Staying Power

StayingPower-01

There’s two sides to the coin here.

Firstly, this is an exercise in alienating an audience.

Secondly, this is so far up my street it’s ridiculous.

Staying Power.

Hot Space is widely panned as a record. The band are often seen to disown it, blaming it on Freddie’s personal manager, and saying that they didn’t have much access to Freddie whilst recording it.

I’ve got no idea if that’s the case, all I’ve got is stories I’ve read and the noises I can hear. The theory is that this was an attempt to capitalise on the success of Another one bites the dust. This makes a lot of sense. One of their biggest successes in years came from trimming down their sound to something totally unlike themselves. Taking some disco inflection, repetetive beats, and making something simple and raw and powerful.

So why not make a record like that?

Right.

Well. Because people are still expecting a rock record, and if you turn around and give them this?

But fuck that. It’s a simplification, and an assumption, and it doesn’t give this record half the credit it’s due. Queen do their best when they tear up rule books. By some measures, they fail here. This record barely features on the greatest hits (and only really because of something of a bonus track, recorded separately from the rest of the record). But by others, this is a fascinating beast.

This song, for example.

Freddie plays this irresistible synth bass. Taylor programs a hell of a beat. And they put one hell of a horn section on it.

The horns are arranged by Arif Mardin, who worked with Chaka Khan and the Bee Gees. They are very pure disco. Mardin’s credited with producing and arranging ‘some hot and spacey horns’.

The song is utterly simplistic. Except for the sheer range and raging of those horns, and Freddie running all over the place. It’s got the definitive repetitive bloat of 80s electronic disco, it’s got cheap swagger all over it.

If it wasn’t for Freddie (and the odd whirring special effect), there’s nothing to tie it to Queen. The ‘building on Another one bites the dust’ doesn’t make sense yet. Here all we can hear is disco pop. A complete submission to the form. There’s very little noticeable guitar at all. Just tiny noodles, no slabs of anything.

The structure actually has some of the Queen trademarks. Despite the familiarity of the core loop, it takes the rhythm and energy to a number of interesting places. It has the building crescendos and dramatic shifts.

I wonder where we’re gonna stick it

I wonder when we’re gonna trick it

It’s bold as all hell. Basically. Opening an album by throwing pretty much everything you know out of the window, and defiantly jumping on an already undermined disco bandwagon.

Let’s not forget this is 1982. Disco was sucking (except maybe underground, where it was becoming sparser and weirder). Punk had already thrown everything up in the air. Queen’s response to the musical shifts is to dive deep into a totally different scene.

I can’t work out if there’s much authenticity in it, because at this point, disco had morphed in and out of mainstream attention so hard that it was barely recognisable.

Weirdly, it mostly reminds me of Talking Heads’ later excursions into weirdly inflected funk and disco. So in some ways this was ahead of time.

Staying Power sounds out of keeping with everything else imaginable. It’s a bold opening to a strange record. It’s tame compared to some of the later tracks, but it’s also one of the most off kilter.

Can you imagine putting this on your record player for the first time. You’ve eagerly awaited a proper Queen album for years, and the first thing you hear is that bass line. Those drums. You can barely find the guitar. The only thing you recognise is Freddie.

I can’t imagine how that would feel.

But right now, it feels challenging, amazing and like an upturned world.

I’m so proud of them, the nerve it shows.

And frankly, I think it works.

When Freddie enters into a shouting duel with a full horn section?

When Freddie’s vocal just pulses over and counterpoints itself and that rhythm. It’s incredible.

Freddie’s voice and bass line provide almost all of the variety here. The horns mostly mirror what he’s already doing. He goes with such gumption that he overwhelms.

I’m not sure I’d call it good. But I might call it great.

Freddie’s carrying a lot of weight, and I think he has actually got Staying Power.

 

 

 

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.

Advertisements

Dancer

Dancer-01

I feel like this would’ve been the more powerful opening statement.

I feel like it matches perfectly the tone of the album, while also letting Brian make guitars whale in a way that would probably make a much more palatable entrance.

But they didn’t want palatable, they wanted you to know what you were getting into.

But it’s still part of what you’re getting into.

Dancer.

That bassline is big and round and furious. Those drums are tight and taut and slightly space aged.

