviously demoted to a supporting role for most of the album, and Roger Taylor seems to have been shafted as well.
With that out of the way, the album has another severe handicap, and that is the songwriting. I never thought Queen could lose their footing in this department, but here were are. Most of the songs have plastic, spent hooks and riffs that fade into thin air once the album's over. Freddie Mercury also took the opportunity to ruin some of the songs by contributing bad sex-obsessed lyrics that read like parodies of oversexualized 80s new-wave/funk music, and wildly over-emoting in a very grating manner. Hell, listening to this album makes me think David Lee Roth
is a master of subtlety.
On with the show.
is the grand opening number. No, you have not accidentally put a Duran Duran CD on. Queen have embraced the Synth Side. The song is driven by a plodding drum machine and a weak melody played on a synth bass (oh, come on, what did John ever do to you?), with some uninspired licks from Brian. And, disco shock! They brought a horn section as well, shepherded by disco schlockmeister Arif Mardin no less. It's a pastiche which distinctly lacks any sense of fun (regardless of Freddie's lusty, somewhat strained vocals) and does not benefit from its clunky, bombastic production.
is one of the better songs on the album. It relies on a drum machine and an insistent synth bass riff, only to bring the massed vocals and huge guitars during the refrains. Think of it as a new-wave version of "Dragon Attack". The main riff is incredibly catchy, and the song as a whole is more dynamic, forceful, even fun
than its predecessor. Hell, even the re-used "mock-operatic vocals + percussion" coda technique (from "Dragon Attack") works well. It must be made clear though, that it's only good in the context of the album. It would have been better if it was produced as a bombastic, guitar-heavy anthem. Oh, and a slightly increased tempo wouldn't hurt. But this is Hot Space
(*sigh*), so I'll make do with what I have. Next to "Under Pressure" it's probably the best song available.
continues the floundering midtempo pace, but lacks any punchy guitars, memorable riffs or traces of energy/fun. Roger is still absent, being replaced by a drum machine. Brian and John are reduced to playing an exhausted riff over some lazily phased Rhodes chords. Freddie once again overcompensates, attempting to inject some life into the song, but he just comes across as forced. The awkward, pseudo-aggressive lyrics don't help matters much. A complete dud.
is the single that raised the most shi
t after being released one month before the album. It's the most minimal song here, with just:
1. a stiff drumloop
2. an admittedly okay bassline.
3. some annoying whooshy synth noises.
4. no guitar
. (well, allright, a barely audible two-note riff in the final 30 seconds)
Yeah, does that sound like Queen to you? Thought so. It sounds like a horrible predecessor to Depeche Mode
's infinitely better "Personal Jesus". Freddie turns his sex-obsessed schtick up to 11, coming off as labored and awkward. And he once again "emotes" way too hard, as if trying to hide the song's lethargic pace. An overwrought clunker proving that Queen and songs about fu
cking rarely mix ("Get Down, Make Love" anyone?).
Action This Day
can be summed up in one word: incoherent. From the confusing guitar riff employed in the verses to the lyrics ("Action this day/Action this night"???). The chorus has a microscopic flash of old-fashioned Queen flamboyance with the ringing piano chords and huge chorus. The breakdown from 2:23-2:30 on has some arpeggiated synths that remind one, bizarrely, of Daft Punk
. Or R.E.M.
in "Up" mode. No matter, it quickly proceeds to a laughable synth-sax solo (been watching your Baywatch tapes again, Mack?). This song sounds like a half-baked doodle that should've never left the studio.
Finally, a shiny light comes on the horizon. Put Out The Fire
, the closest thing we get here to old-fashioned Queen rocking. Brian contributes a catchy melody to the verses which unintentionally echoes "Fight From The Inside". Roger is still AWOL, so we get some booming electronic drums instead. The song "boasts" some of the lamest/most confusing lyrics Queen ever made. Yeeeah, an anti-firearm song? You don't say. It makes "Play the Game" look like "Fat Bottomed Girls". I'm going to recommend this song, mostly because of its nifty central riff and rock-oriented tone.
Okay, I take back what I said previously. Life is Real (Song for Lennon)
has a batch of lyrics so bewildering, they make "Mustapha" look articulate ("Breastfeeding myself/What more can I say"?? "Music will be my mistress/Laughing like a whore/Lennon was a genius/In every pore"?? "Life is a bitch/So real"????). Arrangement-wise, it's your typical Queen ballad, based on plinky piano melodies complemented occasionally by guitar, and a perfectly harmonized chorus. Miracle of miracles, Roger is finally detectable behind the drumset somewhat. I was getting tired of those drum machines. It's a pleasant, nice song, and certainly miles above most of the flaccid wrecks that pass for filler on this album.
Calling All Girls
begins with some guitar chords, and proceeds to get more boring from that point. I can't complain about the drums, it's a welcome break from the rest of the album, but the melodies are listless and the vocals bland. The buzzy guitar melodies sound like they were stolen from A Hard Day's Night
, and don't mesh well with the new-wave oriented arrangement.
Las Palabras de Amor (The Words of Love)
. Hey, thanks for the parantheses guys, that's really
helpful. The song begins with a clichéd spacy synth arpeggio which sounds like it was sampled in "Up". Then it proceeds into the main arrangement. Shock! It's actually okay, with a heavy dose of cheesy flamboyance. The verses are just guitar and Freddie, only to have Roger return from his toilet break for the refrain. The lads' Spanish pronounciation is atrocious, even worse than The Beatles
' "Sun King". But then again, I was also pissed off at their horrid pronounciation in "Te wo Toriatte". So basically, what we have here is a Queen-by-numbers ballad... it's almost like they're attempting to rewrite "Save Me". The only good part is the production, which sounds fuller and more organic now (plus live drums!). Overall, the song is good but lacks substance. And it seems to define the blueprint of countless horribly overproduced 80s power ballads.
is like a low-energy "Back Chat". The drum machines have sadly returned. The song relies on some sluggish, tired funk riffing from Brian complemented by some lazy keyboard accents. Freddie performs the entire song in falsetto, giving the distinct impression that he wanted to create a Prince
-like track without understanding what not
to do. Hello there, skip button.
is the last great Queen song, and the obvious highlight of this desultory album. Opening with the now-famous "doo-doo-doo-do-do-doo-doo" bass riff, the first part is mostly ethereal. Brian's guitars are finally the song's primary feature and are augmented by some atmospheric keyboard. David Bowie
's understated backing vocals complement Freddie's frantic delivery well, giving the song a manic edge, as if it could explode at any moment. Which it accordingly does with an agitated refrain, only to revert quickly to the original arrangement. The back-and-forth between the two parts repeats. After an extremely quiet breakdown, the song gathers tension through a rabid drum solo from Roger Taylor, only to release it with a spirited refrain. The way this song manages the tension-release cycle without any distorted guitars is quite remarkable.
In the end, what we get from this album are a classic, maybe two or three good tracks and a lot of banal, self-conscious, stiff filler. Sadly, this was the turning point in Queen's career. From now on there would be a severe dearth of any hard rock tracks, and the ones that did come out were either hampered by production or quality issues.
: "Under Pressure", "Dancer", "Put Out The Fire".