Friday, August 12, 2016

Queen- Queen II

Queen- Queen II: Released in 1974 for EMI
Best Song- White Queen (As It Began)

Despite the flop of Queen I, Queen weren't going to give up very soon. They went on a tour of the UK throughout November and December 1973, supporting the wonderfully named Mott The Hoople. The tour was well-recieved.  By the end, they frequently got more cheers then the Hoople, and many said they wouldn't be a mere support act any time soon (They were right). Afterwards, they went back into the studio in August of 1973, under the wing of new producer Roy Thomas Baker, to record the even-more creatively named Queen II. The album was panned at initial release, but it has gained respect since, and is now regarded as among Queen's finest albums by fans.

And it's not hard to see why! Similarly named to Queen I, this album is even better! Continuing in the proggier vein of the debut, the album is split interesingly. All of side one is composed by Brian May (Except Taylor's "Loser In The End") and all of side two is written by Freddie Mercury (Sorry, John Deacon, you'll get your time soon) All of the band member's skills are in top form, and Freddie has his golden voice (Though it's nowhere near as good as it will be in the '80s and '90s!). Queen's penchant for diversity has also entered full-form. There's prog (Father To Son, The March Of The Black Queen) Balladry (White Queen, Nevermore), pop-rock (Some Day, One Day, Seven Seas of Rhye), a bluesy Led Zeppelin imitation (The Loser In The End) a Beach Boys imitation (Funny How Love Is) and a harpsichord rock (!) song (Fairy Feller's Master Stroke). More importantly, the songwriting is an improvement over Queen, as every song ranges from good to amazing.

The album kicks off with a heartbeat, ripping off Dark Side Of The Moon (Which was released a year prior) leading into a funeral march instrumental (!) "Procession". As unusual as it may sound on paper, it sounds good. It's a Brian May showcase, and he creates a great, somber melody using nothing but his guitar effects. The song would also work great as a live opener. 

The song is only 1 minute long, and it segues into the opening "epic", "Father To Son". And it's great! It starts off with a cool arpeggiated guitar sequence (No synths!), before going into a ballad section, which has a great melody, powerful guitar and drums, and cool phased vocals with great harmonies in the chorus. This then goes into a more upbeat, tense section, with the band doing "doo, do do do do" harmonies. This section gradually builds more and more tension, before exploding into a KILLER heavy section, driven by an AWESOME guitar riff and powerful, agressive vocals from Freddie Mercury. The song slows down for a bit, before going into a HEAVILY distorted, crazy guitar solo, almost reminding me of "By-Tor And The Snow Dog", before going into  a beautiful, piano led section, with wonderful, soft vocals from Freddie, then into a reprise of the original verse melody, then another softer section with more gentle vocals, before a great guitar solo over a repetition of the chorus melody closes us out.  A wonderful start to the album. 

And yet, it's follow-up manages to be EVEN BETTER. "White Queen" (As It Began) is a STUNNINGLY gorgeous ballad, and easily the best song on the album. The song starts off with some heavenly guitar noise, which almost sounds like it's CRYING, leads into Freddie singing a chorus over a light guitar presence, and goes into the main song. And WHAT a main song. The slow, mournful guitar riff is utterly beautiful, Freddie's soft, phased vocals compliment it perfectly, the harmonies in the "The White Queen walks" section are heavenly,  and then we go into a KILLER heavy break, with a incredible guitar tone playing a simplistic but wonderful melody, before going back into the main verse melody. Then comes an instrumental break. We start with something that might be a sitar (!) playing a great melody, with more heavenly harmonies in the background, which builds tension, before Brian May plays some more KILLER heavy chords, over Roger Taylor's powerful drumming, until we lead into a majestic, royal-sounding solo, Freddie's vocals re-enter, and we finally close out with a reprisal of the opening melody. An masterpiece.

None of the other songs reach that level, but they're still great as a whole. "Some Day, One Day" is a big surprise, a piece with Brian May on lead vocals. As a result, it sounds nothing like a Queen song, but that's not a bad thing! The opening acoustic riff is nice, the guitar solo afterwards is also good, and then we go into the main song. Brian's voice sounds very bland here, but the backing acoustic strumming is great, the phasing effects are cool, the electric guitar in the chorus sounds excellent, and it's all around a great soft-rock song. We also have some nice guitar solos, backed by MORE great harmonies. While it's very different then a typical Queen song (if such a thing exists) it's still top-notch.

