Review Summary: A logical next step after Jazz.
Chapter VIII: A Bold Shift
Jazz was easily one of Queen's most controversial records, many publications believing that the band were getting too over-the-top for their own good. Indeed, the album was very free-spirited and energetic even for Queen; Rolling Stone even went on to say that the band "may be the first truly fascist rock band." As if the band didn't already get a bunch of attention for their eclecticism and bombast, this just added more fuel to the proverbial fire. So with the band's first 80s effort The Game, the band decided to switch things up a bit. Instead of their traditional campy rock and layered production sound, Queen chose to create a more focused hard rock record and mix in a few sounds previously uncharacteristic of their style.
The biggest shift in the band's sound for this album is that they finally embrace synthesizers. After years of following a "no-synthesizer" policy, the opening track "Play the Game" immediately throws the rule out the window with the frantic keyboard intro that kicks it off. That's not to say that the band had forgotten their roots with this record; they were simply expanding their horizons, as well as experimenting with sounds that were popular at the time. There's also a noticeable emphasis on dance music this time around, something that would continue with their 1982 effort Hot Space. "Another One Bites the Dust" was the biggie when it came to the band's success with this genre, with a funky bass line that beginning bassists emulate to this day. That very song represents the other big change in the group's sound: it sounds a hell of a lot more restrained than their previous efforts. There's a distinct lack of bombast and stadium-filling choruses on this record, the band instead opting for a sound that's more reminiscent of Journey or another pop/rock band of their nature at the time. The difference is that Queen add their trademark sound to this style, giving it some extra personality.
Indeed, there are still elements of the band's old style present. "Crazy Little Thing Called Love" is an amazing rockabilly song filled with Freddie Mercury's typical sense of pastiche and fun, while the explosive chorus of the closing piano ballad "Save Me" is absolutely heartwarming despite the sense of desperation the song's lyrics suggest. Songs like "Another One Bites the Dust" and "Dragon Attack" are really where the change in sound is most apparent. Unfortunately, you'll have to get the hate mail ready... I don't like "Dragon Attack." It sounds like a boring mid-tempo rehash of what "Another One Bites the Dust" already accomplished before, and it's not all that exciting. The bass line, while sort of fun, wears out its welcome pretty quickly; a later highlight "Don't Try Suicide" makes much better use of John Deacon's bass work, especially when combined with the finger snaps and Brian May's Police-like guitar chords. The ballads, on the other hand, are generally fantastic; there's not a weak one here. "Play the Game" and "Save Me" are solid piano-driven numbers that benefit from infectious vocal harmonies and heavy emotional weight, while "Sail Away Sweet Sister" stands out as one of Brian May's best tunes. His somber vocals and John Deacon's melodic bass lines during the verses work together perfectly, while the chorus is extremely climactic and definitely worth waiting through the song's slow tempo to get to it.
The reason this is only a 4/5 and not higher is because some of the restrained songs really come back and bite the band in the ass. As I said, "Dragon Attack" is pretty damn bland; so are "Rock It" and "Coming Soon," both being extremely average rockers that feel like obvious filler. However, as with many of Queen's records, the songs that are good are extremely good. In fact, the goodies here can be absolutely amazing at times. So while there are some flaws and bland songs, The Game is definitely worth your time. It's more restrained, sure, but there are so many songs to root for that it doesn't really matter in the end. Their next few records, however, are quite a different story; stay tuned for Chapter IX.