I generally despise the small-talk question “So… what kind of music do you like?” because for the most part, I am inclined towards a large variety of things which, in addition to being stylistically worlds apart, tend to be fairly inaccessible, sometimes highbrow, to a casual listener. My fast-answer to this loathsome question is always Queen, and it’s always true, it has been for years and it likely always will be.
If asked to elaborate, however, I hit an almost-dead end. I have a mortal fear of sounding generic and fangirling over a band is one of the easiest possible times to fall into that trap. The struggle is real; how can my little unqualified opinion possibly possibly add anything that hasn’t been said a hundred times to the vast body of writing, commentary, and analysis which surrounds a band this firmly established, this successful, this renowned and widely accepted as one of the greatest ever?
Maybe it can’t. I don’t think I can ever really express the extent to which Queen have single-handedly influenced my musically formative years. And maybe that doesn’t matter. Maybe what I say is irrelevant and will never be of any real consequence. But just maybe, through this, I will help someone discover things they wouldn’t otherwise have found. Maybe I will open up a new world, in my vague, strange way. Maybe I’m just being dramatic here and wasting space. Maybe I should get on with this. That’s probably a good idea.
But how, how, how do you do this? It’s not just about me, and explaining the intense effect that they have had on my mind and the way I think (which I’ve already talked about entirely too much, considering its relevance to more or less nobody) – how do you write in such a small space about this kind of objectively unquestionably undeniable range, diversity, energy and hope to not sound like a rehash of things which have already been said over and again?
Do you write about the band members themselves; Freddie, piano player, vocalist, lover of classical art, wildly and famously over-the-top; Brian, guitarist, astrophysicist, animal rights activist, who built his own instrument out of a fireplace and some spare parts from the garage and around the house; Roger, drummer, “dog-whistle-pitch” singer/screamer, in love with his car and his hair; John, bassist, the quiet one who liked to keep it simple and to build amplifiers?
Or should you write about what you particularly like?
Do you write about Queen II, with its stories of fairy-fellers and queens, blue powder monkeys and gray clouds, mighty titans and ogre battles, fathers and mothers and sons; with its harpsichords and palindrome guitar riffs; with densely complex, bordering-on-operatic harmony structures; an almost surreal journey through the heavily-classical-influenced-progressive-rock fantasy world they created, sadly forgotten even by many who consider themselves fans of the band?
Do you write about Sheer Heart Attack, which moves in every direction, much like the contrapuntal guitar solo in the opening track? The nearly simultaneous messages of love, loathing, confusion and carelessness, which don’t give you time to get over one before the next one starts? The delay-enabled harmonies hidden all over the album? The screams and thunder in the lap of the gods, the power of a crowd as it is revisited? The speed metal forerunner, the Tin Pan Alley pastiche, the nearly tearful piano ballads?
Do you write about A Night At The Opera, the album which made them properly famous, where the shortest song is just over a minute long, and the longest is nearly eight and a half, and yet nothing sounds like a filler? About the banjolele and the pseudo-jazz band recreated with one guitar and a lot of tape; the magnum opuses with thickly layered vocals, hundreds of overdubs which ran through a lot of tape; effects created with headphones, tin cans, and a lot of tape? The intense middle-sections, ranging from telling prophecies of apocalyptic doom to light-hearted vocal imitations of various brass and woodwind instruments to a guilt-stricken mind moving through hell to a time-traveller’s journey through a hundred years?
Do you write about Hot Space, generally considered to be the low point of the legacy, the point where they changed course and wrote an album full of disco music? The intriguing stylistic elements present in what is normally thought of as the album which was “dumbed down”? The triumphant collaboration which sold the record? The newly strange and sensual dynamics of the music which take you off-guard, excite you, and make you wonder what on earth they were thinking, at the same time?
Do you write about Innuendo and Made In Heaven, recorded as they became increasingly aware of impending death, both poignant and proud as an era ends with a prolonged and painful crash? How the music has come to be about struggling, about living life on the razor’s edge and throwing caution to the winds, followed by acceptance and almost contentment? About how they went back to the enormous, epic sound they were known for, before settling into something altogether more serene as the end came nearer and nearer? About the videos filmed in heavy makeup, in black and white, under funny lights, to hide the fragility of a visibly failing figure’s increasingly gaunt appearance? About the pain and the power in a dying body fighting to carry on longer than it physically could? About how Freddie planned to record the last verse of a song the next day, but never made it back to the studio, so Brian had to take over? About the hidden song, shrouded in mystery, how the unsettlingly calm ambience brings to a close a dynasty of sheer might, which nobody will ever quite touch again?
Or do you write of individual songs?
I so wish I could but I just can’t. Apart from the fact that, again, my favourite songs are, for the most part, the most inaccessible in the canon, there are far, far, far, far too many I could say so much about. I feel so guilty for skipping over this much, for skipping over some of my favourite songs which just happened to be in the slightly more forgettable (by Queen standards, mind you!) albums… but it can’t be helped. Nothing will ever properly define this group of perfectionists who never ever limited themselves, because they refused to let themselves be defined. I can’t think of a dramatic/quirky/emotional enough way to end this. So let’s go with a cliché for once, and end with a song quote. Let’s also be cliché in ensuring that the quote is as irrelevant as possible.
“Wake up in the morning with a good face,
Stare at the moon all day.
Lonely as a whisper on the star chase,
Does anyone care anyway?”
Maybe my answer to the question I hate should be something like “I like a lot of different things. Queen brings them all together.”
And so, it ends. As it began.
Electrifying tribute to Queen, written by the Almighty Shireen, Music Magician Extraordinaire of our batch. Here is our Queen:
Did you know that Shireen also writes songs, and can play about fourteen different instruments? Sigh. It’s when I meet these people that I realise what a talentless piece of existential nothingness I am.
Here’s what Shireen wrote for (just a reminder. Shhh.)
If there’s one thing I’ve learnt from this project, it’s this: do NOT mess with people’s favourite bands. They WILL find you and kill you.
See you on Sunday for Shirsho(w?)’s post about Mark Knopfler, and Dire Straits.