Great King Rat

Great King Rat





We’re going epic.

This is more like what I was expecting.

6 minutes of bombastic rock about a rat (possibly metaphorical) dying of syphilis.

This fantasy tinged metal was what I was waiting for from these early records, but it still owns itself in a striking fashion. Not least because of the syphilis.

Great King Rat died today,

Born on the twenty first of May

Died syphilis forty four on his birthday

And the chorus. Any chorus that calls someone a dirty old man twice in a row is probably okay in my book.

The initial blast of noise definitely sets a tone, and the marching drumbeat largely doesn’t let up once it gets started. I’m also fond of the duelling leads in the solo. Brian May splitting himself across stereo channels.

One of those bloated, slow rambling drum led mid-sections. A plea to ignore Mama. Then some brief melancholic acoustic guitar, before another pound back into the marching beat.

And it all ends with an awkward fading of a heavyweight drum solo, mostly ready to lead into the next song, which feels like the second part of a fantasy narrative.

Anyway, this one is solid, ridiculous and large. It doesn’t quite grab me, but it charms me some. It certainly lays down a template. It goes big and over the top. Exploring different tones and telling stories and creating worlds.

I think the fantastical element is worth looking at. Queen have always had a willingness to give their songs big backdrops, not just musically, but in terms of world building. There’s a reason people started getting them to work on soundtracks, it’s that they have a lyrical and musical willingness to set scenes and make them real.

By ‘make them seem real’ I kind of mean ‘shout about them’.

I guess this is part of the prog thing. Metal of this sort really is about ten foot tall replicas of Stonehenge. It’s just not all of them are set dressing, most of it is in the songs. I don’t think it’s a coincidence that the Venn diagram of SFF geeks and Queen fans has a large crossover. We don’t mind an overblown bit of story telling or a well told cliché.

Well, I certainly don’t.

But I can see how this is the sort of thing that puts people off. They want their rock in the real world, for whatever reason.

Bit weird, if you ask me.

There is bombast and bloatedness, though. Overblown self importance. It’s off putting, but I swear it can be charming, if done with a self awareness (in this track, I find the self awareness in the rolling cowbells of the chorus).

I think I’m going to spend a lot of time trying to track down that self awareness, convince of it’s existence, but like artness, it’s not necessarily in what you’re looking at, but how you look at it.

I’m willing to give myself over to Queen. Suspend disbelief.

This may be my problem. This may be the divide I can’t reach across. There’s a chasm, and however far across my hand gets, some people aren’t willing to jump it.

And really, authentic enjoyment doesn’t need your permission. Just like Queen to me don’t seem overblown, but simply self assured. It seems self evident that the quality of the playing and depth of the production stands its ground.

We aren’t showing off because we’re show offs, we’re showing off because we’re fucking fabulous.

(This state is what I refer to, normally sartorially, as the ‘Fortress of Gorgeous’. When I look this good, nobody can mess with me).

I’m not sure where I’m going with this one.



Let’s get concrete again. We’re talking about a song, right?

That chorus. The contrasting textures are lovely. The sung, the shouted, the deft swing to falsetto. The repetition. The energy.

It’s punchy as hell.

Wouldn’t you like to know?

Wouldn’t you like to know people?

Great King Rat was a dirty old man,

And a dirty old man was he.

Now what did I tell you.

Wouldn’t you like to see?

And wouldn’t you?

The question is sold by the delivery. The statements are made real by the confidence.

A scene is set, with every word, beat, and blast of guitar.

And I’ll be honest with you, I’m pretty sure all this epic bombast is actually just laying a red carpet down for the next track.

Because the Great King Rat may be dead, but Queen are just getting started.


Queen: An Exploded Diagram is me having big and little thoughts about every Queen song in chronological order. If you want to support me, making it more financially viable and easier to explain to people at parties, please back my patreon.

Illustration by Emma.

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