Monday, May 30, 2016

Queen- Queen I

Queen- Queen I: Released in 1973 for EMI
Best Song- Liar
First, a brief history lesson. In 1968, vocalist and bassist Tim Staffell, guitarist Brian May, and drummer Roger Taylor formed a band, entitled Smile. They released a single entitled "Earth", but it sank. In 1970, Staffel left the band. They hired Freddie Bulsara (Not Freddie Mercury yet!) of Wreckage and Ibex as the new vocalist, Mike Grose on bass, and changed their name to Queen. They cycled through many bassists, going through Grose, Barry Mitchell, and Doug Bogie, before settling on John Deacon in 1971. They played all across the UK, struggling to find a record deal, before finally getting signed to EMI. The band then went into Trident Studios in June 1972, and recorded the creatively titled "Queen 1", produced by John Anthony.

 Now let's move on to the album itself. Despite the fact that the band was new, they still had all of their talents in place. Freddie Mercury was already an incredible vocalist, Brian May a great guitarist, Roger Taylor a stellar drummer, and John Deacon a super bassist. The band's incredible diversity is also here. As for the songs themselves, most are written by either Mercury ("Great King Rat", "My Fairy King", "Liar", "Jesus", and "Seven Seas Of Rhye...") or May ("Keep Yourself Alive", "Doing All Right", "The Night Comes Down", and "Son And Daughter") with "Modern Times Rock And Roll" written by Taylor. Also, with one exception, they range from good to amazing. Also to note is that songs are much more complex, often bordering on prog rock, than their later, poppier songs.

The album starts on a great note with the rocking May-penned "Keep Yourself Alive", with it's guitar fade-in intro. It's a stellar song, with not one but TWO stellar riffs, great guitar work throughout, including two solid solos, and an effective key change at the end. It also has a drum solo, but unlike most, it's actually good, as it's short, and holds down a solid rhythm. A great way to be introduced to the band.

 The prog rock influences are highly apparent in the second song, "Doing All Right", which was actually written in the Smile days. The opening theme is simply gorgeous, with beautiful piano and guitar lines, and wonderful soft falsetto from Freddie Mercury. This then picks up with a drum beat, and Freddie using his regular voice. This main song continues, with great harmonies. This then shifts to another melody, with cool phasing effects on Freddie's voice and a nice acoustic backing. The song then really picks up steam with the acoustic getting swapped out for electric, with May doing some KILLER Page-esque soloing. After just 20 seconds of that, harmonies lead us back into the pleasant acoustic melody. And THEN, we go back into the heavier section, with MORE great soloing, and finally close out with some gorgeous harmonies. An excellent song.  Quite a long description for a song only 4 minutes long! 

Next up is the Mercury-penned "Great King Rat", one of his fantasy stories. The song opens with a KILLER guitar intro, with heavy feedback, before going into the main song. This main song has a great, fast paced melody with aggressive Mercury singing, and it really rocks. The lyrics are kind of stupid, but oh well. We then enter a cool guitar solo,  with heavy wah-wah. The song gets a bit slower, with another great melody driven by a nice guitar part and more great singing from Freddie.  The song then goes back to the original melody for a time. After some great guitar scales, we shift into yet another section driven by a KILLER riff, (Possibly one of my favorite May parts!) which then transitions into YET ANOTHER great solo, coupled with Mercury falsetto. The song finally fades out with a cool phased drum part. Another great work of complexity, which demonstrates their great knowledge of mood shifts even at this early stage. 

Side one of the album closes out with "My Fairy King", again penned by Mercury (And apparently, the lyrics inspired his stage name!), with more fantasy-oriented lyrics. It opens with more great guitar, which then shifts into a upbeat section, driven by  great piano playing and ear-piercingly high falsetto (Which sounds EXACTLY like the intro to "Highway Star"!) from Roger Taylor! The vocals enter, but the song is let down somewhat by the fact that Freddie uses a very un-natural vocal tone for this part, which doesn't sound good at all, though Freddie starts singing in his natural voice after a time. Also to note is how INCREDIBLY complex the harmonies in this section are, they give the opera section in "Bohemian Rhapsody" a run for their money! We then shift into the main song section, and it is great, driven by a great piano part and more complex harmonies. The song slows down into a pleasant ballad section, with pretty piano and Freddie falsetto, with cool echo effects. The song then shifts into a more upbeat guitar led section, with yet more great piano parts, which gradually speeds up and gets more and more frantic, before slowing down again, and ending with another pretty ballad section. Excellent song. 

