Review Summary: Despite the second half being a tad weaker than the first, Sheer Heart Attack is still a special album - one that would expand Queen's fanbase beyond expectations.
Chapter III: Big Commercial Success
You may think Queen were always big, but they in fact came from very humble beginnings. Their eponymous debut album was released in 1973 to relatively low fanfare, with the single "Keep Yourself Alive" (quite a popular rock song now) failing to hit the charts anywhere. Then enter Queen II, the brilliant sophomore album that blew the debut out of the water, yet still didn't manage to really shake the public in anyway (other than the somewhat popular "Seven Seas of Rhye"). Then, add into the mix Norman Sheffield, Queen's former B*TCH of a manager who would cut Queen's studio time and abuse his power over the band. So... let's just say that things weren't exactly looking up for the band.
So what'd the band do? They reached out to the public with more accessible songs, opting for a more pop/rock sound that still retained all the... "artiness" of their previous works. Overall, how well did it work? Well, if the band's popularity, reviews from critics, and immediate chart staying power mean anything, then Sheer Heart Attack was a bold success.
As I said before, the band tried more of a pop/rock approach, and the condensed arrangements easily work in the band's favor here. You'll still hear a wide variety of genres being played here, including pop, rock, folk, ragtime, Caribbean music, opera, and more; However, the grandiose style of the album doesn't get in the way of the accessibility, making for a very rich experience all in all.
In the album, Queen also scored their first two worldwide hits - the dangerously lovely "Killer Queen" and the explosive "Now I'm Here." The former mixes a quaint piano arrangement with Freddie Mercury's biting, dry sense of humor. The solo from Brian May is also a highlight, using chordal repetition in a clever, campy way. The latter song begins with a very tense-yet-driving riff from May, while Freddie softly expresses his voice, eventually leading to a powerful, climactic clash of instruments. What follows is a strong, speedy riff-fest that backs-up Freddie's vocal assault. In the end, it's no wonder that the two songs became hits, both being very appealing in terms of sound.
One of the biggest highlights of the album is a short little proto-speed metal song known as "Stone Cold Crazy." Instead of offering Queen's normal operatic style, here they make the song a very focused slab of pure metal energy. It's easy to see why Metallica covered this song later on; Having a song this heavy, clangorous and loud must have influenced many artists in Queen's wake. Brian May's solo is pretty much a shred-fest, but still overdubbed like much of Queen's sound.
As for the members, everybody is presented in a very cohesive way throughout the songs. No member is left out or featured more than the other (maybe other than Freddie Mercury, just a tad), making for quite a nice balance. Freddie's vocals are very powerful as usual; Brian May's style is fully realized here, running the gamut of different sounds atypical of rock yet still retaining his pop/rock presence; Roger Taylor goes through many diverse styles as well, but remains hard-hitting and spot-on; John Deacon has very subtle-yet-noticeable fills and runs that shouldn't fly by anyone's ears.
As for the flaws, many of the weaknesses come in at the second half; The latter half just simply isn't as strong as the first. "Bring Back That Leroy Brown" is a fun listen, but "Seaside Rendezvous" would perfect the Queen ragtime style a year later. Also, "Misfire" couldn't be more fittingly named. The whole song just doesn't really fit; One: it's only 1:50, so very short; Two: The song's Caribbean style is simply very far-fetched and honestly an odd pace-killer for the next songs. Additionally, the final track, the revisited version of "In the Lap of the Gods," is a pretty bland anthem song that repeats the same section for an annoying two minutes, making the listen a chore.
However, the rest of the album is very solid, especially in the exceptional first half. The next year, Queen would release A Night at the Opera, an album that would really shake the world and it's critics. Until then, Sheer Heart Attack was the real breakthrough in terms of expanding Queen's fanbase to ridiculous new heights.