And then the guitar kicks in for the chorus, and it could already feel like an intruder to the sound, but instead it perfectly meets it. The guitar, while hard edged and at times overwhelming, is a tool of the disco.

Which makes it striking. Very little disco of this type does so well and so rawly with a guitar. The only thing I can think of immediately is Arthur Russell’s immense Kiss me again, with the glorious David Byrne tearing a guitar apart towards the end.

This isn’t as good as that, but little else is.

It does highlight one of the weird troubles that we have in situating this record. It’s too late in disco to be ahead of it’s time. Arthur Russell and Larry Levan (and many others) have already torn up all the rule books at this point. Disco’s mainstream has become bloated masses of strings and horns, and is already widely lambasted. Queen seem to be sitting somewhere between the two, taking their own swaggering drama and stripping it back into something with some of the minimalism, but little of the restraint of the clubbier scene.

Or at least, that’s how I hear it. It’s hard. Disco’s more complicated than you think.

Back to Dancer. I love the way the guitar slowly takes control of this song. It really sounds like May is trying to sneak a classic Queen texture through in the midst of the wild bass and taut drums. Freddie’s voice ends up being overwhelmed by the sheer depth of the guitar. It is raw energy. But it never actually undermines the core beat and texture.

Because May is the one on the bass. He’s fully committed. He mirrors the bassline beautifully with some rude and raw guitar crunches throughout the solo section. It’s heavy and powerful and brilliant. A perfect foil to the criticisms people might want to lay at the feet of this album. It has a perfect rock song, that doesn’t compromise the disco aesthetic even one bit.

It’s amazing. And of course, Freddie just slathers it in filth

I taste your lipstick

I look in your eyes

you feel fantastic

My body cries

I think one of the things that strikes me about this record is how much every band member contributes to the aesthetic. Everyone takes a run at disco, and comes up with something different. May’s take is, surprisingly, my favourite.

Or maybe it’s not surprising.

Most of my favourite bits of disco are pretty weird takes on the form. I find it fascinating how many different vibes, instrumentations and flavours the core beat can take on, and how easy it is to pull apart and rebuild in a different shape. Disco’s pliability ends up giving us a lot of hip hop. And I love the way post-disco and post-punk accidentally create the same thing.

Queen aren’t there yet, but I love the way they strip back their own sound, build on new structures, and make something that’s eventually very them, despite being nothing like they’ve ever been before.

Dancer is probably the perfect example of that.

It definitely deserves a bit more credit in the canon.

 

 

 

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.

Back chat

Backchat-01

So how is our John going to approach the disco experiment?

Well, he’s going to try and go all the way, but then Brian’s going to insist he chuck a guitar solo.

It probably works though.

Back chat.

It’s all built around that bass line, a few pads drifting around it, and some suspended guitar work emphasising it. It has some awkward moments, like the synthesised drum breakdown (a bit overwrought compared to the lushness of those synth hi-hats just rippling through the song) and a fair bit of Freddie’s over-repeated vocals.

I’m still torn on that guitar solo. On the one hand, it emulates the textural combinatorics of Dancer, but it is clearly a separate tone to what the track is aiming for. I think I like it’s inclusion, but it could go either way. It’s odd, as it means there’s more variety in the track as a whole, but I also think that extra time gives what should be a three minute pop song time to drag.

Apparently Michael Jackson loved this record, and it was part of his inspiration for Thriller. This track certainly seems to be going down the MJ road, so I’d believe it. Though perhaps it was more about a willingness to shift musical styles, while maintaining a core performance.

Talk back, talk back you’ve got me on the rack

Twisting every word I say

Wind me up and get your way

Fat chance I have of making a romance

If I’m ever going to win

I’ll have to get the last word in

It’s an odd one, I think. Up to now the lyrics have all been party and sex. They’ve lacked subtlety. This isn’t exactly subtle, but it’s got a weird subtext running through it. Somewhere between an argument and a romance, Deacon gets a bit lost.

I think maybe it’s just a sense of tiredness. Feeling worn down and broken. But that doesn’t necessarily translate into the withering tautness of the music itself. It is at least less overwrought than the direction the album is heading in, but it’s interestingly combatative.

I think he was going for a more explicit follow up to Another one bites the dust. But this lacks the precision and focus. It lacks the simplicity, focussing too much on the shuffling rhythm, and not enough on the weirdly direct sense of place.

