Come 1977, the rock music world took some drastic turns. We witnessed the glory days of progressive rock, which started around the late 60s, and the creativity exhibited in that period seemed to only blossom and intensify up until the mid-70s. Ambitions were the order of the day, and it seemed like many bands – more or less – were trying to outdo one another in terms of technical prowess, intelligent lyrics, orchestral ambition and/or originality. However, the hyper-ambitious, long-winded, intelligent (some would say pompous) art that was popular shortly before began to wear thin, as many music fans wanted things to return to it’s raw, dirty (and simple) roots.
The punks seem to appear on the scene at the right time to bring rock back to it’s dangerous and dirty roots. The Sex Pistols seemed to be the band who led the charge, and guys like Johnny Rotten (frontman of the Pistols) and Joey Ramone (The Ramones) have verbally attacked Yes, Pink Floyd, Queen, and several others of the art-rock ilk for their long-winded arrangements, grand ambitions and fantasy/cosmic/literary material. (One of the members of the Sex Pistols wore a t-shirt that read the words, “I hate Pink Floyd,” while another member reportedly had a brief bit of words with Queen frontman Freddie Mercury, as a few reviews below state.)
1977 also saw genres like disco, and what many call “corporate” rock, running wild. While bands like Yes and Pink Floyd continued to release “long-winded” material, Queen took an entirely different approach. Making art-rock albums since their inception, their creativity culminated with the ambitious, diverse and operatic A NIGHT AT THE OPERA (1975), and it’s stripped-down, but no less ambitious companion A DAY AT THE RACES (1976). So, on NEWS OF THE WORLD, Queen wisely chose to cut down on the sophisticated operatic arrangements, and focus their attention on a more straightforward, harder-edged album — with attitude. They basically dropped the “art” rock, and made more “hard” rock this time out. Complex arrangements are still present, but are so subtle, some may not recognize them.
But Queen’s well-known diversity still remains intact. You get Latin-infused, elegant numbers like “Who Needs You,” bluesy workouts like Brian May’s “Sleeping On the Sidewalk,” in which he also performs the lead vocal, sophisticated piano-driven pop numbers like “All Dead, All Dead,” a song written for Brian May’s deceased cat I believe, and an elegant late-night jazz workout on Freddie Mercury’s “My Melancholy Blues.” The versatility of this band was simply awe-inspiring, and possibly the envy of many.
Now that all of that’s out of the way, Queen ROCKS with the rest of the tracks. Everyone knows “We Will Rock You” and “We Are The Champions.” The latter exhibits brilliant arrangements – not to mention the apparent 12/8 time (7+5?) – which may be obfuscated for it’s overplaying time on the radio. “Sheer Heart Attack” (not to be confused with the album of the same name) is just a lethal super-heavy monster. A fast-paced, supercharged heavy-hitter which may be able to induce a heart attack if played too loudly. There may also be a biting jab made toward the punks in one of the lyrics (“I feel so in-ar, in-ar, in-ar…ticulate.”) Written by drummer Roger Taylor, he shares the vocal with Freddie Mercury, as well as contributing bass and rhythm guitar parts, which give the track it’s extra heaviness. The prog rock epic of the album, however, is “It’s Late,” a love tale written by Brian May, and written in three parts (or scenes), and features an explosive John Bonhamesque drum solo at the end. I’ll be the first to mention that the comparisons some people (and critics) make between Queen and Led Zeppelin are atrociously ridiculous, inaccurate and shallow (Queen sounded like nobody but themselves to me), but this part of the song is the closest Queen ever got to resembling Zeppelin.
With this album, Queen would abandon their unique brand of art rock for good. Is it ironic that the cover art of this album shows a gigantic robot killing the members of Queen? Was it a symbol that the operatic, original “queen” was no more? Or, was it purely coincidental? They would not make music resembling their 70s material for years to come (even if the small resurgences were slightly transformed.) NEWS OF THE WORLD is 70s Queen at their most straightforward and heavy. Highly recommended.