Review Summary: What the hell happened?
Chapter IX: A Bizarre Diversion
Queen's eighth record The Game proved to be a massive success, primarily due to the popularity of the funk/dance single "Another One Bites the Dust." While this song (and the album, for that matter) saw Queen showing a less-bombastic side to their sound, the traditional campy sound of their old records at least remained somewhat intact. So when they got called to do the soundtrack to the 1980 sci-fi action movie Flash Gordon, it seemed like a match made in heaven. A bombastic rock group playing for a cheesy science fiction thrill ride" What could possibly go wrong with that" Well, almost everything went wrong.
This is nearly the opposite of what you'd expect from a Queen record; Freddie Mercury only sings on two tracks, and the other members are barely involved when it comes to instrumental contributions. Much of the record consists of desolate, eerie synthesizer arrangements that are frankly awkward and boring to listen to. When that isn't going on, we get laughably outdated synthpop songs that wouldn't even make it on the worst Depeche Mode or Erasure album. To be fair, there are some great tunes on here; the most memorable track is the popular "Flash's Theme." You know the one: the pounding piano/bass buildup that leads to the harmonized vocal chant, "FLASH!!! AAAAHHHHH!" The dialogue clip in the song's intro is wonderfully devious-sounding, and every time a climactic moment with Brian May's harmonized guitar work comes in, it just sounds so triumphant and sublime. "The Hero" is also a fun number, providing listeners with a hard rocking epilogue and being the most "70s Queen" song on the entire record. It's a great throwback to their previous decade of work and integrates a reprise of the Flash Theme into its runtime splendidly.
Unfortunately, the rest of the tracks comprise a hit-and-miss -- and mainly miss -- affair. Most of this music is just too unpleasant and barren-sounding for a Queen record. Yes, it is indeed a soundtrack album, but this still sounds unusually dark and bizarre. "Ming's Theme" in particular exudes a very unsettling atmosphere with extremely wavy synthesizer sounds and a drawn-out ambient passage (with dialogue supplied over it) in the middle. "Arboria" also plays out in this vein; John Deacon's sole writing contribution is largely comprised of just one flute-sounding synthesizer effect and sparse dialogue. Stuff like this just doesn't flow well, especially when heard without the film. Then there are tracks which are completely unnecessary and ridiculous; despite the wedding scene that goes on in the film, the theme in the soundtrack could have easily been omitted. It's just a guitar variation of the traditional wedding song by Richard Wagner, and it seems completely unneeded despite the scene's importance in the film. On top of all this, the Flash Theme makes way too many reprises on this record. It'd be fine to possibly have a reprise near the end for a triumphant scene, but the soundtrack uses it at least three or four times after the original theme. One positive aspect of this record, however, is that some of the faster tunes help pick up the slack after so many disappointing tracks. The battle theme is suitably entertaining and layered in guitar work by Brian May, while the energetic "Football Fight" sounds like something out of an old-school shooter game like Mega Man. It's cheesy, but a hell of a good time.
Still, those aren't really enough to save this record. Synthesizers and drum machines would become the norm for this band during much of their 80s discography, and this appears to be the album that started the trend. Do yourself a favor and pick up the Flash Gordon movie instead of this weak soundtrack; the movie's a lot of fun, but the Queen record lacks the film's energy and sense of campy entertainment (with a few tracks being exceptions, of course). Of course then, we all know where Queen were headed with their next record... THE DANCE ERA!