Queen- Sheer Heart Attack: Released in 1974 for EMI
Best Song: Now I'm Here
After the success of Queen II (Number 5 in the UK, though only 49 in the US) with "Seven Seas of Rhye" being a number 10 hit, Queen went on tour, with the UK leg of March followed by a US leg supporting Mott The Hoople from April through June of 1974. The tour was successful and they frequently got more cheers than Hoople.
However, the tour was cut short in May of 1974 after Brian May developed hepatitis AND a stomach ulcer. And yet despite all that the band went into AIR, Rockfield, Trident, and Wessex Studios to work on their third album, Queen III- nope just kidding it has the much more creative name Sheer Heart Attack. The album, released in November, would be a smash hit and rocket Queen to superstardom.
The album would be so successful thanks to being more accessible than the previous ones, the hard prog roots giving way to a poppier sound. Queen's genre diversity is in full swing here, there's hard rock ("Brighton Rock", "Now I'm Here", "Flick Of The Wrist", "Tenement Funster") Balladry ("Lily Of the Valley", "Dear Friends", "In The Lap of the Gods... Revisited", "She Makes Me") Quite possibly the first thrash metal song ("Stone Cold Crazy") jaunty music-hall stuff ("Killer Queen", "Bring Back That Leroy Brown") Soul ("Misfire") and a prog song ("In The Lap Of The Gods"). Unfortunately, with this diversity comes the fact the album is much patchier than previous efforts, there's several moments of bad stuff on here. The band's playing is still strong, as are Mercury's vocals, but there's quite a few of lame filler songs. Thankfully there's still lots of good stuff to be found.
The album starts off with a mixed bag in the live staple "Brighton Rock", penned by Brian May. On the plus side, the song is driven by a GREAT chugging guitar riff, with the band plowing along at 100 miles an hour to create a killer hard rock experience, and the harmonies in the chorus are classic Queen, and there's also a top-notch instrumental break/guitar solo with Brian shredding it up and Roger Taylor rocking it on the drums. On the minus side, the carnival intro is completely out of place, Freddie Mercury delivers a genuninely BAD vocal performance, as he sings in a ridiculous girly falsetto, and the instrumental break quicky gives way to a pointless "show-off" solo that lasts way too long. Still, I like the song more than not.
Next up we have the mega-hit "Killer Queen", penned by Freddie, which is an awful lot of fun despite the fact the lyrics are apparently about prostitutes. The piano driven melody is jaunty and fun, the harmonies are stellar, especially in the chorus with tons of layering, Freddie's playful vocal performance is delightful, especially his juggling of full voice and falsetto effortlessly, the guitar solo is top-notch, and the little touches (The phasing effect on "Dynamite with a laser beam") add a lot of depth to the layered sound. Overall, a nice fun music-hall number deserving of it's hit status.
The next three tracks are combined in a medley, a throwback to their progressive roots. The first one, "Tenement Funster" is Roger Taylor's vocal showcase on the album, and it's a typical Roger Taylor song, a great rebellious rocker. It starts with a strong repeating arpeggio riff on acoustic guitar before it gives way to a simple two-note repeating passage, before the song picks up, as Taylor goes into his raspy higher register (which fits well with this song). We also get another superb guitar solo from Brian May. Overall a strong rock song, who's ending segues into...
Freddie's angry "Flick of the Wrist", an attack on their manager, Norman Sheffield. It starts with a complex classical-inspired piano part before going into an angry, scathing rocker. The riff, played on guitar and piano to great effect, is menacing as can be and sounds awesome, Freddie sings the pissed-off lyrics (It's not every day you find a song that starts with the line "dislocate your spine") with venom, and we get some classic Queen harmonies in the disarmingly happy chorus, we also get yet another awesome solo. Afterwards, things calm down significantly, as we segue into...
Freddie's ballad "Lily Of The Valley", which while very short (1 and a half minutes) is nonetheless strong, it's a pretty ballad with lovely piano, great use of falsetto from Freddie, and more beautiful harmonies from the band. A song which perfectly defines the phrase "Short and sweet".
The second big hit of the album, their most played live song, and my pick for the BEST song on the album comes up next, in Brian's headbanging "Now I'm Here". It starts with a quiet chugging riff in the background with Freddie doing delay effects with his voice, and then we burst into high-pitched, screaming guitar parts that lead into a top-notch hard rocker. The main guitar lines are absolutely top-notch, Freddie delivers a strong agressive vocal, Queen's harmonies are top-notch as always, and the instrumental break is great, with nice soloing from Brian backed by some good piano parts. Definitely deserving of being such a hit.
Next up is a throwback to the band's prog roots, in Freddie's complex "In The Lap Of The Gods". It starts off with a bang with Roger Taylor using his really high falsetto to great effect, leading into an eerie intro with some creepy harmonies and guitar, which fades out after 40 seconds only to come back in. After a minute of chaos, we fade into a gentle piano ballad, which is sadly marred by a stupid-sounding pitch-shifting of Freddie's voice. Freddie then starts using his natural falsetto, and the song picks up with strong drumming from Roger Taylor, and the band repeating "leave it in the lap of the gods" over and over, with Roger Taylor doing some insanely high pitched falsetto, and a great guitar solo as well. Described as a test-run for "Bohemian Rhapsody", it can definitely be heard in this great track.
Next up is the third big hit of the album, one of Queen's heaviest, and possibly the first thrash metal song, the group-composed "Stone Cold Crazy". The song plows along, with a excellent chugging riff leading the way, with some wild soloing, and it's an overall great tune, but very simple.
Another 1-minute song follows, "Dear Friends", sung by Brian. Even though it's very short, it's still a lovely piano ballad with nice singing from Brian May. It's an incredibly simple song, but it's a nice reprive from the heaviness of "Stone Cold Crazy".
Unfortunately the album takes a turn for the worse in the next three tracks. John Deacon's first piece, "Misfire" has nice vocals, but the main melody is pretty mediocre, cheesy, and doesn't really grab me in any way.
Freddie's "Bring Back That Leroy Brown" is bland, saccharine, cheesy show-tune fluff, that lacks and substance to grab onto and wouldn't sound out of place in a episode of My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic (That's not a compliment).
And the last in this three song stretch is the Brian penned and sung "She Makes Me" MY GOD is this song boring and dragging, just repeating the same three notes over and over again for four minutes until at the end the song breaks down into noises. Many hail this as one of Queen's worst songs, and it's not hard to see why.
Thankfully, the album ends on a high note with Freddie's ballad "In The Lap Of The Gods... Revisited". It has nothing to do with the first one, but is a top notch track. The verse piano parts are quite pretty, and the verses also feature more lovely Freddie falsetto, and the chorus has a great amount of anthemic power which made it a popular live closer. The harmonies are also strong, with some nice counterpoint at times. A great improvement.
Overall, while the good stuff is good (But not up to the highs of the previous albums) the three track stretch near the end drags it down, and some of the good songs have flaws, so I can only give it a 3/5. Get it for the goods.