Back chat feels a bit lost in itself. It’s a strong tune, and it’ll get lodged in your head like nobody’s business, but it has a vagueness to it. Which actually feels really odd on this record, which has so much intent, even if it’s in an odd direction.

But perhaps that mirrors the state of mind of the narrator. The over repeated title phrase feels half whispered, like it’s haunting you. The whole thing actually feels a bit broken down and lost. Perhaps that’s the point, someone too destroyed by persistent criticism to keep alert and awake.

But the bass is alert, the guitar is wakeful.

It’s a song of contrasts, a weird depth under it’s simplicity.

I like it, but I can’t put my finger on why.

Perhaps that’s okay.

 

 
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.

Body Language ↑⬱

BodyLanguage

Sometimes I get the impression that people forget that sex is, or at least can be, pretty funny. In particular, they quite often forget that funny sex can still be sexy.

I can’t work out how po-faced this is supposed to be, but to me, it reads like a treatise on the sexiness of silliness.

Body Language.

It’s the first video to ever be banned from MTV (despite genuinely climaxing with someone jumping into a giant cake).

This is a fat bassed finger clicker. Saucy and stupid, Freddie gurns and moans his way through the whole thing, and somehow manages to sell the unsellable.

It’s almost a synthetic, shouted and synthesised riposte to Je t’aime…moi non plus.

Sexy body, sexy, sexy body

I want your body

Baby you’re hot

Freddie gets proper filthy by the end of it, sounding genuinely turned on, despite the fact that he’s just spent most of the time yelling the words sexy and body in as many different contorted modulations as possible.

It manages to be less subtle than Get Down Make Love. Which is, frankly, an achievement.

It’s kind of awful.

But it’s also clearly brilliant.

It’s pure Freddie. Giggling at himself without giggling. Perfectly deadpan. Sexily deadpan. Who else could manage that? Who else could make a minimalist stripped back piece of music, give it a comically bouncy bassline as its main hook, and then spend a the whole time yelling ‘sexy boday’ into a mic? Who could do that and somehow still seem sexy? Still seem turned on? Still seem self aware?

It should be the most overwrought, trite and banal approach to sexiness ever. It probably is. It somehow doesn’t matter. Somehow that shuffling beat pulls it all together. Somehow Freddie’s charisma shines all the way through the fluff, and you end up with a glorious, warm, funny and genuine party track.

It’s got that lush echo montage near the beginning. It’s got those weird sound effects through out. It’s got an off key upward vocal harmony crescendo. It’s got a weirdly experimental edge to it.

It’s got awful lyrics, that somehow, somehow, manage to sound authentic.

You’ve got the cutest ass I’ve ever seen

Knock me down for a six any time

The delivery is so far over the top that it somehow lands on the other side.

I don’t know how it works.

It works.

I swear, it works.

I don’t know how he does it.

It’s indicative of this record, really. It’s a surprisingly challenging thing. Full of weirdness and abstractly poor choices. It sounds a little too cheap to be as difficult as it wants. It never quite nails the tone.

But at the same time, it has a warmth, energy and passion that kind of carry it through. It remains a unique and satisfying thing.

You just have to take it on a different set of terms to usual.

This is the record that only Queen could make, it is a precious thing.

It’s about as sexy as someone shouting the word sexy could be.

It’s not right. But it’s okay.

And I love it for it.

 

 

 
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.

Action this day

ActionThisDay-01

As usual, Roger appears to be making a very different record to everyone else.

We still have a stripped down, beat heavy tone. It’s still built on simple ostinatos, and it still isn’t really rock.

But it’s also unlike anything else we’ve heard so far.

And it’s also utterly brilliant.

Action this day.

Apparently Churchill used to write that on memos that needed to be dealt with immediately. I don’t care what to make of that, because there’s plenty going on here worth more attention.

Roger and Freddie are duetting brilliantly. The drums thud in, bristling with urgency, the guitar joins, and then suddenly their voices are playing with each other. Roger pours thick whispers over Freddie, Freddie barks back. Everything pulses with energy. These verses are like a series of perfectly timed punches. Each beat met with some new lyrical play.

