Hitting the 'big time' as they did with the phenomenal success of Bohemian Rhapsody in Christmas 1975, it was about that time that I became acquainted with the music of Queen in a proper way. I'd been aware of stuff like Killer Queen previously, but never really explored the band further until then. A Night at the Opera was an eye-opener for me, and demonstrated the breadth of the band's song-writing talent, from neo-operatic to almost vaudeville. A Day at the Races followed the following year, but that left me a little cold, as it seemed to me to be almost a repeat of 'Night...'.
As we moved into the autumn of 1977, a new Queen album was mooted. Would it be more of the same or not? Perhaps as a taster for what was to come (isn't that what singles were?) the band released the opening two tracks as a double-A side single, which gave a big hint of what we were to expect.
'News of the World' appeared on 28 October. There were intimations of what had gone before - this was definitely Queen - but new directions were evident too. It would be fair to say that the opening two songs: 'We Will Rock You' and 'We Are The Champions' have gone on to become anthemic, and at the time they were different and exciting - though '...Champions' is perhaps more 'Bo Rhap'-ish with its operatic trills in the 'on and on and on' sections. 'Sheer Heart Attack' was, I thought at the time, a rebuttal to the raw energy and simplicity of punk (though it had been around in some form since the band made the album of the same name in 1974). All the band were involved in song-writing here: May produces some wonderful quirky blues with 'Sleeping on the Sidewalk', and something approaching the prog of 'The Prophet's Song' with 'It's Late'; and John Deacon again showed himself to be a fine exponent with 'Spread Your Wings' - on a par with his 'You're My Best Friend' from 'Night...' (maybe 'Who Needs You' is more akin to 'You and I' on 'Day...'). Taylor's 'Fight From The Inside' and Mercury's 'Get Down Make Love' also show a new direction in the band's music which proved to be innovative, if a little confusing to a pubescent rock fan: was this rock or not?
To my mind this was the band's last really good album, ending a sequence that began with maybe their debut and definitely their sophomoric offering: I never really 'got' their material from 'Jazz' onwards. But this is a fitting end (for me) to an excellent run at the start of what was to become a glittering career.
Friday, 15 September 2017
Saturday, 9 September 2017
Animals is one of those albums that can be easily missed, which is a great shame. Coming as it did in that time of great flux for the UK music scene, it is an interesting album. For many at the time, particularly in the pro-punk media, this was a perfect example of what they were fighting against: long, ponderous songs with seemingly endless guitar solos, lacking the immediacy and energy of the new bands. Coming as it did, though, at the start of 1977, it caught me on the cusp, and still was able to thrill this then young rocker with its complexity and dexterity.
The album sleeve, the work of Aubrey Powell and the team at Hipgnosis, has become iconic, with the inflatable pig tethered over what was then Battersea Power Station. It is hard not to see this landmark and not think of the album.
For the band this album is, it seems to me, a transitional one. It draws on many of the musical ideas in the 'big' albums, and there's a particular hark back for me to the title track of Wish You Were Here in the 'book-end' acoustic tracks, 'Pigs on the Wing 1 & 2', just perhaps a little simpler as a song. But between these short songs come the three epics, each in their way pointing to what the band would become over the next two to five years.
'Dogs' is for me the stand-out track, and the only one that Roger Waters lets anyone else have a part in writing. It seems to be a prophetic statement of how the UK would develop over the coming decade under the influence of Thatcherism and rampant capitalism, and its inevitable consequences. In 'Pigs' and to a certain degree in 'Sheep' too, Waters is starting to get his angry head on. Maybe not yet as outspoken as he would be in The Wall and to a greater degree in The Final Cut and his solo material that followed, but it is still there. His targets are greed, hypocrisy, censorship, and that fact that perhaps you can only keep people down for so long before they take back what is theirs.
This may well be seen as a coming of age album for the band, as they graduate from the spacey, psychedelic soundscapes of their early days, and the grand symphonic swathes of their pomp, to a more outspoken protest rock, almost. Perhaps it began to sow the seeds of the band's transition to stadium-filling mega stars and the inevitable self-destruction of the old order that accompanied it.
This is, for me, one of the band's best works: different from what preceded it and what followed, but transitional and perhaps seminal for the band's ultimate direction.