When it comes to first impressions of Queen II, many listeners say they feel overwhelmed, disappointed, or even disgusted. Why?
If you pull apart the songs and examine their single threads, what you find goes BEYOND motley:
–tenderly lilting piano with plaintive falsetto vocals (Nevermore)
–jarring vocal harmonies delivered in shrill, open-throated staccato SCREAMS (Ogre, March)
–fiery speed-metal riffs (Ogre)
–impish harpsichord and piano backing a strange, rollicking stories about fairy creatures, medieval village folk, and adventures in times of myth (Feller, Rhye)
–duelling lead guitars swirling like so much an intra-cranial maelstrom, while wave after wave of a**-kicking metal riffs crashes against your skull (Father to Son-guitar solo)
–simple, serene acoustic guitar rhythms driving plain melodies (Some Day, Funny)
Thus, to the casual fan, Queen II can feel like an irritating hodge podge of songs that bend and shift beneath your feet.
One possible exception is “White Queen,” which may appeal to those who crave a good, melodramatic ballad. The music & lyric swell in a crescendo of emotion. At climax, it breaks into one of the most God-beautiful epiphanies of regret I’ve ever heard recorded: “my Goddess hear my darkest fear: I speak too late/it’s for evermore that I wait.”
So, the genius of this album really emerges in the SYNTHESIS of the diverse threads into a manic tapestry of joy, regret, yearning; it’s the passionate bliss of creating wild-eyed tales in strange settings; or it’s the common pleasure of rocking out to the sound of your amped-up guitar.
“Loser in the End”, drummer Taylor’s song, is a fairly dated rocker – I generally fast foward right to Ogre Battle – but, the rest of album achieves a rare and brilliant alchemy, difficult to describe. I’ll try to put it in context of the other music Queen was producing at the time.
I think Queen’s first album “Queen”–while decent–was maybe a bit too rough and derivative of early-70’s hard rock…kind of like art students who loved to jam to the heavy bands of that time. By contrast, albums from “Opera” to “Jazz” tended toward TOO MUCH refinement and compartmentalized song-writing; or they overly wore the imprint of the producer (e.g. Mack & “The Game”).
Yet, on Queen II, the band caught an updraft of chaotic creativity. I hear May & Mercury still influencing each other, still cross-pollenating and still wrestling with each other, OUT LOUD.
If this description was too arcane, then I’ll use the time-honored idioms of SEX, DRUGS, and ROCK’N'ROLL to break down my “highlight” songs in a different way:
Procession/Father to Son: Think Coldplay having sex with early-Sabbath; Politik meets War Pigs (roughly)
White Queen – Think Chris Isaak having sex with Pink Floyd on the Dark Side; an ethereal, acoustic, swelling ballad of yearning & loss
Ogre Battle – Think Motorhead having sex with early-Rush; Ziggy-era Bowie stands watching nearby; Bowie lowers the hashpipe and in a croaky voice says, “God, that’s loud; but oh, how lovely!”
Nevermore – Elton John, a bit tipsy, sucks up a lungful of helium and launches into a rueful ballad, touched with a bit of baroque whimsy
Fairy Feller’s Master Stroke – Elton John drops some “good” acid and thinks about a painting of a fairy-village scene
Black Queen – Elton John’s acid trip turns bad; Pete Townsend and Tina Turner appear; by turn, they torment and tantalize Elton, who plays out these cycles of angst/ecstacy in a dark 1st draft of Bohemian Rhapsody
Seven Seas – Coldplay doing speed with Roger Daltrey; a weird, megalomaniacal vibe takes over
As a 12-year old kid in Utah (1983), I thought I was so far-out cool to have bought such a weird, freaked-out album. I had loved my Uncle Dave’s copy of “Sheer Heart Attack” for several years, but “Queen II” took me a few months to digest. It was worth it…21 years later, these compositions, though dated in a few moments, remain suprisingly fresh & avant garde.
If you like music to be predictable, pleasant, and familiar, STAY AWAY FROM THIS ALBUM. But if you like Queen and you’re up for a careful listen and a wild ride…have at it.