The one Roger Taylor song on the album comes next, the bluesy "The Loser In The End". It's also a great one. It starts with a killer drum intro, with a powerful groove. Roger's singing is much better then on "Modern Times Rock N' Roll", using a much better, "cleaner" sound, the melody is superb, with great guitar riffs a-plenty, and the guitar solos are stellar. A great slice of blues rock.

Side two kicks off with the fantasy-hard rock of "Ogre Battle", and it's another winner. It starts with a cool fade in of various phasing effects, followed up by some BACKWARDS guitar and vocals, we then go forwards, with a top-notch heavy guitar part by Brian May and insanely high falsetto screams, before going into the main song. Freddie delivers a great, agressive vocal, the chugging guitar riff in the background is great, the harmonies in the chorus are excellent, and there's tons of cool effects throughout. and the bridge features another great guitar melody and more great singing. There's also a good instrumental section that simulates a battle, with crazy screams. It ends with a reprise of the opening. Another excellent song.

Afterwards, we go into "The Fairy-Feller's Master Stroke" based on the wonderfully titled painting of the same name. This frantic song starts out with a menacing harpsichord riff (!!!) with occasional guitar chords. The main, harpsichord driven melody (!) is great, the frantic harpsichord playing is wonderful, the guitar parts compliment it perfectly, the harmonies are excellent, the cheerful chorus creates a nice contrast, Roger Taylor hits some more insanely high notes, and the instrumental break is superb. A top-notch song.

Afterwards, we go into the balladry of "Nevermore". Many might dismiss it as filler, given it clocks in at a mere 1:15, but WHAT a use of that time. The piano riff is great, Freddie gives a GORGEOUSLY emotional falsetto performance, and the harmonies are lovely. A great use of 1:15 minutes. 

After that brief diversion, we go into the most prog-influenced song on the album, the epic "March Of The Black Queen", and while it doesn't reach the heights of "Bohemian Rhapsody" a year later, (The flow of the sections is much patchier, and the melodies are far from the masterpiece) it's still a great epic.  It starts with an excellent, menacing piano riff, the harmonies EXPLODE out of the shadows, before we go into a nice acapella section. Freddie's voice is good, and the harmonies wonderful. After just 20 seconds, we go into another more menacing section, with a pounding riff over dense harmonies, before shifting again into another, fast-paced piano driven part. The piano melody is great, even if Freddie's falsetto singing sounds kinda stupid at parts. We also get a pair of great guitar solos as well. I also swear I hear Freddie saying "Pika! Pika!" at one point, foreshadowing Pokemon by over 20 years! Harmonies are also wonderful.  The section builds tension, before screeching to a halt, then going into a beautiful ballad section. Freddie puts on an excellent emotional performance, the slow piano melody is great, the harmonies are AMAZING, and it's a great ballad section overall, even if it's very similar to "Nevermore". After even more dense harmonies, we go into a KILLER heavy section, driven by a GREAT guitar riff, MORE great harmonies, and top-notch agressive singing from Freddie. We finally end with another fast piano section, with more great harmonies and singing. A great epic piece.

However, after the harmonies, a piano riff starts to play, and we go into the best Beach Boys imitation this side of "Back In The U.S.S.R", "Funny How Love Is". The piano-driven melody is wonderful and januty, Roger Taylor's percussion melody adds great weight to the melody, the arrangement is densely packed with instruments, Freddie puts on a excellent, high-register vocal performance (I LOVE the note he hits on "Funny, how LOVE, is every song in every key"), the harmonies are wonderful as always, and it's an all around great Beach Boys imitation. 

We finally close out with the band's first ever big hit, "Seven Seas of Rhye". It's not hard to see why. The piano arpeggio riff is great, Freddie adds the right amount of grit to the vocals, Brian May's playing some great guitar lines (I LOVE the chugging riff which pops up from time to time), and also does a wild, high pitched solo, Roger Taylor's drumming is powerful, and the harmonies are denser then a neutron star. (Sorry for sounding so much like a broken record, but the vocal harmony layers on the album are marvelous throughout). And it all ends with a creepy rendition of the nursery rhyme "I Do Like To Be Beside The Seaside". A great introduction to the music world for most.

Overall, this is just a fantastic album. A wonderful combo of top-notch melodies, brilliant vocal harmonies, great singing, and diversity. 5/5.