This street honey is a mean street

Living in this street honey needs a mean streak

We’ve got criminals living in this street

But there’s a heartbeat pulse that keeps on pumping

Like a jukebox playing the same dead record

It’s an immediately post-punk, post-disco, post-Hot Space piece of work. Already taking the lessons of the record and building something new and strange and overwhelming out of them. It roars and surges, but all within the tight constraint of that simplest viable drum beat.

You barely notice the additional synth bass parts purring throughout, thickening and adapting the music, but never overwhelming.

It’s raw and powerful. It’s refined and sharp. It is tight. So, so tight.

The chorus pulls a little more open, a little cheesier, a little too optimistic, but it essentially just gives some breathing room to those intensely perfect verses.

The clock ticks, a synth arpeggiates in every which way.

And then the fucking saxophone hits.

Two of them, in fact. Out of nowhere. Dino Solero plays duelling saxes, and basically pulls of the woodwind equivalent of one of May’s signature solos.

It’s wonderful. Orgiastic. Perfect. Overwhelming. Sax swings in and provides a perfect contrast to everything. A totally organic way of pulling away from the synthesis, and pulling in something jazzier, weirder, freakier.

I love me a sax solo, particularly over some pulsing drums. Here it’s executed perfectly, totally out of the blue, and totally fitting.

It’s such a brief outburst, but the way the soprano and tenor pull at each other is just perfect. It turns a wonderfully solid piece of disco flecked punkwork into something decadently brilliant.

I can’t believe they squeeze so much into such a short space of time. It’s a weirdly perfect pop song to bury so deep in a much maligned record. It’s exactly the sort of thing that needs to be unearthed and shouted about.

It is Roger Taylor at his best, Queen at their best. Experimental and shocking, but precise and pitch perfect. Surprisingly restrained, but still getting wild in ways they’ve never tried before.

But there’s a heartbeat pulse that keeps on pumping

And that’s what it is. A heartbeat pulse that keeps on pumping.

As it fades, I’m already sad it’s ending. Because it’s just a little marvel.

Action.

 

 
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.

Put out the fire

PutOutTheFire-01

It really sounds like it’s going to go hard rock. That first drum beat sounds ready to go all out.

It ends up sounding a bit like a low res cover of the The Darkness. Which is pretty harsh, and implies a bootstrap paradox not worth thinking about.

Put out the fire.

If there’s a real problem with this record, it’s that they didn’t commit fully. Queen almost successfully queered their own sound totally, and then let Brian do a strutting but largely turgid anti-firearms anthem in the middle of it.

People get shot by people

People with guns

Admittedly, Freddie manages to deliver that line in the middle of it, so maybe he still had an eye on it.

It’s theorised that the first verse of this is about John Lennon’s assassination, turning it into a diptych with the next song, an explicit tribute to Lennon.

I have two possible opposing viewpoints on this as a piece of protest music. The first is simply that I feel like the lines are pretty firmly drawn on the guns are good/bad debate, and that very few rock stars are going to be able to make much difference. The second is that it was only a few singles ago that bullets were ripping in time to the beat, or that the embodiment of American power was stabbing dodgy tyrants with space ships.

As much as I worry about music as escapism being an irresponsible distraction from the very real problems of the world (part of my very own flavour of bread and circuses), I rarely think the answer to that is a hamfisted couplet about the constitution.

And it all smells a bit of ‘war is bad, politicians lie’. Stating the obvious is unlikely to change the world. Even if some people don’t think it’s that obvious.

Anyway. We’ve got a sturdy chugging riff. A pretty raucous solo. And Freddie gives the words a fair amount more credit than they deserve. The drums are plodding but honest.

It’s just all a little unmemorable.

So I’m going to tell you a story about my childhood Queen relationship, so you can realise how lacking in understanding I was as a child.

I have this half formed memory of watching the ‘Greatest Flicks II’ video in my brother’s bedroom when I was wee. I think my cousins were around, but it’s hard to be sure. It wasn’t long after the Freddie memorial concert, so I was under 10 years old.

Anyway, I didn’t know the Greatest Hits II record at this point, so this video was my first proper exposure to it as an entitity (so separate from songs on the radio/tv/whatever). We’re in Greatest Hits II country, so this is a valid story.

I’ve given this too much hype at this point. Sorry.

