Party

freddieparty

I’m pretty broken, with a very Queencentric hangover. I didn’t drink, but last night was ‘Freddie’ a party we threw where we just played Freddie’s music and got everyone dressed as Freddie. I’m now going for a ‘hair of the dog’ approach, but not through choice. I’ve got four days to review this whole record, and most of those days are spoken for.

So let’s get to this.

Party.

Even the word makes my head hurt right now.

Queen are a pretty great band for a party music. Everyone knows them, and they invite you to sing along, dance along, strut and get ridiculous. Even when people don’t know the tracks, there’s a certain kind of energy coursing through them that means people can get on board. I was surprised how well it went, playing out obtuse and ridiculous early Queen to a crowd that only knew hits.

But then, the night also involved someone realising that You’re my best friend was by Queen. So maybe my assumptions about unifying culture are pretty skewed.*

But what does a Queen party sound like?

Well, there’s two answers, but right now, we should be focussing on the actual song.

Party.

It’s a hell of an album opener, and an interesting way to come back from a difficult three years (more difficult privately than publicly. Freddie’s AIDS diagnosis starts looming at this point, though it isn’t traditionally read as being exposed in the music until Innuendo, but we’ll get to that).

Come back and play, come back and play

Archly artificial drums burst in, and Freddie is essentially playground chanting his way through the first half of the song. Bass kicks in late, and guitar even later. It’s stark and minimal (for Queen), and very, very precise.

It’s also pretty absurd

We had a good fight in somebody’s face

We were up all night singing

And giving a chase

It does at least do me the recognition of shouting about a hangover.

The song does thicken up with guitar eventually, but it always feels more jammed than planned, despite that very carefully charted course of expansion and deepening. It’s a perfectly shallow piece, about a pretty childish party, with just the faintest hint of darkness.

It’s actually very different from a part shaped by all the music of Queen, in that the thing that is missing is the shifting tone and dynamics of not just the average Queen night, but the average Queen track. This just builds and repeats and never quite bursts. It remains compact, it remains solid.

It’s amazing how engaging Queen’s rock hard shifts of tone are. They give so much weight to the band, so much drama. It means people can dance and play and not quite no what to expect, but never get tired…there’s always a prompt to do something different and new.

And in fact, that works perfectly here, because Party is one half of a diptych, the ending of this song not actually working at all (check the link above if you don’t believe me) if it doesn’t segue into the next track, which immediately rebuts it.

Because Drama.

If Queen just wanted to let you know that they were still here, they do it pretty quickly here.

Because Queen.

*Obviously they are, the idea of a unifying culture is obviously absurd, on so many levels, but leave me be, I’ve only had three hours sleep, and I spent most of them in anxiety dreams.

 

 

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.

Khashoggi’s ship

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Segueing out of one party, we step onto another one, this one on the boat of a billionaire.

Khashoggi’s Ship.

It’s a tonal shift, immediately, this part is led by the guitar, rather than the drum. The lyrics are slower and more traditionally rocky, if still pretty party obsessed and a little nonsensical. It’s all swagger, all strut. The guitar encourages you to rock your shoulders aggressively. The vocal is pure sass.

The vocal breakdown, and accompanying cowbell solo followed by the slow build back up to the guitar line are the closest we get to a break from this particularly angry part vibe.

It all works though, mostly in contrast to the previous hype. Party’s bounce turns into Khashoggi’s swagger through a simple refusal to stop. The segue is a very literally response. Party never actually finishes, the final syllable of ‘the party was over’ not being completed, and being replaced with a direct challenge:

Who said that my party was all over, huh, huh,

I’m in pretty good shape.

The best years of my life are like a supernova,

Huh, huh, perpetual craze, I said that.

And the thing is, that the clue to the swagger and posture is all there, right from the off. The innocence of the party becomes a lament to lost power, and aging.