The next song, however, is the highlight of the album, the 6 and a half minute "Liar". The song starts with a great drum intro, which leads into a great guitar-led section driven by an INCREDIBLE guitar riff, with some organ in the background, before the vocals enter. This section is a softer one, with great guitar parts (With a great tone), and harmonies. We then shift into a reprisal of the opening melody, followed up by another vocal section, with great vocal harmonies and guitar, which then shifts into another vocal section, which demonstrates Mercury's diversity. He sings some lines in soft falsetto, then SCREAMS out "LIAR, LIAR" and then sings the third one BACK in soft falsetto. Now that's dynamics! We then shift into yet another section with great harmonies, followed by a great guitar solo. My favorite part of the song, however, is the end. After the band screams out "LISTEN!" all instruments cut out, except for Roger repeating a passage on the woodblock, and Freddie's vocals. The tension starts to build, with Roger switching over to his drum kit, Brian adding a chugging guitar part, while the vocals get more and more frantic, before finally releasing with a killer heavy section, with GREAT guitar and bass (!) riffs, which then slows down with Freddie repeating "All day long" over again, and finally finishes with another section driven by great guitar and aggressive singing, closing out with a "big rock ending". What a song! 

The next three songs are much simpler, but no less great. The first is May's "The Night Comes Down". Opening with a REALLY COOL guitar part, backed by an ascending cymbal roll, we then switch to the main song, alternating a soft verse, driven by a great somber acoustic part, and a soft Mercury vocal, with a heavier chorus, driven by more stellar harmonies and a heavier guitar part. The song ends with the same really cool guitar part. It's much simpler than the other songs, but it's still good. 

The other two simple numbers are two of the heaviest Queen ever wrote, "Modern Times Rock And Roll", and "Son And Daughter". "Modern Times Rock And Roll", the only Roger Taylor penned song, is also his vocal showcase, and while I don't really like his voice (Too raspy for my tastes) it's a real treat.  What makes the song great, though, is the instrumentals, driven by a GREAT, thrashy guitar riff and other great work throughout, with solid harmonies in the chorus, as well as a solid solo and frantic piano work in the background.  Great!

"Son And Daughter" on the other hand, is May's guitar showcase (Live, it would extend to as much as 15 minutes, of which most was May's soloing), with lyrics about feminism. It's very heavy, almost like Black Sabbath, but all the better for it. The main slow riff is GREAT, Freddie puts in raw aggression into his singing, and even John Deacon's bass gets involved, adding even more depth and body to the sound, and the band still uses their heavenly three-part harmonies, especially in a part where they're acapella, which sounds awesome. The song closes out with a great, high pitched guitar solo, which gradually increases in speed before fading out. Another highlight. 

However, the same can not be said for the next track. "Jesus" is their attempt at Christian Rock (!) and it completely falls flat. The melody in the verses sounds like a rejected song from Jesus Christ Superstar, (That's not a complement), the vocals are hardly on time with the bland instrumentals, and the chorus is utterly ridiculous. Thankfully, the song gets good near the end, with a really cool guitar solo leading into a great heavier section with FEROCIOUS jamming, that brings to mind Rush's "By-Tor And The Snow Dog" (That's a complement)  Unfortunately, it goes back into the crappy main song. 

We finally close with a teaser of "Seven Seas Of Rhye"'s opening! It's a lot slower than the more familiar version, but still sounds great, with nice piano lines and guitar. 

And that's the debut. The album was a huge flop, as no songs managed to chart, and the album only charted number 83 in the US and nowhere in the UK, but those people were wrong. This is a very good album, and if not for "Jesus" would have got a 5, but I can still give it a 4/5.

More than just Rush!

So you might have noticed that all my reviews are of Rush albums thus far. However, that will change! Alongside my Rush reviews, I will now post reviews of two more of my favorite bands, Queen and Pink Floyd!

Sunday, May 29, 2016

Rush- Different Stages (Disc 3)

Rush- Different Stages (Disc 3): Released in 1997 (But recorded in 1978) for Atlantic Records
Best Song- Cygnus X-1
The absolute greatest Rush live album that money can buy. This is another archive release, recorded on February 20, 1978 at the Hammersmith Odeon in London, on the UK leg of the Drive 'Til You Die Tour, supported by Tyla Gang. This was released in 1997 on the Different Stages live album, but I'm reviewing it separately, due to being a different concert. 

Side Note: Some (but not most) people have a problem with Rush's live approach. Unlike bands such as Led Zeppelin or Deep Purple, who tend to stretch out their songs into long, extended jams, Rush would mostly play their songs close to the originals. I can see why some people have a problem, but I disagree. Rush's live approach was to play the songs the same, without any excess jamming, but WITH more intensity, and power. Compare the original version of "2112" to the Passaic version, and you'll see. And it's not like they didn't jam much live- Listen to a live "Working Man", or "By-Tor And The Snow Dog" sometime!