Anyway, I was following along the track listing, as the videos came up. And when we got to Innuendo (I think), I have this massively vivid memory of a booted foot stamping into some mud. It’s an enormously vivid detail. Flashbulb memory, for no logical reason.

I remember getting really excited though, as what I thought was happening was an equivalent to Thriller. As soldiers ran through a muddy day, dialogue blurred along, and I assumed this song (which I didn’t know by name) had some ludicrous narrative movie attached to it.

It took me about twenty minutes before I asked what was going on, and found out that my siblings had stopped the video so they could watch ‘Soldier, Soldier’.

It’s weird that that’s one of my earlier memories of Queen, and one of my earliest memories.

That boot, and me being an idiot.

That’s a pretty boring story, but I think we can all agree, it’s slightly better than the song I was supposed to be reviewing, right?

Sick burn.

Everyone’s a winner.

 

 
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.

Life is real (Song for Lennon)

Lennon-01

I never know quite what to do when the band go into pastiche mode.

Here we have a tribute to a hero, made with obvious affection. But in borrowing from the intended, does the band lose some of their own interest, and accidentally cheapen the work they’re giving tribute too.

Life is real.

You can treat it as a game, a kind of ‘spot the difference’ in reverse. Just trying to find the sonic references. The interval of the opening words, the piano motif, the specific synth fills, the chord progressions, the arrangements..even just a few vocal trills and tics.

It’s full of affection, but is it too much affectation?

Hell. Even the triteness of the metaphors feel like a somewhat backhanded tribute. It clear focusses on post Beatles Lennon, as well, which is striking. But also makes it harder to separate what is the memorial, and what is the tickling critique.

Loneliness is my hding place

Breastfeeding myself

What more can I say

Really?

Anyway. It has a charm, for all of this. Again, it feels like it’s on the wrong record, but then it always would. This doesn’t sound like a Queen track. It isn’t trying to. It’s Freddie’s best John impression. It’s surprisingly convincing, and I think it is intended with warmth and love.

But it’s odd. It doesn’t quite capture Lennon’s depth. It can’t capture the simplicity of Imagine, but it can capture the triteness, the boringness.

Which, while authentic, probably isn’t what anyone wants to hear.

I do like the way that piano haunts the opening. The way Freddie’s falsetto mimics Lennon’s. I like the way Freddie delivers his final spoken parts.

But I’m not that enthralled. It captures Lennon’s sound, but it doesn’t feel like it adequately explains how Freddie feels about the loss of Lennon, or really express what Lennon was about. Stripped of the radical artistry and resistance of his late work, he’s left as a series of only slightly off-cliche sentimentalities.

It works sonically, but it doesn’t work poetically, and that’s a great loss.

And really, I’d much rather hear Queen take a run up at the Beatles era. I think they tinkled around the early Beatles on a few tracks earlier on, and I guess some of their production marvels draw on Sgt Pepper’s enormous soundscapes.

So it’s odd to hear something so restrained here.

I guess it was an immediate response. A gut feeling of wanting to capture the recent Lennon, in his much more vulnerable and honest phase.

Which I guess is why this song just about works. It is vulnerable. It feels it. There’s a tenderness, even if it isn’t a raw one.

I’m writing this today surrounded by the news of yet another beloved celebrity creator. Gene Wilder, mischievous, intense and glorious, has grown too old this world, and is elsewhere.

And it reminds me how impossible it is to pay tribute, but how universal the desire to do it is. Which means, to some extent, this track deserves a pass.

Because it’s a gift. From a loved and now lost musician, to another. Is it easier to deal with the loss of Freddie because we know he felt the loss of John? Can that help us remember Gene?

These strangers we feel on first name terms with, because they made us music, made us love, and helped us dream.

The music makers. The dreamers of the dream.

Anything that helps us say thank you, right?

Living in every pore

It’s buried in there. But of of course, always, the key is to remember that these people stay with us. Those that touch us, change us, and live within us.

It’s why we do care about these distant icons. And also those closest to us.

And why we never forget.

Life is real.

Even after it’s over.

 

 

 

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.

Calling all girls

CallingGirls-01

It’s pretty reliable that every time Roger blows me away, he’ll follow it up with something that doesn’t quite click.

Calling all girls.