Well. Lament’s a bit strong, but the track is genuinely trying to compensate for some perceived lack. Nobody in good shape has ever said ‘I’m in pretty good shape’ and started talking about how great their best days were.

And it’s a mode party’s get into. The kind of defiant ‘no, we’re having a party, I’m going to stay up late’ that occasionally fills a nervous room.

Or maybe that’s just me.

I’m over-reading, but that’s my job here, and I like the image of this swaggering sass being a mask for genuine fear. It tells us something about the psyche of a partygoer, the aggressive ‘live life to the full’ mantra, and the darkness or fear it hides.

Why did we decide to party? Was it to have fun? Or just prove we’re still alive.

(Because right now, no part of me feels alive, I’m dazzled my fingers are even moving, but that’s an aside).

It’s macho bullshit, and I can’t work out if Freddie’s on side with it or not.

This big bad sucker with a fist as big as your head,

Wanted to get me, I said go away

I said kiss my ass honey,

He pulled out a gun, wanted to arrest me,

I said uh, uh babe,

Now listen no-one stops my party

How does machoness interact with sassiness in this faintly ridiculous and legitimately drunk sounding story of bravado.

If Freddie’s immaculate enunciation wasn’t so precise and clipped, I’d read it as the posturing of a drunk, trying to explain a black eye the next day.

It’s the feeling of staying up all night, feeling invincible and broken at the same time. It’s the feeling of gloating about being the brightest light in the room, when actually you’re just a smug dickhead.

We’ve all been there.

Apparently even Freddie, I reckon, despite the fact that he quite obviously was always the best person in a room, and deserving of every arrogance he could ever attempt.

Or maybe it’s just about having a party on a fancy boat.

 

 

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.

The Miracle

themiracle

It’s the plinky plonky one.

The Miracle.

Laden with synthesised harpsichord, this was always my least favourite track on Greatest Hits II. I think I even preferred the misery laden Who wants to live forever. Something about the earnestness, the triteness, even as a kid riled me up.

Admittedly, as a kid I mostly wanted songs I could jump up and down enthusiastically to. So perhaps I shouldn’t trust my historical yardsticks.

It’s interesting. I think you could honestly say that it’s an early Queen song painted in late Queen colours. It’s a weird mash of cycling ideas and motifs, it blasts from one thing to another, rambling and shifting and constantly re-energising in different directions, but it’s all lit up with an intense synthesised artificiality and sentimentality that contradicts that.

It’s possibly the cheesiest thing Queen have ever done, and that really, really is saying something.

It’s horrible to be cynical about an obviously heartfelt testament to a world that should be beautiful and valued but isn’t. It’s not exactly a new idea, that the world is special and it’d be nice if people didn’t fight and were friends. It isn’t revolutionary, despite kind of wanting to be.

But its a synthesised harpsichord of a revolution. It’s asking for a thing, but not proposing anything. If anything, it’s just saying we should wait for it. It’ll come because we need it.

Which is gutwrenchingly mawkish.

The one thing we’re all waiting for, is peace on earth and an end to war,

It’s a miracle we need, the miracle, the miracle,

But yeah. It’s earnest, it’s heartfelt. Despite the synthesis, it doesn’t for a moment seem like they don’t mean it. Despite the fact that it’s shoved between two songs about partying and a song that celebrates greed pretty intensely. Or at least performs it.

The first two loops are sprawling and rambling, circuitously expressing all the motifs of the main song. It opens up and broadens, and eventually picks up pace for a raucous guitar bit, before getting maudlin, and eventually coming in for a hug.

It’s very much an increasingly drunken conversation about the meaning of life that descends into passionate, affectionate nonsense.

Perhaps it does fit well after the party tracks, now I think about it. We start off excited, get a bit aggy, then talk about the meaning of life and maybe have a cuddle.

I’m assuming that makes the next song the hangover. Or possibly the sudden off the railsness of the truly drunk.

But that’s a question for later.

Right here, I’m picturing Freddie taking a break from a song to stare at the camera and tell me that war is bad.

