Friday , February 23 2024
Queen's middle period is celebrated with their second 40th Anniversary box set.

Music Review: Queen – Queen 40 Limited Edition Collector’s Box Set 2

The second installment in Hollywood Records’ massive 40th Anniversary Queen reissue program has just been released, and includes the albums News Of The World, Jazz, The Game, Flash Gordon, and Hot Space. The CDs have all been remastered, and a second disc of bonus materials has been added to each.

The first set contained Queen, Queen II, Sheer Heart Attack, A Night At The Opera, and A Day At The Races, which were recorded between 1973-1976. These albums saw the four-piece group go from finding their voice in the musical landscape of the early seventies to becoming one of the biggest bands on the planet.

If their mega-hit “Bohemian Rhapsody” represented a monumental gamble that paid off brilliantly, it also confirmed that the way forward was to push boundaries as far as they could. It is with that spirit that they continued on with their next five albums, recorded between 1978-1982. The discs in their second box set are the most experimental of Queen’s career.

News Of The World (1977)

While “Bohemian Rhapsody” may be the song most associated with Queen, “We Will Rock You” has received the most airplay. Almost immediately upon release the song was adopted by sports teams around the world. Whether fans knew of Queen or not, they knew the signature “boom boom chuck, boom boom chuck stomp, and the victorious line “We will, we will rock you!” “We Will Rock You” was the opening track on News Of The World, and segued directly into the first single “We Are The Champions.” Many radio stations played the two together as they appeared on the album.

The hard rocking “Sheer Heart Attack” follows; even though it was the title of Queen’s third album, the song makes its first appearance here. One of the key things about the old days of vinyl LPs was the fact that they were explicitly programmed by the band for the optimum overall listening experience. After the 1-2-3 punch on side one comes some of the deeper cuts on the album, and all still sound great.

Side two opens with another tribal stomp, but with risqué lyrics: Freddie Mercury’s “Get Down Make Love.” Another real highlight is “It’s Late,“ written by Brian May.

The bonus disc for News Of The World contains two entries from their final appearance on the BBC Sessions; “Spread Your Wings” and “My Melancholy Blues.” There are also strong live takes of “Sheer Heart Attack” and a virtually unrecognizable “We Will Rock You.” A lost gem titled “Feelings Feelings” round out the five extras on the EP.

Jazz (1978)

Jazz can best be described as a transitional album. Up to this point, the big guitar sound had served them well, but times were changing. There is much more self-indulgence on Jazz than anything they had released so far. As a band who always were able to come up with the most unlikely hit singles, they did not disappoint here either. “Bicycle Race”/”Fat Bottomed Girls” was all over the radio that spring, and the album even featured a poster of (you guessed it) a nude, big-bottomed girls in a bicycle race.

For many longtime Queen fans, Jazz was a bit of a disappointment. “Let Me Entertain You,” “Dreamer’s Ball,” “Fun It,” and “More Of That Jazz” were not quite what we were used to. Although there was enough great material to outweigh the bad, the album pointed the way to a very different Queen than what had come before. Just how different they were becoming would become crystal clear with their next outing.

The bonus EP for Jazz contains such curios as the instrumental track to “Bicycle Race” (which sounds surprisingly different), and the single version of “Fat Bottomed Girls.” There are early takes of “Don’t Stop Me Now,” and “Dreamers Ball” as well. Finally we get a version of “Let Me Entertain You” recorded live in Montreal 1981.

The Game (1980)

With the 1980 release of The Game, Queen became a different band. While Jazz was a transitional album, The Game was a triumph, and became their largest selling record of all time. Two mega-hits paved the way, and neither sounded like the Queen of old. Both “Another One Bites The Dust” and “Crazy Little Thing Called Love” topped the Billboard singles chart, while the album itself went on to sell over four million copies.

The rest of The Game contained some fine songs as well, including “Play The Game and “Sail Away Sweet Sister.” Even though The Game was Queen’s biggest album ever, it marked the end of the band’s dominance of the US market.

The bonus EP features a rollicking live version of “Dragon Attack,” from 1982, as well as a live take on “Save Me.” “A Human Body” is a quirky Roger Taylor b-side, while “Sail Away Sweet Sister,” and “It’s A Beautiful Day,” are heard in very early demo forms.

Flash Gordon (1980)

One has to wonder about Queen’s decision to make the soundtrack to Flash Gordon their next official album. Sure, they were riding high, and the power of Mercury’s sheer belief in the group made them seemingly invincible. But this really isn’t a Queen album at all. There are a couple of Queen songs, such as “Flash‘s Theme” and “The Hero,” but otherwise it is a soundtrack album to the core. Not only is there a plethora of dialog from the film, but the cheesy early eighties sound effects are all over the place. It would be fair to say that Flash Gordon is for the die-hards.

On the bonus disc we get live versions of “Flash,” and “The Hero,” from Montreal in 1981. The remaining four tracks, “Flash,” “The Hero,” “The Kiss,” and “Football Fight” are all early, unreleased takes.

Hot Space (1982)

After the detour of Flash Gordon, fans were hoping for a “real” Queen album, and we got it with Hot Space. For me, this is the most underrated album of Queen’s career. It came at a time when Queen were becoming “uncool” in the U.S., and only reached number 22 on the Billboard charts. Hot Space fared much better around the world, and I think it is unfortunate that a lot of people here just never really heard it.

Of course there was no denying the absolute brilliance of their collaboration with David Bowie, “Under Pressure,” although it did not do all that well in the marketplace either. Yet when Bowie sings “It’s the terror of knowing what this world is about” to Mercury’s passionate “Why can’t we give love, give love one more chance?” we hear two complete masters at work. Other standout tracks include “Body Language,” “Staying Power,” and “Calling All Girls.”

The bonus EP included with Hot Space contains powerful live takes of “Action This Day,“ and “Calling All Girls” from Tokyo in 1982. There is also a live version of “Staying Power” from a 1982 show at the Milton Keynes Bowl. Finally, we have John Deacon’s remix of his own “Back Chat,” and the non-LP B-side to “Under Pressure,” “Soul Brother.”

The four extremely talented men behind Queen were always ready to take on new challenges, and they were constantly experimenting stylistically. The middle period of their career, which this second box set represents, reflects a band who still had a lot to say. This was a very unique time for the Queen, and one well worth looking back on.

About Greg Barbrick

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