Queen - Queen II - 1974
Where to start: the white or black side of the album? No one knows. What is known is that this album is simply amazing. Queen's second, a so called concept album, will absolutely blow your mind and singe your ear drums when spun for the first time. It continues to build intensity with every spin. The vocals and chords are insanely catchy.
"Did you just hear a sitar?" No...
"I'm pretty sure that was a sitar."
This is not an album that you pick up and know any hits from, which might make you hesitate if you see it in the store - but DON'T BE A FOOL. Buy it! This is an album that needs to be played from start to finish without skipping tracks; no one-off singles here. Songs morph together and are smartly interconnected. It's as if Queen later took this whole album and (less effectively) smushed it down to create their best known track Bohemian Rhapsody. The sonic experimentation, soaring choral vocals, and scintillating riffage are infinitely better enjoyed over an entire full length album. Bohemian Rhapsody, while fun in its lunacy, is too full of grandiose ideas for one song. Queen II lets those ideas out to play in the most joyous and strange ways. Speaking of Bohemian Rhapsody - the video and most iconic band imagery is based on the cover of this album. The morose, shadowy cover is theatrically bleak, then open the sleeve and ...
MY GOD! Feathered hair! The airbrushed glamour-shot is like turning on a spotlight inside a crypt ... the black and white sides; equally menacing.
"What was that?" "Slide-whistle." "Oh..."
Starting off the white side: "A word in your ear, from Father to Son..." sounds like Freddie's got something poetic to say in high dramatic style. Lyrically speaking it would be easy to read into what's going on, but who knows? Freddie is talking about a lot of kings, ogres, nymphs, titans, and of course queens (black and white). Is he talking about real people in the fantasy land of clubs and bars? Is he just really into dungeons and dragons? When music is pummeling you this much it really doesn't seem to matter.
Side black starts with Brian May delivering crushing riffs from another dimension. It's also a signature musical flourish from the queens of flourish. Of course, the fact that it takes place in the context of being invited to an "Ogre Battle" is totally appropriate. It makes so much sense that these guys did the soundtracks to Highlander and Flash Gordon. Oddly satisfying combinations rule on the black side, which was written entirely by Mercury. You get to hear the intensely chaotic "The March of the Black Queen" followed by the seemingly playful "Funny How Love Is."
"Was that a gong?" Probably.
Only one unfortunate thing about this record is the fidelity. Upon cranking, which often occurs, the highs and the lows don't really go there without an apparent fuzzed out static. I don't think it's the state of the record; it's likely the mastering or thin tinny vinyl. This is one album that I would seek out the remastered "audiophile" 180 gram vinyl (stay tuned for a future blog on fidelity; we're still sussing this stuff out) and it would be worth every penny and its weight.
"Did I just hear a harpsichord?" Yes!
Queen II is a fun, but intensely dramatic album; full of balladry, and strut. Seek it out immediately.