But of course, it’s also got that lovely video, with the children impersonating the band.

I really want to know where the kid that played John Deacon is today. How he tells people that story. Bless.

Anyway, The Miracle is solid and interesting, ever shifting and wiling to wrap its arms around you. It wants you to singalong and hope. It wants to cuddle, maybe hoping that’s enough to change the world.

But even now, I don’t think I like it.

Too much plinky plonk. Not enough excitable jumping around.

 

 

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.

I want it all

iwantitall-01

Big slabby guitars and a demanding attitude. Maybe this album really is just about getting drunk.

I want it all.

We’re still pretty macho, but here we do it with big thuds and shouting. It’s so May it’s obvious.

One riff dominates the entire track. There’s one break for a wafty bit, then there’s a heavy metal section, and that’s pretty much it. It’s the kind of song that’s memorable because there’s not much there, but what’s there is laid on thick and heavy. It is all big. It’s a follow up to Champions and Rock you that is basically intended to just be yelled by angry young men trying to have emotions.

Actually though, to be fair, it’s become an anthem of protest and solidarity and poltical demands. Which is good.

I gotta get me a game plan, gotta shake you to the ground

Just give me what I know is mine

It definitely feels structured for the crowd. Meant to be clapped, hammered and belted.  It There’s an honest rage in the four singing in unison for the title line, pretty much every time. Freddie is just setting a stage, laying down a background to make the key chant make sense.

Maybe I’m harsh about the drunken party take on the album. It could just as easily be one of political disaffection. The official party tracks a fakeout, satirising greed and oligarchy in the era. Then an image of hope, a reason to fight, and then demands laid clearly on the table.

But then, I want it all sounds so close to ‘greed is good’. It’s hard to distinguish between the guy who wants a party and the guy who just feels entitled to everything. We don’t actually see an analysis of power structures, just a load of shouting. There’s no question of deserving. No understanding of difference.

Except of course, we remember that Freddie lives on an intersection. We have a gay migrant, standing before us and demanding real change.

It’s an image.

Not a man for compromise and where’s and why’s and living lies

So I’m living it all, yes I’m living it all,

And I’m giving it all, and I’m giving it all,

That’s actually Brian, in the whirlpooly breakdown section before everything goes off.

Our man with a one track mind gives us our break from the list of demands and offers another side to a story. Not willing to compromise, but willing to give it all. Live it all.

I can’t work out the story here, it could be a moment of openness, a moment of recognition of the position of power. Or it could just be some wafty words to contrast with.

I don’t have a lot of faith here. I’m very tired.

At the end of the day, the riff is more robust than anything here, and it carries the weight of the song. All you really need is that choral shout and the thickness of the guitar and you have something immediate and physical and kind of irresistible.

Stamp your feet and sing along.

It’s what it goes for, and it’s what it gives.

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.

The invisible man

invisible_small

Possibly the start of my life long love affair with orchestra hits. Although that’s slightly more likely to be because of the Art of noise.

The invisible man.

The bassline is pretty exhilarating. The lyric is ridiculous and infectious. The slightly bent orchestra hit punches through the wall and just rips this absurd little pop song into my heart.

This is the peak of synthpop Queen, really. Guitars barely present outside of an absurdly fast paced guitar solo, bass mostly synthesised. Rattling and jerking percussion tears through the whole thing. Pulses of samples and odd effects bend and twist everything, especially in the closing moments. The band are each introduced by name throughout the song, each responding with their own part, in one form or another.

It’s very clearly a Roger track, brimming with a playful absurdity and wilful weirdness that only he would have the patience to play around with. He just wants a pop song with weirdness sewn right through it. It sounds like a response to Thomas Dolby, or any number of quirky experimental synth and sample pop acts of the day (Art of Noise, obviously counted among them). It’s not exactly concrete, but it wants to play with your sense of musicality, while still giving you something to dance to.

