Review Summary: Not the same band that your dad listens to. A powerful early session recording from an embryonic Queen with Brian May in the spotlight.
There is one very good reason why Queen are one of the best selling artists of all time. If your dad has never really been into music he may have 20 or 30 albums in his collection which he has gathered over the years. Browse through them and there is a very good chance that nestling among the Meatloaf, U2 and Eagles albums will be 'Queen's Greatest Hits'. He may even wipe away the cobwebs and give it a spin on special occasions when he is under the influence of a few beers. As he plays air guitar to 'Don't Stop Me Now' in an embarrassing dad like fashion he may well beckon you over while mouthing the words 'now this is real music son' as you nod sympathetically from behind the safety of your headphones. In fact a recent survey concluded that eight out of ten dads own 'Queens' Greatest Hits' so there is no real mystery as to their record sales.
So, Queen are a bit of a joke then. They degenerated into a singles band churning out mediocre albums which became poor albums which became embarassingly awful albums and then Freddie passed away and their legacy was assured in the form of the aforementioned greatest hits bestseller. There is little doubt that Queen became musically irrelevant from 'News of the World' onwards but they are sometimes heralded as one of the most influential bands of all time. Listen to 'A Night at the Opera' and anything before that and you will hear why. Enthralled by some of the grand pomposity of early Rush ? That's a Queen influence. Into neo-classical metal ? That's influenced by Queen too. Artists as disparate as Nirvana, Radiohead, Iron Maiden and The Smashing Pumpkins have all cited Queen as an influence. They also contributed to the evolution of the heavy metal genre by discarding much of its blues influences in their early hard rock sound. This album exemplifies that early sound in abundance.
This session featured on this album was recorded in 1973 and includes tracks which later appeared on the band's self-titled debut and its follow up, albeit in different and sometimes extended format. There is a noticeable difference in the sound of the band on this session when compared to the full album releases. For a start Brian May's guitar sound on here is one of the rawest and most brutal things you will hear on any album from the 70's. The fact that he made his own guitar, wound his own fat single coil pickups and tweaked his gear may have something to do with his sound. It is rumoured that he used to play using unusually heavy strings plucked with an old coin which also helped him to achieve his distinctive tone. Whatever the secret was behind May's early sound the sheer bite and aggressiveness to the overdriven guitar on here, and indeed May's explosive playing in general, are what elevates this album above the status of a mere curiosity. The art-rock tendencies that began to pervade Queen's music a few years hence are already present this early on in their career with the harmony vocals and Freddie Mercury's inventive piano melodies finding a foothold within some of the songs. But make no mistake, this is a guitar album first and foremost.
The real highlight comes in the form of an extended version of 'Son and Daughter'. Brian May literally bludgeons his way through the opening verses with a buzzing chainsaw of a rhythm tone. An extended middle section jam, which was later featured on 'Brighton Rock', finds May creating clever harmonies over looped tape delays and Roger Taylor going bat *** crazy on the sticks. 'Ogre Battle', with its memorable opening riff and pounding drum beat is totally unlike its polished counterpart on 'Queen II'. This is raw and endearingly naive yet still the quality of performance and musicianship shine through. May is also in top form on the infectiously vital performance of 'Great King Rat' driving the song along with a chugging riff and bursts of harmonied wah-wah soloing. It would be stretching things to proclaim this session performance as some sort of essential lost gem and indeed there are some rather weak tracks in the form of 'Liar', 'Doin Alright' and 'Modern Times Rock and Roll'. These lesser cuts can't be saved from mediocrity but for anyone who doubts Queen's hard rock roots the sheer raw energy displayed on much of the music should dispel this assumption.
A lot of people's abiding impression of Queen is that of a tired old commercial rock band who dabbled in some eccentric theatrics, experimented with a bit of funk here and there and slowly but surely became a parody of themselves. This would be a fair assessment if you follow their career from around 1977 onwards. But delve deeper into their past and you will find a totally different beast which certainly had it's roots firmly planted in a hard bedrock. So, next time your dad tries to lecture you on what is real music while bopping away to 'Crazy Little Thing Called Love' tell him you like Queen too, remove his greatest hits CD from his 15 year old player, stick this on and blow his speaker cones with a dose of 'Son and Daughter' at full volume.