Review Summary: Queen delivers a brilliant album which explores the bands evolving sound
When talking about Queen, the first songs that may pop up on one's mind are probably the most popular ones: "Bohemian Rhapsody", "Somebody To Love", "We Will Rock You", "Another One Bites The Dust", "We Are The Champions", etc. But very few actually know about the band's dark beginnings, before Brian May's overdriven guitar sound and Freddie Mercury's piano power ballads would come to define Queen as a living, breathing entity. Before what would be the band's breakthrough album and hit single in the US (Sheer Heart Attack and "Killer Queen", respectively), Queen was a small band striving for success in the UK. After a demo tape, some poorly scheduled recording sessions and a heavily delayed release date, Queen was able to release their debut album and two singles in 1973. Although the album met with some commercial success (reaching N° 24 on the UK Albums Chart and 83 on the US Billboard 200), the overall sound on the album was not entirely pleasing or satisfying, striking more as a combination between Led Zeppelin and The Who than the classic original Queen sound we know today.
Determined to outdo themselves both successfully and creatively, Queen returned to the studio less than a month after the release of their debut album. Now developing a signature sound of their own, Queen would begin to experiment with over-layered vocals and guitar sounds. The result was Queen II, one of the most confident and strongest releases of their whole career. Featuring the famous diamond formation cover photo by Mick Rock (which the band would later reuse for the music videos of "Bohemian Rhapsody" and "One Vision"), Queen II often explores dark themes of magic and fantasy, which the band would ultimately drop on the course of their career. Having said all that, I think it's time to start the review.
The criterion used to review each song is a mixture of the reviewer's taste, the vocal performance (in case there were any), the instrumentation and the soundscape the song builds. Ratings of each individual song at the end of the review.
Side one (sorry, "Side White") opens with a short instrumental piece, a funeral march composed by Brian May called "Procession". Running only 1:13 long, "Procession" is a mix of over-layered guitar overdrives by Brian May's Red Special and the bass pedal sound of Roger Taylor. The song has a very theatrical feel to it, making us feel as if we were walking through a gravesite while the rain is pouring down on our heads. Amazing soundscape.
Procession then segues into the second song on the album, "Father To Son". This song is gorgeously linked to "Procession", starting almost right off with the vocals as if the former track was nothing more than an introduction to this one. "Father To Son" is one of the great highlights of the album, featuring some big, powerful drumming by Roger Taylor and a heavy metal section in the middle. When the heavy guitar section in the middle concludes, a quite piano part takes its place for a moment before the song launches again with full power, ending with an emotional, exhilarating chant kind of chorus. About the best on the album. The only down point of the song are Mercury's vocals, sounding in a very low volume and in weak vocal range. Anyway, amazing song.
Once again, "Father To Son" segues into "White Queen (As It Began)", a slower guitar ballad also composed by Brian May. The song starts with a little intro put up by Brian May using an overdubbing technique with his Red Special, making his guitar sound like melancholic background violins. Then makes its entrance the acoustic guitar, and slowly Freddie joins in, only this time his voice is much more confident and clear. After this section has repeated for about a minute, Brian strikes once again with the electric guitar and John and Roger start joining in, slowly, with the bass and drums. Like "Father To Son", "White Queen" also features a heavy metal section, that makes use of yet another fantastic guitar technique by Brian that makes the Red Special sound almost like a sitar. The song then finishes coming back to the acoustic guitar-vocals format. Although the heavy metal section doesn't really go somewhere interesting, this song stands out because of the acoustic segment and the creative use of guitar techniques by Brian May. Another of the great songs on this album.
So, we leave the dark theme of "White Queen" and we get to one of the most up-beat songs on the album. "Some Day One Day" is another acoustic-electric beauty written and sang by (this would mark the first time he sang lead vocals on a Queen album) Brian May (yes, for those who've been wondering, Brian May wrote 4 of the 5 songs on the White Side), only this time the music and the lyrics paint a much happier and optimistic picture. The musical formula here would later be reused by May in other songs of his on the three following Queen albums: "She Makes Me (Stormtroopers In Stilettos)" from Sheer Heart Attack, "39" from A Night At The Opera and "Long Away" from A Day At The Races. Anyway, this song is much more brighter and somewhat more minimalistic than the two songs that come before it, having only a couple of overdubbs and overlayered guitars. The optimistic nature of the song also helps Brian advance lyrically as a songwriter, including the very mature and reflective phrase "When I was you and you were me and we were very young". Another great quality to mention is John Deacon's smooth bass playing in this song. Great underrated wonder off an underrated album.
But it's not all perfect. Something had to go wrong, right? "The Loser In The End", the only song on the album written and sung by the drummer Roger Taylor, is the first misstep on Queen II. It's not necessarily a bad song, and the quality of the vocals is actually pretty good, but the LOUSY lyrics and the music that sounds directly out of a Led Zeppelin album shoots the song down to mediocrity. No, I’m not saying Led Zeppelin is bad. But last time I looked to the top of the screen I was reviewing a Queen album. To sum it up: unoriginal, strumming loud, and bad lyrics. Just a somewhat catchy beginning. Sorry, Roger.
