Roger Taylor continues his exploration of the rebellion of early rock and roll?
It starts of sounding like a cheap knock off of a certain track from Abbey Road, showing off his purple shoes, but it doesn’t take long to evolve into something more interesting.
But what the hell is a Tenement Funster?
I’m still not sure.
It definitely follows on from Modern Times Rock ‘n’ Roll. Thematically, it’s a simple teenage rebellion, although starting as a pretty melancholy ballad, in a way that’s pretty striking. It’s not the tone you normally sing about this in. Avoiding cliché by finding it pretty lonely.
It doesn’t last though, once he finds his ‘open car’ Taylor is carried out of the tenement by a squadron of guitars. It’s a real burst of freedom, musically, feeling the downbeat turned into an urgent and angry forward energy.
So the somewhat trite lyrics are transformed by a striking interplay of contradictory noises.
It remains pretty theatrical, which helps, as it’s the first of one of those sets of interlinked tracks we’re becoming familiar with. The final guitars evolving into the introductory piano of the next track.
Anyway, I can’t go any further talking about Roger Taylor’s track here without talking about Roger Taylor’s sweaty chest.
The band appear on the album cover again, for Sheer Heart Attack, and I think it’s a beautiful piece of work, actually. Bold red font at the top, and the rest given to a glistening knot of Queenflesh. It’s fascinating and strange, as covers go.
And Roger’s the lead, really. Sure, he’s upside down, but he’s got the most flesh on display, and he’s the only one looking directly at us. Freddie looks pensive. John looks like he’s stifling a laugh (possibly the most appropriate response) and Brian looks like he’s just remembered something important, but can’t work out if it’s a good or bad thing.
But Roger, he’s cricked his neck to look us right in the eyes. He does not look comfortable, but he looks like he needs us. Like Freddie, his eyes are gorgeous. But Roger wants us. Freddie doesn’t even need us.
I don’t know how to fit Roger into my Queen mythos, if I’m honest. He crops up as a bit of a distraction in these early albums, offering nice but off message little vignettes, contrasting to the theatrical and fantastical pomp around him.
Everyone else I kind of have an identity for. Freddie is the gorgeous, outrageous driving force. May is the technical counterweight to that, finding opposite ways of being just as full on. John Deacon is the quiet one, the beating heart, somewhat lonely but full of love (You’re my best friend is his, and it’s one of the most radiant pieces Queen ever produced).
But I don’t have a place for Roger yet. He’s clearly significant, this is a band, not just a set of characters. It always has been, as much as I focus on the songwriter, everything is so clearly collaborative, the way different instruments speak and engage with and challenge each other would be impossible for any but the most extreme auteurs to manage.
But I haven’t got a hold of Roger Taylor. I somewhat get the impression he’s the enthusiast. Queen’s biggest fan (my understanding is that he has driven most of the reunion projects).
I think this shows when he drifts out of an album to tell a little tale about the rock and roll. How it frees you. How it traps you. He’s in this for the music, I guess.
I hope I’m going to figure out more as we go along.
And see more of that glistening chest.
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.