I don’t tend to get surprised by the records I own very often, yes occasionally some things are better than I remember, some things worse and occasionally I hear new things in them. However last night Queen II, knocked me off my feet (metaphorically, I’m far too burly to ever be taken down by an LP; even a double live one). Even if I don’t actually delve into certain corners of my collection very often, I tend to have a rough handle on what they’re like. I hadn’t listened to Queen II for 18 years easily, maybe more. But even so this really isn’t an LP that should catch me unawares.
First off, I bought this LP on 7 July 1986, making it the third one in my collection – trust me when you’ve only got 3 LPs they get played on a pretty tight rotation. Secondly I was obsessed with Queen, like really truly, borderline DSM-IV obsessed. In my teenage diaries – sort of like this blog in written form, but with more hatred / anxiety and far, far, far more sexual yearning* I kept a chart of my Top 10 favourite songs each week on a Wednesday, presumably for the benefit of future biographers, now I was so obsessed with Queen that they had their own chart each week and it was a Top 12 because I couldn’t keep it down to just 10. Oh yes, that’s the level we’re talking about. I must have played this LP a thousand times.
So it really shouldn’t have surprised me.
I love the whole Black/White schtick going on here, the alternate band pictures, the fact that the first side is called Side White – you can work out the name of the second side yourselves. the references to the black queen and the white queen etc. As a 14 year-old who loved Lewis Carroll this hit the spot instantly, as did the sheer bloody-minded pomposity on show. Now I don’t use that word as a pejorative term at all, far from it. In my view, in this context it just represents the sheer chutzpah / cojones to produce statement rock** like this. Not wishing to get stereotypical here but Queen II just flounces into the room, shouts ‘love me – love my Ogre Battles and all my outrageousness’ and struts off 40-ish minutes later. You need to bear in mind that this is a hard rock LP and was marketed as such (pop Queen was a few LPs away at this stage), this LP was pitched straight into the wolf pit of 1974 to fight it out for scraps with Deep Purple, Mountain, Nazareth , Mott The Hoople, Styx and Kiss.
They were often likened to Led Zeppelin and I can see why in traces here, I can barely remember Queen (hmm, similar names) but it was more straight-forward rock than this. Okay, so Brian May is no Jimmy Page, but he just dazzles here throughout, there is a real virtuosity evident throughout this LP, right from ‘Procession’ onwards (why, oh why, did I not have that at my wedding?), through the meatier riffing and soloing on ‘Father to Son’ (for what it’s worth my favourite track here), to the harmonics on ‘White Queen (As it Began)’ – okay I’ll shut up now, but that’s just the first three tracks!
So far so good, we have a good band with a flash guitarist and a flamboyant singer with a great voice, singing fairly overwrought songs about ogres, chess pieces and such like but what I think really elevates them here and points them towards the stratosphere is the sheer flashes of otherness they show in the likes of ‘The Fairy Feller’s Master-Stroke’ – which me and all my equally foul-minded chums thought simply must be referencing certain acts of (we considered) a depraved nature. Little did we know it was a reference to poor Richard Dadd’s painting.
This really is where Queen II achieves lift-off, other bands out there at the time could have written and performed a lot of the other tracks here, maybe not have sung or played them as well, but I cannot think of anyone out there in 1974 who could have / would have wanted to hatch this tune and certainly none who would have had a chance of carrying it off successfully like this. Ditto, to a lesser extent, the sumptuous 1:19 of ‘Nevermore’, which I think just shows again what a string to their bow Freddie Mercury’s piano playing was^. ‘Seven Seas of Rhye’ actually sounds like a single here, which it never did to me on their Greatest Hits, albeit a warped rocky single – Queen get massive 1537 bonus points here for releasing a single containing the words ‘privy counsellors’. Respect.
There are elements here which haven’t stood the test of time so well, Roger Taylor’s ‘The Loser in The End’, which used to regularly feature in my Wednesday Queen Top 12, just sounds dated and trite to me now and occasionally the pomposity can grate a bit, like being force-fed a gallon of liquified Battenburg, you can have a bit too much of a good thing. However, as I said, I was just knocked out by just how brilliant and hard rocking Queen II was and I guarantee I won’t wait until 2031 until I play it again.
*its my back these days, I’m just not up to yearning much anymore; at least not spontaneously.
**my new genre – please use sparingly.
^don’t tell me if a)it wasn’t him b)it wasn’t a piano – you’ll just spoil it for me and everyone else.