Okay, so that's how Side White comes to an end. Without giving us any time to breathe, the first track on Side Black and the first Mercury composition on the album rocks in: "Ogre Battle". Starting out with an awesome intro of overlayered and rewinded guitar sounds, shoutings and drums, "Ogre Battle" is a stomping monster, definitely one of Queen's heaviest songs. This tune would later come to define the classic Queen sound of overdriven and overlayered guitar sound Brian May was experimenting with at the time. Like a voice out of a fairy tale, Freddie tells the story of a battle between two ogres (as you may have expected from the title), being accompanied by Roger and Brian to sing the high-pitched chorus. Great, heavy, wild song that ends with a screaming explosion. Literally.
Before "Ogre Battle" completely fades out, the harpsichord played by Freddie comes in with "The Fairy Feller's Master-Stroke", which Freddie wrote out of inspiration he got from the Richard Dadd painting of the same name. Although an experimental adventure, this song never really ends up going somewhere interesting, being just a mixture of piano and guitar overdubbs. Not a bad song, but not a Best Of compilation kind of song either.
The last piano chords on "The Fairy Feller's Master-Stroke" continue into "Nevermore", a real Freddie Mercury kind of ballad, featuring multi-layered vocal harmonies and a delightful piano part. This is another beautiful but short number, lasting only about 1:20. Still, there's not much more to say about the song.
Now comes one of the biggest songs on the album: "The March Of The Black Queen". One of the most layered and overdubbed Queen songs of their career, "The March Of The Black Queen" is a powerful audio labyrinth, making use of the overdubbing technique to create a complete piano-guitar-drums chaos somewhere at the middle. And out of the chaos, another piano section by Freddie arises, only for the drums and bass to kick in, along with the guitar. Becoming a self-rising monster, the song builds up again and transforms into a war anthem. With lyrics about submission and king-like power and pleasure, this song is like an evil predecessor to "Bohemian Rhapsody", taking us to a musical roller coaster with all sorts of unexpected free-falls. Probably the best or second best song on the album.
The vocal harmony at the end of "The March Of The Black Queen" now segues (as you can see, this album is full of segues and medleys) into "Funny How Love Is", a song that will make you want to stick a knife into your guts and say goodbye to this world. "Funny How Love Is" is ridiculously repetitive and boring, featuring Freddie's worst vocals of his entire career and a musical melody so mediocre it never bothers to move into some other direction. Poor, poor track and the absolute worst on the album.
But the placement of "Funny How Love Is" as the before-last song on the album has some theatrical feel to it. You see, after such a disastrous song, hearing the piano intro in "Seven Seas Of Rhye" makes the listener feel like a hero returning home for a last epic final battle. "Seven Seas Of Rhye" is everything a person can want it to be: it's a tale of a triumphant god descending from Heaven to claim back what's his, it's a powerful, fast-paced anthem of conquer and glory, it's a perfect piano piece, it's a thrilling and overwhelming heat-based song. There is no other possible way this album could have had a greatest closing song. And not only is it an amazing song on the creative and musical aspects, it's also the band's most important commercial success, being their first charting single in the UK and launching them into fame. Best song on the album.
So, to sum it up:
PROCESSION/FATHER TO SON: A funeral march and a heavy metal song segued into each other to create an amazing chant-like chorus at the end.
Rating: 9.25 / 10
WHITE QUEEN (AS IT BEGAN): A melancholic show off by Brian May with lightning bolts of guitar strikes.
Rating: 8.75 / 10
SOME DAY ONE DAY: A more calm, sunny adventure. Great lyrical improvement by Brian.
Rating: 8.50 / 10
THE LOSER IN THE END: One of the sloppiests songs on the album. Absolutely unoriginal.
Rating: 5.75 / 10
OGRE BATTLE: A wild, stomping and violent song by Mercury. Lots of great overdubbs and vocal parts.
Rating: 9 / 10
THE FAIRY-FELLER'S MASTER-STROKE: Experimental but not very interesting. A merely ok song.
Rating: 7 / 10
NEVERMORE: Short ballad piano by Freddie. Beautiful over-layered vocal harmonies and piano parts that would later become "You Take My Breath Away".
Rating: 8 / 10
THE MARCH OF THE BLACK QUEEN: An ENORMOUS song with mayhem overdubbs and a vicious march.
Rating: 9.75 / 10
FUNNY HOW LOVE IS: Absolute garbage. Boring, dull, painful lyrics. Painful to the listener, that is.
Rating: 1.50 / 10
SEVEN SEAS OF RHYE: Magnificent song with perfect instrumentation and a segment of "I Sure Like To Be Beside The Sea Side" at the end. The best on the album.
Rating: 10 / 10