It’s not bad. It’s got a nice rhythm, some weird guitars. A striking pace to it, some strong transitions.

But again, I can’t help feeling we’re in a dull patch of an otherwise fascinating record. Why commit so hard to a sound on side A, only to leave this detritus on the B?

This was Roger’s first A-side single, and I think that’s pretty criminal. He had been working hard at some fascinating things, and slammed out a fair few classics, so to only give him a single this late in the show? And for it to be this?

Spread like some silent disease

You’ll get yours too

It does have some of his classic experimentalist touches though, to be fair.

The record scratching is genuinely striking, and interestingly done, a simpler percussive element than the bolder manipulations of hip hop scratching. It’s the more literal scratch, taking the needle across the record, rather than through the groove. It’s a sound effect, not a melody. Or even really a part of the rhythm.

And that feedback solo. It’s a stunning little piece of soundwork.

In fact, the deeper I go, the more I think there’s something very likeable here, it’s just not the actual song. Roger basically takes a pretty workmanlike hook (almost too bland to be called that), and then builds a set of weird shapes around it. Listen to the sitarish guitars over the first verse. Listen to the tone of the guitars for that section. Listen to the way the sound shifts outwards at different parts of the song. There’s a swelling sense around the core of the record. Yes, it’s that feedback, slowly building through the second verse, but pulling back.

There’s some really smart reverb throughout.

But if that isn’t damning with faint praise, I don’t know what is.

I like it, as a forgettable piece of bubblegum with a brooding edge looping round it. It’s not going to make you sing along. It’s not going to stick in your head. But it’s not going to piss you off. You may even tap your feet.

I don’t know why I’m making excuses for it though. If I’m going to persist with my attempts to rehabilitate Roger Taylor as a musical pioneer, I’m going to have to do something about his dullness. Particularly, something more than overemphasise a few production tics (which may well have just been Mack, anyway).

To be honest, I’m just going to ignore it.

Let’s bare in mind, that once this whole thing is through, I get to just jump back and tell people about my favourite moments. Build a playlist of all the best little weird ones nobody has ever heard of. Start sliding weird tracks into DJ sets, and wait for people to ask what they are (as if anybody wouldn’t recognise Freddie pretty sharpish).

As much as I’m enjoying much of this process, and finding little treasures, I can’t wait to be able to ignore tracks like this again.

Because that’s how albums work. Even when you listen to them whole, you forgot some in the rush to the others.

 

And as long as there’s something worth rushing to. It’s fine.

And don’t worry.

There is.

 

 


 

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.

Las palabras de amor (The words of love)

LasPalabras-01

Once I give up on the dream of a full Queen album made up of disco beats, maybe we can start liking something a bit more traditional again.

And then this walks in, and sings to me with words of love.

Las palabras de amor.

Love me slow and gently

It’s Brian again, but this time he’s in a surprisingly laid back mood. It lacks the loucheness Freddie would have written in, but instead we get a surprisingly honest and appropriately earnest slow jam.

It’s a not overpowering power ballad, I guess. A love song to Latin American fans, and I guess a follow up to Teo Torriatte. I find something sweet in the way the band wanted to write songs for particular segments of their audience. Though I guess, phrased like that, it’s just strong PR.

Either way, I’m largely wrapped up in it just because those huge washes of synths are so welcoming. It’s a feather bed of a song, something to sink into. Something to close your eyes and allow to take you in.

It’s got a bigness to it, but it isn’t achieved through bombast and yelling, just a sprawling sense of romance. A softness. A gentleness.

There’s also something pleasing that after all the raunchiness of the first side of the album, this is a track focussed on words. It’s the words of love we want to hear, that we’re singing about. Not they body, any more (although that’s never that far off).

It’s interesting that May’s lyrics are sometimes so creepy, but often focus on a less bodily romance, while Freddie is almost always straightforwardly filthy, and yet manages to feel more alluring, more supportive. (It’s possible that I just don’t fancy Brian, I’ll admit.)

But at time’s like this, Brian nails it.

This room is bare

The night is cold

We’re far apart and I’m growing old

But while we live, we’ll meet again

So then my love we may whisper once more

It’s simple. It’s a bit trite. But…well, it works here.

Obviously, we’re partly supported by Freddie’s restrained but utterly affectionate vocal delivery.

