Klytus, I’m bored. What plaything can you offer me today?
Well, your majesty, today we’ve got…
The first thing to get out of the way is that because we’re sticking to album tracks, this isn’t the one you’re thinking of. This has a different set of vocal samples, including a much more glorious intro, ripped straight from the start of the film.
The second thing to get out of the way is that right now, when focussing on just his voice, and not the racist trope of a costume/name/character, Max Von Sydow sounds incredible here. Chewing the proverbial scenery with fabulous aplomb. Surrounded by swirling gong reverberation, Sydow sounds like the perfect ham filled villain. Genuinely bored, and lacks the clear contempt of Klytus that somehow sounds genuinely threatening. That might not last well in the film, but to start us off, he purrs.
The rest of this version is free from the infamous quotes from the film. No Gordon’s alive, no warhawk Ajax. These quotes are actually scattered through the rest of the album, at those moments when the theme returns. It’s a pleasing structure, and because of the ubiquity of the single version, it gives the album a sense of increased nostalgia, even for one who didn’t grow up watching the likely dreadful film.
For the record, I’m reviewing the first half of the record entirely fueled by only my memories of the film. For the second half I’ll actually watch it again, and report back on how it feels.
It’s a weird attempt to undermine the inherent nostalgia of the project, particularly at a time when we’re dealing with a film that I remember as brightly coloured, gleefully camp trash, but should probably recognise as a masterpiece of orientalist othering and manifest destiny promotion.
But here, right now, we’re looking at Flash’s theme.
King of the impossible
You know how it starts, just a single bass note. repeated into infinity, joined for occasional emphasis by piano. A warming, cosy sense of dread, meant to accompany the Von Sydow’s artificial environmental catastrohpising on Earth.
Then the yelling begins. Each Flash ‘a-ah’ joined by some kind of guitar synth response.
Other moments try and occasionally succeed at bursting through the throbbing tension of it. First we have the energetic call for help. Then later, the melancholic humanising.
Just a man
With a man’s courage
We’ve got to remember this is a song about a guy whose only feature is being an american football player. We never even hear his real first name (I think). He introduces himself as Flash. Because he is his own nickname.
Which of course is enough to make him a hero.
Because that’s the comic book land we’re in. Everything flattened in a kind of warm pastiche.
Interestingly, the main thrust of this song isn’t about that. The two breakout moments are two ways of articulating that valourisation, and the lyrics throughout are tritely heroic nonsense.
But the ominousness is there. Trying to squeeze a romance into a suspense theme. Happily letting them war with each other.
It’s a stretch, but you can see this most in the way the music blends different instruments together. The piano is there to augment and adapt the bass or add precision to the synth. The guitar routinely gives way to quivering synthesiser. This textural mishmash is the point. The blending of grit and power and energy.
The thing is, Queen were kind of perfect for this job. And it came at just the right time. A chance to toy with their newfound passion for synths, a chance to camp it up to the extreme, whilst also doing something they’d never done before. If the band are pure drama, it’s amazing it took them this long to do soundtrack, and all of them appear to revel in a little bit of science fiction world-building.
It’s just the right sort of over the top.
No-one but the pure in heart
May find the Golden Grail
On the lyric sheet, after every time the word flash is used, there’s a little lightning bolt emoji. Presumably representing that smashed thunderstrike.
Yes. It’s ridiculous. What the hell did you expect?
For god’s sake, strap yourselves down.
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.