MUSIC REVIEW | Queen – A Night at the Opera (1975)

Before listening to A Day at the Races, my experience with Queen was limited to the radio friendly hits that seem to be just as prominent as ever. Granted, if you were only gonna be exposed to one band via nothing but frequent radio airplay, Queen would be up there as having the most number of hit songs to offer.

A Day at the Races made me rethink a lot of what I had thought about the band until then. Some negatives were reinforced, some new positives were discovered. And at the very least, it was enough to make me intrigued to hear more. So, because following things in a standard, chronological order is strictly for total squares and lamoes, I fully rebelled, bucked the system, flipped the man the bird, and went for Queen’s previous album, the also Marx Brothers titularly inspired, A Night at the Opera.

Get ready to rock, because Death on Two Legs (Dedicated to…) has a killer fist pumping guitar noodling intro. When it turns into rock opera cornballery, it’s still great. The rock opera becomes an episode of 50s radio serial with Lazing on a Sunday Afternoon.   When the crackling victrola sound gives way to Brian May’s pristine guitar, the same melody has a fun new life, before embracing an ambitious and audacious grandeur that even Pete Townsend would think was some balls out hubris.

The first real surprise on A Night at the Opera comes with You’re My Best Friend. Not because it sounds different, it’s the opposite and couldn’t be more familiar. It makes me realise that I have heard this song hundreds of times over the years, and never had a clue what it was called. That sort of sums up my overall experience with Queen.   They’re kind of easy to take for granted. I know they probably have a heap of really greats songs that I’ll love, but I also know they’ll always be there, so what’s the rush?

With bass that sounds like it’s a hillbilly with piece of string on a broom handle, ’39 is like no other Queen song I’ve ever heard. It’s part Hank Williams country, part John Denver storytelling, part sea shanty. If you think you have Queen pegged and know what to expect, ’39 is the song to make you feel like a real presumptuous piece of shit. Not so presumptuous now, are ya?

May’s soaring, spiralling, shredding guitar work on Sweet Lady is the best case yet for me needing to hear more of this band. It’s a solid rock song before his waling coda, it’s a real ass kicker ones he’s let loose. It’s also the kind of song that makes the bull shit of The Prophets Song’s a Capella indulgery seem eve bull shittier. But lucky for Queen and A Night at the Opera, I was able to stop waving my fist in anger when the last section rocked out like a son of a bitch.

Second last track, Bohemian Rhapsody, never heard of it. Any good?

It turns out I really like Queen when they’re being a rock band. It turns out I find Queen varying degrees of aggravating, infuriating and just down right shit, when they indulge in little genre exercises and quirk. You’ve got a great singer, you’ve got a great guitarist, you’ve got two other guys I’ve never bothered paying any attention to, stop trying to be interesting and just play the great rock that you so obviously have the ability to play.


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