Review Summary: Well DAMN... no wonder Queen would grow into something big.
Chapter I: Humble Beginnings
Believe it or not, Queen wasn't ALWAYS an earth-shattering, stadium-filling arena act; in fact, their debut suggests something absolutely different, despite laying the groundwork for future successes. However, there's one thing that can't be denied... this album is a SUPERB start to the band's career.
The music present here is more akin to the progressive rock style seen in the early 70's, mixed with the usual latter-day Queen glam and flair. The lyrics are quite interesting here as well, using more of a medieval and fantasy-based style that would be all but dropped later. The result is an excellent prog-rock record that would fit neatly between the shelves of King Crimson and Genesis.
Of course, you might not see it that way when you listen to the first track, "Keep Yourself Alive." It has more of the powerful, amplified sound from Queen's mid-to-late career, with a driving rock riff from Brian May and even a rare drum solo from Roger Taylor. Freddie Mercury's vocals are just as powerful, and already show the man's incredible dynamic range. Either way you slice it, this song is different from the majority of the album, and it's surprising that it didn't go up the charts when it was released as a single.
Most of the other songs take a softer, more acoustic turn, punctuated by heavier areas and songs. "Doing All Right" is heavily reminiscent of King Crimson's "Cadence and Cascade," and is much calmer than the first song. The vocals are beautifully harmonized, and the electric guitar has a bit of a new-age feel to it. Soon, the song speeds up for a head-banging climax before concluding slowly and sweetly. Another slower selection is "The Night Comes Down." Kicking things off with a fast acoustic intro, the song builds up into a harmonized guitar section, leading into the sweetly calm verse. The chorus is a highlight of the song, again utilizing vocal harmonies for a beautifully captivating effect.
The band, however, isn't afraid in the slightest to get the distortion running for the heavier songs. There are some serious precursors to the true heavy metal style that would shine in the 80's, like "Great King Rat" or "Liar." Both are very powerful, convoluted songs much lyrical cleverness and style in each. You can always count on Brian May to lay down some intense solos, or on Roger Taylor for some complicated proggy fills and solos of his own. John Deacon provides a great backbone, and adds to the heaviness and brutality. Freddie Mercury powers his way through, combining raw energy and occasional soft emotion.
So, the flaws? The biggest one here is inconsistency, which is quite common in first albums. In some sections, the band have trouble in terms of knowing when enough is enough, especially in terms of soloing and jamming. Also, there are some throwaways present here, like Roger Taylor's short, random "Modern Times Rock 'n' Roll" and what is essentially a short demo-version of "Seven Seas of Rhye."
What's really clear, though, is that Queen gave their all into this, and crafted a splendid debut album that would pave the way for their records to come. Good job, guys!
Freddie Mercury - lead and backing vocals, piano, Hammond organ on "Liar"
Brian May - electric and acoustic guitar, backing vocals, vocal bridge on "Keep Yourself Alive", piano on "Doing All Right"
Roger Taylor - drums, backing vocals, lead vocals on "Modern Times Rock 'n' Roll", vocal bridge on "Keep Yourself Alive", percussion
John Deacon - bass guitar