The ONLY complaint I have of this album is that it's incomplete, cutting out "Lakeside Park" (Boo!), "Closer to the Heart" (Boo!) "2112" (BOO!) and the drum solo (Yay!). Other than that, EVERYTHING is great. The set for this concert is flawless, consisting of "Working Man" and In The Mood" from the debut, "Fly By Night", "Anthem", and "By-Tor And The Snow Dog"  from Fly By Night, "Bastille Day" from Caress of Steel, "Something For Nothing" from 2112, and "A Farewell to Kings", "Xanadu", "Cygnus X-1", and "Cinderella Man" from A Farewell to Kings. "Xanadu" and "Cygnus X-1" BOTH make my top 5, and "By-Tor" is in the top 10, so that's great!

As for the performances themselves, they're stunning. Geddy Lee has a bit of a cold, so he delays the phrasing on many songs, and lowers some notes, but he still sounds great, and the rest of the band attacks the songs with intensity. Many performances are the definitive versions. And even better, there's NO overdubs! This all adds up to the best Rush live release ever! 

As with before, the show starts with the opening riffage of "Bastille Day". The song is played much faster and more intense than the studio, and sounds great. Geddy's singing sounds a bit rough, but other than that, it's a excellent version, and the best officially released version. We then go into  "By-Tor And The Snow Dog". This is a shortened version, cutting out "Aftermath", "Hymn of Triumph", and "Epilogue", and therefore, falls behind the All The World's A Stage version, but it's still great, with powerful singing by Geddy despite his illness, and a great jam section, filled with intense soloing. 

This then leads into "Xanadu", which is extended into almost 13 minutes in length. And it's AWESOME.  The music concrete introduction exceeds the studio easily, filled with tons of cool atmospheric guitar. The arpeggio guitar riffs in the intro are played with much more intensity than the studio, as are the ones at 3 minutes in. The rest isn't any better than before, but it sure ain't worse! 

We then play "A Farewell to Kings", which is about the same as the studio, except the playing is as usual, more powerful, and on a down note, Geddy hits a very bad note on "Can we RAISE our eyes" (Sickness rears it's ugly head). "Something For Nothing" is also performed well, with Geddy NAILING the song, though it's not much better than before.

"Cygnus X-1" on the other hand, is, and is easily the highlight of the album. The tension created by the bell chimes is incredible, and really shows why this is one of my favorite Rush songs. The already wicked funk bass riff exceeds the original, courtesy of some added drum pounds.  The guitar tone, is as usual, much better than in the studio, which makes the prologue section so much better. Geddy's singing in the main song is also WAY more powerful and aggressive than the studio. The tension in Part III also far exceeds the original, thanks to the much louder, rawer guitar tone and drumming, and considering how much I liked the original, that says a lot, and Geddy's "TORN APPPPAAART!" scream is far more powerful than the original. All considered, a fantastic performance, definitely worth getting this album just for that. 

"Anthem" is up next, and it RULES. The opening riffs EXPLODE out of the gate, and the song is played with much greater speed, intensity, and sheer POWER, making it the definitive live version. Geddy's illness rears it's ugly head here (He almost speaks his way through some parts) but oh well. And plus, I like some of the alternate phrasing more than the original. So it's all good.

The main set closes out with a lengthy "Working Man/"Fly By Night"/"In The Mood" medley. "Working Man" is performed at a slower tempo than the studio, which just further increases it's metallic power. We then, as usual, enter the jam session, and as usual, it rules, filled with WICKED Lifeson guitar parts and powerful drumming. It also has a REALLY cool part where all instruments ascend a scale at once. In the middle of this jam, we  go into "Fly By Night". While it might seem like a strange choice to be combined with "Working Man", it is nonetheless performed well, even if it doesn't exceed the studio much. After the solo, we close the medley with "In The Mood" which is performed well, which Geddy screaming powerfully (Though you can really hear the raggedness in his voice. Also, WHAT exactly is he saying before the song begins? "I Wanna see you're SHRIVESHENS"? What? And what about in the next verse? Sounds like "Alright London, I wanna see your human hands". Sorry for this tangent). The live medley would usually end with a drum solo (Boo!) but as said above, it was removed (Yay!). We close out with an INCREDIBLE "big rock ending". 

We finally close out the show with a performance of "Cinderella Man". This is a real treat, as it was only performed on this tour. It's performed well, as the guitars again have much more power than the studio, making this the definite version, with the acoustic strumming replaced with electric, adding more punch, and the instrumental break also rocks more. A great finale to an incredible live album.

GET THIS ALBUM NOW.(Or, just download MP3s of these songs, as there are 2 other discs, though they're good too). This is the absolute best Rush live album ever. Incredible performances, songs, and singing combine to create a stunning music experience. Incredible. 5/5.