Review Summary: Queen's infamous dance album? RUN FOR YOUR LIIIIIIVES! Actually, it's surprisingly not that bad.
Chapter X: A Controversial Turn
Queen's soundtrack to Flash Gordon stirred up quite a lot of controversy with their fanbase when it came out, many people wondering where the band's "No Synthesizers" policy had gone (although to be fair, they started this trend with their eighth record The Game). The band's usual pomp and campy humor had been replaced with dark brooding keyboard arrangements and a distinct lack of Freddie Mercury's voice. Naturally there was a backlash from the band's following, but the worst was yet to come... as 1982's Hot Space would eventually prove. Yes indeed, this is the album that brought Queen's dance influence (originally found on The Game) to the next level; and when I say next level, I MEAN it. This record is almost entirely packed with 80s synthpop arrangements, drum machine recordings galore, and a lot more focus on the bass and vocals. Many fans feel that this was the record that represented Queen at their absolute worst, the album even being included on Q Magazine's list of "Albums Where Great Rock Acts Lost the Plot." So wow, this must be really awful then, right? Well, not quite.
While this album can get very clunky and inconsistent, there are just enough great songs and moments to balance out the record's negative aspects. "Staying Power" is a suitably entertaining opener that sets the funky tone for the rest of the dance-influenced material on the album, but songs like "Back Chat" and "Cool Cat" really make you wonder what the band were thinking. The former has a very "70s disco" vibe about, sounding like something from mid-career Michael Jackson while the latter has a slow soulful groove that could have granted the band an appearance on the show "Soul Train" back in the day. However, the biggest oddity on the record would have to be the hit single "Body Language." A very minimalist number by Queen's standards, the song combines a dark bass line with seductive yells and moans by Freddie (man, did I really just have to say that?) and some bizarre synthesizer embellishments. Oddly enough, it happens to be one of my favorite songs on the album out of its sheer entertainment factor. Songs like these are offset by more traditional Queen rockers and ballads; this is still where the band really shines on the record. With many of the more "rocking" numbers, the whole band finally comes into play again and things feel more cohesive. "Put Out the Fire" is a really fun anti-firearm hard rock (even verging on heavy metal) number that even includes a guitar solo by an intoxicated Brian May! And do I even need to go into much detail about "Under Pressure?" The song's a classic; David Bowie's guest performance is wonderful, the fast bass line is a great way to introduce the piece, the chorus is really climactic and well-arranged; everything about the song is just awesome. Finally, "Action This Day" is sort of a mix of the dance and 70s rock of Queen rolled into one tune. The quirky verses sound like they could have been on a Devo record (one of their better ones, mind you), but the chorus sounds like it could have been on A Day at the Races or News of the World.
So what does all this analysis add up to? Some fantastic songs, some good songs, and some very mediocre songs. Songs like "Under Pressure" and "Put Out the Fire" bring the listener back to the 70s days of the band, but the dance-inspired tunes are pretty hit-and-miss. And yet, what is it that still draws this record to me? Honestly, it's mainly based on how fun the album is. Sometimes you just need a nice dance album and let yourself go, and this album is very good at making that happen. As a traditional Queen album, this is pretty weak and has a lot of flaws; however, similar to Risk by Megadeth, you just have to see this for the diversion it is and respect its flaws. Despite its many problems, I still recommend this album... but just barely. Proceed with caution. I'd consider this a "try-before-you-buy" record.