And then if you’re ever in doubt, you’ve got a thick mattress of synth arpeggiator to fall back onto.

The vocal harmonies (heavy on the Brian) also give you this fall back, this softness, the breathing room.

It’s a song that feels like it’s constantly stepping upwards and outwards. Growing larger, but not louder. Sensitive and delicately huge.

This record, to be perfectly honest, has three perfect endings, one after the other. Las palabras lifts us up, and could let us drift off perfectly. Cool Cat is a perfect slow down, a blissful downbeat. And then, the big one. Simply one of the greatest pop records of all time.

It’s a treat of a trilogy. The quietest anthem. The louchest nightcap. And then the perfect collaboration.

Three ways to a finale, they didn’t want to pick.

I still want to rewrite the album. Find three more Queen disco tracks, and then fiddle with the running order a little. Go all the way with the reinvention.

It wouldn’t have made it any more loved, I suspect, but it would be such a wonderful artefact to stumble across. This missing otherworldly impression of what Queen could have been.

But it’s not what we’ve got.

And it’s okay. Because it ends with these three tracks. And it all feels a bit like falling in love again.

For evermore

 

 

 

 

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.

Cool cat

CoolCat-01

Oh god this is so right for this weather we’re having.

Cooling down at the end of the hot space, this was clearly intended to be the closer. But when you’ve laid down a jam with Bowie, you’ve got to get it on the record.

But first…

Cool cat.

The interesting thing, of course, being that this was also recorded early, in Montreux, and was originally going to feature Bowie on backing vocals. Actually just limited to a ‘bum bum bum’ running through the track, and a few brief half spoken riffs, I can kind of understand why he asked for it to be taken out.

But it’s a real shame they didn’t rerecord and make it work, because this is a lush, lush track, and I bet more people would know about it if it was the other David Bowie Queen collaboration. Because, well, David Bowie escaped the glam era with a lot more credibility intact than Queen ever did.

But I’d just love more people to hear this. It’s a perfect little dream of a song. It immediately takes you somewhere quieter and calmer and lovelier and hotter and prettier and gentler and and and

It’s so simple. Just a taut little guitar, a popped out bass, and an almost entirely falsetto Freddie. Everything is bare and exposed throughout, tight and immaculate, but somehow easy going and soft.

I’m already out on a hot night, kicked back, feet up, sipping something sexy, watching something pretty slowly drift by. Every little bit of the structure feeds that feeling.

Messing with the beat of my heart

It’s still a collaborative credit, even without David. This one belongs to Freddie and John. Which perhaps explain why it’s such a dream. It’s got the tight simplicity from John, and that louche lustiness from Freddie, and they blend and pull at each other until you end up with this perfect diamond of a scene.

The end of the perfect club night. The start of a perfect love.

Cool cat

Tapping on the toe with a new hat

Just cruising

Lyrically it’s this delightful mix of dismissive and corrective. Freddie wants us to slow down, get back to the pace of the guitar, meander alongside the bass. Everything wants us to slow down. But the energy is always onwards.

And Freddie’s voice is just perfect. Barely dropping at all, he just pours smooth liquid all over the top end of the track. He does that thing, where he makes it seem lazy and half hearted, despite the size and shape of those notes. His lungs open up and tear clouds from the sky, but he makes it seem effortless, exactly as laid back as the song demands.

It’s glorious.

I could close every night with this. I want it to pour through my summers. I want to use it to chill my drinks. I want to shower in it. Swim in it. Kick back in it.

I want to be a Cool cat.

It messes with the beat of my heart.

And there’s little more you can ask a song for.

 

 
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.

Under pressure

Pressure-01

There is little more wonderful. Little more joyful.

Two of the greatest performers of the twentieth century, getting together and unfolding the most blissfully emotional pop song.

You probably know it.

Under Pressure.

I think this might be one of the greatest. On so many levels. It’s a perfect mix of fire and blood. It’s all heart, and genuinely uplifiting. The lyrics could easily be nonsense, but are instead shaped into the most important thing you’ve ever heard. Everything builds together to one clear and wonderful purpose. To make this song count. To make it matter. To make the moment count. To make love matter.

It’s one of those great love songs that isn’t about a person, but about love itself. About the pressure of life, and the importance of holding on to what matters.