And it succeeds. It’s irresistibly stupid in the details, but hangs together as a familiar and simply structured danceable piece of pop.

Never had a real good friend – not a boy or a girl

No-one knows what I’ve been through – let my flag unfurl

So I make my mark from the edge of the world,

Yeah. I reckon this is Roger. Possibly just a little bitter about the whole thing, but stamping his mark on this poppiest, pulpiest of Queen records.

It’s all totally fitting. The full commitment to synth, taking account of the shift to dance music, but not quite going all the way like Hot Space did. We’re definitely thinking about metallic pop here, rather than guitar or bass driven funk. The guitar might never dominate, but I feel like the rock sensibility doesn’t leave, even in this poppiest moment. The synths are there to impress and overpower, to add texture and detail, and prop up the drums.

I think my favourite part is actually the synth percussion and vocal effects in the outro. The album version of the song has a very long and playful repetition at the end, with just janky, jerky noises and punched out fragments of Freddie over the bass loop and drum beat. It feels very me. Texturally slightly scared of itself, but playfully chucking things in the pot.

I’m your meanest thought

I’m your darkest fear

But I’ll never get caught

You can’t shake me, shake me dear

It would almost be dark and brooding, were that bassline not ever present. As it is, the lyrics loop around themselves, undermining the danger of the threat of invisibility with the fear of being an outsider, invisible because lost. And of course, the opposite is just as true.

But it’s not operating at that level. It’s just providing us with a burst of pop nonsense, with a cultural reference, and then some vaguely relevant soundbites.

Roger was never really that invisible though, and you can hear him throughout, not just his drum roll at the end. It’s his revelling in the toys on hand that bring the playfulness to the track.

And of course, it’s that playfulness that lure me in.

Because you can be this light and simple, if you let people play and dance and laugh with it.

And it hits that nail squarely.

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.

Breakthru

breakthru_

Basically the perfect song when you’re ten years old. Or younger. Or older.

Breakthru.

It’s by no means the best Queen song, but in a certain very specific way, it offers a particular kind of perfection. If Queen are a band that want you to sing along and prance about, then this is perfect.

As mentioned previously, when I was wee, all I really wanted was songs I could jump around my bedroom excitedly at. This was always one of the best.

I had a discussion over the decks at last night’s Freddie Mercury party. With the party’s official ‘best dressed Freddie’ (my ‘It’s a Hard Life’ Freddie was disqualified as I was organising, but to be honest, I think the simple perfection of Play the game Freddie deserved it anyway). Basically, this track was on Now 10, and stood out to young Tommy as one of the best pop songs around, in that way that you can only love and be excited by a song when you are small and excitable and only really aware of those things that are right in the middle of your tiny world.

Breakthru might be a song written perfectly and precisely for that kind of state of mind. It is a bouncing, throbbing, urgent, thrilling and insistent machine. It starts with some operatics, just to set a stage for a relentless pulsing hammer of bass. It is blissful pop, with perfect lyrics and immaculately delivered vocals.

Honey you’re touching something, you’re touching me,

I’m under your thumb, under your spell, can’t you see,

And the song is basically a never ending spell. A perfectly locomotive engine of thrills and heart. The video is absurd, with the band on the back of a train, and the train occasionally bursting through a wall of polystyrene blocks, sometimes with a woman’s face on.

Mouthing the word now.

It’s ridiculous, but the train is perfect, and entirely, utterly accurate. The song is a train, not ever let to run away, but entirely inevitable in it’s one track mind. Every part is there to pull forward and never stop.

It’s the perfect song for punching the air and running about and generally being unstoppable.

It’s the perfect song for a kid, basically.

And frankly, I still love it for exactly that. It’s a trite observation to say that it’s useful to keep some childlike wonder in your life. The world is legitimately amazing, constantly throwing new things, from endless, beautiful sunsets to a new person every second (and then some), ready to live entire lives that will never directly touch yours. The world is huge and strange and kind of scary, but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t occasionally run around with your arms in the air, wearing a jacket as a cape, and pretending to be a train or a plane or a song by Queen.

