Ignoring the anthem, we last ended with a gong, and so do we begin.
The intro’s worthy, but it descends back into Brian’s creepy schoolyard sexuality.
The album opens in a hell of a style, with a gong, some enormously melodramatic guitar, and a reversed harmonium set of Shepard tones. Between the gong harking back to the Rhapsody, the guitar being ripped out of one later track, and the harmonium being repeated at the close of the album, the whole intro is basically a set of allusions and foreshadowing. Which is quite nice. It feels like a big blast of an album opener. The ritual of Queen II’s procession, combined with the self-referentiality of Brighton Rock’s seaside sing song, and something of A Night at the Opera’s immensity.
But, well, it’s not as immense, isn’t it.
Partly from the branding, it’s hard not to situate the album as a sibling to A Night at the Opera, but the comparison is pretty damaging. Despite the highlights here, there album just doesn’t push as hard, and so feels like it falls short. This is one of those critical cruelties, I suspect, as most over albums can’t touch the scope, bombast and technique of A Night at the Opera. But…well…most albums aren’t the sequel.
Once the intro fades, we descend into a thoroughly solid, but ultimately pretty dull hard rock blues number.
It doesn’t even manage to be creepy in the way that the title implies, it’s just a classic inversion of ‘lock up your daughters’, heaped up with an unpleasant sexualisation of youth.
Get your party gown
Get your pigtail down
Get your heart beatin’ baby
Got my timin’ right
Got my act all tight
It’s gotta be tonight my little
Creepy as fuck. Frankly.
Apparently Brian wrote it in Tenerife, while working on his PhD. Which explains the let down after the gloriously imaginative likes of ’39. This is a blast from the past. A riff and a working title, that accidentally stuck. It doesn’t make it sound any less unsettling though. I guess it’s what you expect from the era, almost as if it could be a parody of their less imaginative contemporaries (the song is not entirely recognisably Queen, and could have easily been many of their less adventurous peers). But frankly, it just sounds less imaginative.
Lyrically, the main redeeming feature is the snapshot of ‘nice guy’ mentality provided in the last verse:
Your Mamma and your Daddy gonna
Plague me til I die
Why can’t they understand I’m just a
Peace lovin’ guy
I don’t think it’s the peace they’re worried about you loving, Bri. Take the fedora off and pull yourself together.
It’s got a heady thump of guitar and a catchy hook. Even when Freddie feels like he’s phoning it in a bit, he sounds more energetic than most people manage at their peak, so there is that.
And in a surprising moment of charm, the liner notes appear to acknowledge the cheapness of the whole thing with a quote from the Times as an epigram to this song:
“Sheer bloody poetry”
I guess at least they knew when they were being trashy.
It’s not awful.
It’s memorable, and if you can forget the words, you can have a fair stomp to it.
But in the shadow of the last record, it’s a disappointing start.
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.