And it sells that cornball schmaltz with a set of performances so loud and playful and caring that you can’t help but take it to heart.

Can’t we give ourselves one more chance

Why can’t we give love that one more chance

Why can’t we give love

It was Grosse Point Blank that helped rehabilitate me to my love of Queen. I’d gone through a period of thinking it wasn’t cool enough, burying myself in drill’n’bass and smart ass math rock and other avant core.

There’s a scene though, in that (quite brilliant) film, where Martin, our protagonist, stares into the eyes of a baby, while the climax of this song plays at a school reunion. It’s a perfect scene, and it makes me cry, every time. The moment when the world falls away, and only one thing really matters. That idea of someone looking at a new life and realising that the world has changed, forever, as a result of that simple personal connection.

The idea that that’s important.

‘Cause love’s such an old fashioned word

and love dares you to care for

The people on the edge of the night

And love dares you to change our way of

Caring about ourselves

It’s a song about connection. It’s a song about a pure and deep love. And it comes about from a small group of heroes getting together and building something together.

Listen closely to the music.

The bassline is what you remember. Maybe the piano stabs. And those are important. But then let the guitar step in and take you away.

It’s tiny. This thin, reedy arpeggio washes around the bass, and slowly, oh so slowly, thickens into this rich tapestry of knotted harmony.

By the time it pulls out, it’s already everything. It’s so rich and deep, despite still being so, damn, quiet.

It’s a thin production, but it builds and burns and bursts.

There’s some blissful organ, again, oh so quiet.

The drums hammer and pound, but keep such precise structure. Wrapping it all up. Building every moment into something epic.

Which, of course, is precisely the theme of the song.

It’s there throughout the music.

And that’s all ignoring the huge, obvious, glaring brilliance of the vocals.

It’s the terror of knowing

What this world is about

Freddie sails and plays and storms through this song. He has so much fun. He scats in the background. He rips through his lines with a hugeness all his own. He brings every bit of his A game, and he bounces it off Bowie with breathless enthusiasm.

David is so much more restrained. But he still puts his heart and soul into selling every last detail. Every last nuance.

He also saves himself some of the best lines. All that emotional heft is put on him.

But he gets there with Freddie. They get their with each other. They grow on each other. They offer each other up. They push each other on.

David’s love is slashed and torn.

Freddie asks why.

Freddie gives love.

David says it’s old fashioned.

But then remembers how it dares you.

This is our last dance

This is our last dance

This is ourselves

You’d believe it.

You’d believe that they were huddled together, never knowing when they’d be taken from the world. You’d believe that they would give all their heart to just one moment, and that moment would be this song.

This dance.

Ourselves.

Chipping around – kick my brains around the floor

These are the days it never rains but it pours

Freddie’s falsetto is unforgettable. David’s passion is unforgettable.

I feel nothing but a pure and great happiness that these two people (and the rest, of course) got together to make this happen.

Just picturing them in the studio is a dream. That they could then concoct this, and nail this performance so utterly, so perfectly, so brilliantly.

It’s a testament. A song that is exactly what it is about.

Our last dance. The edge of the night. Caring about ourselves.

Love.

Suspended right in the middle. That word hangs and echoes. Artificially sustained, just to give it the hugeness it needs.

Why – why – why

Love

Love radiates from this song. Every note of the performance is infused with it. Every word. Every phrase. Every beat and fragment.

It knows how to thicken and rage like the sea, but let the desperate vocals glistening on the surface. Everything carries them.

Until they fly.

I can’t explain how perfect I think this song is. How much weight it carries in my heart. How much love I have for it. How much love I’ve build on it.

Insanity laughs under pressure we’re cracking

We all need to give ourselves one more chance. We all need to change our way of caring about ourselves.

Just because it’s obvious, doesn’t mean it isn’t true. And I love the way this song tries to make us take notice of how important those simple things are.

Because this is our last dance.

I’ve said for years that if my life doesn’t make much sense, I can assume it’s just a grand piece of performance art, and it’ll make sense when I’m done.

Life is just a piece of expressive dance. An experiment in moving through space as vividly and as honestly as you can.

This is our last dance.

This is ourselves.

So click your fingers, and get on with it.

Love.

 

 

 

 

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.