Breakthru can help you break through to that. I swear. Just shut your eyes, let your body hang loose, and smile your ass off.

It’s built for that. It’s built for you.

It’s a stupid, lovely pop song. It will always burst my heart open.

 

 

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.

Rain must fall

rain-01

Okay, so I think I’ve figured out The Miracle a bit.

It’s not bad. It’s great. It’s just totally comfortable being utterly naff.

Rain must fall.

I feel like naffness might have been invented in the nineties, to try and make everyone feel better about the fact that they were having less fun than in the eighties.

What we have here is a song that sounds like the title track of a terrible eighties romcom. It’s sprightly, it’s bouncy, it quirks unexpectedly. Wrapped in blunted bass and simple keyboards, Freddie rides the crest of a pulsing offbeat drum part, and just riffs lightly on a good life which still gets rain. It would sound bitter if it wasn’t so silly.

Apparently Roger recorded a load of additional latin percussion, but it all got stripped out to preserve a kind of minimalism. It’s such a strong choice too. Everything here has space to breath and stand out as it’s own thing, it’s own part in a simple but surprising whole.

Yes, I know what you’re thinking. It’s kind of awful. The drums sound fake and stilted and faintly appropriative. The lyrics are light to the point of stupidity, and Freddie sounds like he’s on a lounge ship.

But fuck that attitude, listen to the rhythm. Slide into the keyboards. Let Freddie cozy you down.

It’s John and Freddie, obviously. One of John’s cute little pop romances. Totally committed to just being bright and light and deft. May’s solo is actually gorgeous, just his take on the dancing vibe of the vocal, a little verse of his own, riffing on the riffs and separating it out with a neat smartness that perfectly fits the precision of everything.

There’s a few moments where the song halts, or breaks apart, or shows something like teeth, a particularly agressive bass drum, a proud burst of silence or just a slightly angrier than usual synth. But they all just serve to make the delicate airyness of the thing stand out even more.

This record bounces between rock and pop, but never really leaves the latter behind. That’s the point. This is definitely Queen’s poppiest record, the naffest. The one you’re supposed to forget about. But it’s surprisingly engaging. It has a warmth, an openness. It has literally zero pretension. It sounds so much more like a band just trying to jam and have fun. To play.

And in tracks like this, it stands clear, and it works.

I want to hear Freddie and John playing with each other. I want to hear the laughs in between takes. I want to know they were wrapped up in each other and loved each other enough to just explore an idea and make it real.

You lead a fairytale existence

But into every life a little rain must fall

Let’s bear in mind that the next album is going to be so different in tone to this. The Miracle cleanses the palette. It bounces and dances and plays.

But into every life, a little rain must fall.

A calm before a storm.

But by god, did they try and have as much fun as they could in that calm.

Because the thing about naffness, the thing about not caring when people say you’re too bright, too light, too false, too earnest, too silly, is that it’s one of those judgey ways of saying you don’t like the way someone else is having fun. It’s meaningless.

But this song immediately makes me smile.

And it’s hard to put that smile down.

Even when the rain must fall.

 

 

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.

Scandal

scandal-01

This was my friend Will’s favourite. I was never entirely sure why. But his enthusiasm quickly infected me.

Scandal.

Brian is ripping into the tabloid press after they stuck their oar into his love life, which makes the song part of a pretty traditional British celebrity rant, and not one without merit.

They’ll see the heart-ache, they’ll see the love break,

They’ll hear me pleading, I’ll say for God’s sake,

Over and over and over again,

Which also feels like a pretty understated way of saying it. Simply saying ‘for God’s sake’ over and over again.

But there’s very little about this song that’s understated. It’s got some of the vampiest synths on record, alongside some of the more traditional angry guitars. Scandal takes a broad and dramatic scale. Freddie’s performance is so over the top that it totally fits when he ends up writhing around on the floor in the video. Everything is over the top. Frankly, he revels in the scandal as much as the supposed target. It possibly undermines the message. It’s not subtle enough to actually be confused, but it does sound like Freddie is enough into the drama purely for the sake of the music.

Apparently both Freddie’s vocal and Brian’s guitar solo were done in single takes. Which is pretty impressive, as both are kind of perfect.

Anyway. This record has a weird place in my history of Queen fandom. I don’t know how I got it, but it was the only Queen album I ever had on CD, but it was one I owned at the same time as I was getting into dirty drum and bass and experimental electro and brooding post rock and weird ass metal. Oh, and lots of dope.

But it still got on the rotation. Still got played through the smoky haze, despite never fitting into anything else we were listening to.

But the whole record still passed me by. I’m pretty sure eventually we started just listening to Scandal, and then mostly for a chance to wail dramatically at each other. We could value the theatricality here in a way that felt useful. For whatever reason.

But I barely remember any other song on the record apart from the Greatest Hits numbers (of which, to be fair, there are four, so nearly half the album).

Scandal hooked on though.

I think it’s purely that vamping.

And if it wasn’t for this, I would’ve gone nearly a decade without actually being tied to Queen.

I mean, obviously they would’ve still been there. Queen are everywhere. And clearly lodged deep inside me. But I think I recoiled from it for a while. A desire for credibility. A desire to like the right things.

But don’t worry. It left eventually.

And here I am, re-evaluating every track, and my favourite track from this album doesn’t actually inspire me too much. It’s loud and rowdy, but actually feels like it lacks drama, in comparison. It’s always going to be part of my history, but it doesn’t necessarily grab me like it used to.

But I’ll still sing it out into the night, every now and then.

For Will.

Because singing at Will will always be a part of me.

And so will this this song.

 

 

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.

My baby does me

mybabydoesme

Sleazy guitar, sleazy bass, sleazy lyrics, sleazy Freddie.

My baby does.

Basically, this is a ‘cool down’ track. John and Freddie again just mucking about creating soundtracks for their imaginary film side project. I like to imagine Freddie and John staying up late watching bad films and then running to the studio to impersonate all their soundtrack cliches.

Then nailing them, and deciding they liked them enough to release.

Again, it’s kind of perfectly awful, but in a way that sounds like they’re having enough fun to carry you home.

There’s some gorgeous and subtle vocal harmonies, but just for brief moments. The bass and vocal imitate each other. The bass is so simple, but provides a structure for everything to sit across, reacting perfectly to the rhodes style keyboard.

Lyrically, it’s legitimately tosh, just a few words stretched out as much as possible

My baby

Baby does

My baby does, me good

My baby does

My baby does me

My baby does me good.

But as a quiet little track goes, it’s just perfect there.

I love Freddie asking to be turned up at the beginning. Managing to be sultry and sexy even when talking to the sound engineer.

Again, I’m left wanting to know more about Freddie and John’s relationship. In the late era they appear to be collaborating with each other just a bit more closely, and on increasingly playful romances. I’m not being puerile or suggestive there, I just want to know more about how they worked in the studio. I really get the impression that John misses Freddie desperately, even now. Obviously I can’t blame him, but there’s something about that core friendship that I value in the band, even if I’m just projecting, just imagining.

It’s amazing, when you think about it. These four people worked hard together for an incredibly long time. Decades of collaboration and touring. They pause for just a while, and find out one of them is dying. They then go back, even more intensely into a deeply creative final burst. Producing iconic and brilliant and powerful work. They have their spats, they lock themselves in cupboards, they struggle to avoid each other’s solos, but they stick together. always together.

I’ve been talking about how the tracks of this album clearly come from specific composers. I could’ve guessed all of them, I think, but officially this whole record is credited to the whole band. This was more about jamming and building together, on the one hand, so that makes sense. Scandal was done in minimal takes. Party came straight out of a jam. I want it all was the only one written before entering the studio.

They are likely all collaborations, even where a single writer’s name is all over it (literally on previous albums, metaphorically on this one).

But there’s something bigger in the name change.

While this record doesn’t really let it show (until the final track), they knew Freddie was sick. They knew they didn’t have long.

And it really feels like they decided the band was more important.

I think you can hear it in the songs. The calls to arms, the hope, the prayer. The affection and warmth and playfulness. The way the record abandons their traditions and just plays some songs that made them feel good.

And that includes this little cooling barrel of sleaze right here. This was what the boys wanted to make.

So they did.

And again, I find myself grinning ear to ear as it pours over me.

 

 

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.

Was it all worth it

worthit

It’s probably the first goodbye, a big epic musing on mortality and a look back at a life and career, and the costs and work and what it all means.

Was it all worth it?

All the bits I’ve read about this, talk about it being a return to the early days of Queen, in terms of scope and structure. I think I see what they’re getting at, in some ways, but I also think it’s doing down the evolution they’ve been through, and the just implying that this is some how more deserving of the ‘big weird and epic’ label than some of the latter day weirdnesses just because it’s a bit heavier and shoutier than other efforts.

But I feel like that ignores the uniquely modish synthesisers and obvious cinematic influence at play here. To my mind, that main synth riff comes from Home Alone, which may well be a false memory. But there’s something totally filmic about this track, and those weird drops into instrumental dramatic segues.

It’s something totally different to the opera infused drama of the early days, and worth celebrating as such. This is something new, the beginning of the end, rather than a return to the beginning. The final record is going to get dark, and this is instead an optimistic take on that coming darkness.

Yes, it was a worthwhile experience,

The line is delivered in the most ridiculous fashion, but is such an understated answer, from a song that has already included a visit to an omnipotent deity and the world’s most famous surrealist. Particularly when that’s just an excuse for a rhyme with Dali, but still comes after a Shakespeare quote.

Put down our money without counting the cost,

It didn’t matter if we won – if we lost,

Yes we were vicious, yes we could kill,

Yes we were hungry, yes we were brill,

We served a purpose, like a bloody circus,

We were so dandy we love you madly,

There’s such an obviously different tone to the traditional Queen bombast here. There’s an arrogance, but it feels humble, some how. The simple fact of the question being asked, is enough to undermine it. It remains a humbly mortal sentiment. Taking the time to look back, see a life time of adventures and thrills and performance and screaming fans, and taking the time to nod, and say thank you.

It was worth it.

Sonically, it’s chaos. Backwards sound effects become bell like synth hooks, which then get repeated in hefty guitar. The main refrain kicks in, the question is asked, and Freddie sings over an increasingly dense mesh of guitar, drums and often quiet vocal harmonies. That hook restates, joined by swaggering guitar. But then the main narrative crunches back in, filled with guitar.

Freddie hisses, guitars waver. And actually, there’s a break for even more filmic drama. Thrillller strings and horror bells and more ridiculous mess.

The guitar solo is old fashioned, but it still gives way to a weird action sequence that feels like knock off Bernard Herman. Like they wanted to mash a Hitchcock soundtrack into their goodbye song.

It’s only lyrically that it’s backwards looking. The whole thing is huge and ambitious and ridiculous.

When that main riff comes back in full masses of guitar, it is huge and wonderful. To outro with the synth variant again just gives it a way to haunt.

I love that it wants to be cinematic, but can’t quite settle between horror and action and thriller. I love that it’s a big glorious mess, like the history it’s looking back on.

But I love most of all that it’s unlike anything they’ve ever done, which, frankly, is something they shouldn’t be able to do this late in their career, having done all of the things they have done.

If you’re listening along for the first time, did you expect this? Did you see this coming? Did you think they’d still be reinventing their sound this wildly and this weirdly this far down the line?

Well you should have.

This is Queen.

It ain’t over, until 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.