Added on 15-Jul-2008
This week, Queen's second album is on my agenda. Queen II was heavier, more progressive, and just plain more bizarre than their debut album and showed the early signs of what was to come in the future. The album was split into two parts, white and black, with the band collaborating on the "white" side, while frontman Freddie Mercury wrote the entire "black" side.
The album sold decently in the UK, but in the states, the album was forgotten, only recently being recognized as a great follow-up to their debut album. The critics panned the album and there was only one single ("Seven Seas of Rhye"), yet some fans have placed Queen II near the top of their "Favorite Queen Album" list.
Queen II is one of the most intriguing albums that Queen has ever released, and one that is still analyzedThe Band
Freddie Mercury-Lead Vocals, Piano, Harpsichord
Brian May-Guitars, Backing Vocals, Lead Vocals on "Some Day One Day"
John Deacon-Bass, Acoustic Guitar
Roger Taylor-Drums, Background Vocals, Lead Vocals on "The Loser In The End"
The Track Listing
2. Father To Son-6:14
3. White Queen (As It Began)-4:33
4. Some Day One Day-4:21
5. The Loser In The End-4:04
6. Ogre Battle-4:08
7. The Fairy Feller's Master-Stroke-2:41
9. The March Of The Black Queen-6:33
10. Funny How Love Is-2:48
11. Seven Seas of Rhye-2:48
Queen was originally called Smile back in 1969. The band was formed by guitarist Brian May and bassist Tim Shaffell in London, recruiting drummer Roger Taylor. Once singer Freddie Mercury (real name Farrokh Bulsara) became involved, Smile evolved into Queen. After what seemed to be an endless search for a bassist, following Shaffell's departure, the band settled on John Deacon.
Queen went into the studio, and after numerous delays, their debut album was released in 1973. The album sold poorly and only had one single, "Keep Yourself Alive." While the single didn't exactly burn up the charts, the song would become a fan favorite later on in the band's career. Even with the less-than-stellar sales, the critical response was good, and the band quickly re-entered the studio to record the follow-up to their debut album. A few delays held the release up a couple of months, but eventually, Queen II saw the light of day?
Queen II is an ambitious album that pushes the boundaries that Queen as a band set for themselves on their debut album. The songs are longer, the experimentation is broader, and all of the band members have their moments to shine (except John Deacon). Queen has always been known as a band that uses the studio to their advantage, especially with the multi-vocal and guitar tracks. With Queen II, the band finally gets a grasp for what they themselves can create and stretches their sound to the point that it becomes almost sheer brilliancy, especially for 1974.
After a brief instrumental, the first of two epics, "Father To Son," blasts out of the speakers. The band tried out a progressive sound on their debut album with "Liar" and "Great King Rat." The same type of progression is evident in "Father To Son," with time changes galore. Of special note is Taylor's performance on the drums. I really think he is one of the most underrated drummers in rock music and "Father To Son" is evidence A. His fills are steady, without sounding bloated or overindulgent, which can be an issue with progressive music. The song ends on a high note, with a steady acoustic melody buried in the background and May ripping out a fantastic solo on top of it.
The "white" side of Queen II was mostly written by Brian May, with the exception of "The Loser In The End." I always enjoyed the May compositions, as I think they have a more melodic, yet heavy and driving, sound to them that perfectly counterbalances Mercury, who is known for writing more bombastic and over-the-top songs ("Bring Back The Leroy Brown," "Seaside Rendezvous," "Bohemian Rhapsody"). "White Queen (As It Began)" is one of the most forgotten songs in the Queen catalog, and you can't underplay its effect on modern music. This song could have been written by Radiohead or Muse in the late 90's. The ballad is a mix of acoustic and electric, with a brilliant acoustic solo influenced by Middle Eastern music.
The acoustic guitars return with the folk-ish "Some Day One Day," featuring Brian May on lead vocals for the first time. May has a great, soulful voice, one that he would put to use during his solo career. For a second, I though I was listening to Led Zeppelin III. The last track of the "White" side is written and sung by Roger Taylor. "The Loser In The End" has the trademark gruff vocal work by Taylor, eccentric drum work, and solos that would make Steve Vai cry.
The "Black" side was written by Freddie Mercury and you can immediately hear the difference between the two sides. "Ogre Battle" is a fast romper that mixes multi-vocal tracks with driving heavy metal riffing. It's a bizarre track?at least, I thought, until I heard "The Fairy Feller's Master-Stroke."
I'm a man who is pleased by the little things in life. When I first heard the harpsichord in "The Fairy Feller's Master-Stroke," I got excited. When I heard the piano under it, I got really excited. When they started dueling and battling each other, I almost had a coronary. When May's guitar and Mercury's harpsichord starting playing off each other, I was pronounced legally dead. The song is kooky, strange, and everything I love about Queen. No other band could pull this off without being mocked or criticized. "The Fairy Feller's Master-Stroke" leads into "Nevermore," a brief piano ballad that has backing vocals all over the place.
A quick piano intro begins the best song on here, in my opinion, "The March Of The Black Queen." The second epic on Queen II, the fantastical lyrics are out in full force, with such gems like:
"Water babies singing in a lily-pool delight
Blue powder monkeys praying in the dead of night."
"Forget your singalongs and your lullabies
Surrender to the city of the fireflies
Dance with the devil in beat with the band
To hell with all of you hand-in-hand"
The song goes through a lot of different sections, almost movements, with the song building towards a melodic middle section that features lead vocals by Taylor and another slow build that leads to an impactful ending that blends piano, multiple vocal tracks, and guitar solos into a cacophony of sound that leaves a mark on you.
"Seven Seas of Rhye" was the only single off of Queen II. The song started as an instrumental at the end of the band's debut album and evolved into the catchy piano and joyful chorus that we all know and love today. The song was played live for a long time and was one of the few songs that the band kept in their setlist, even after making it big in the late 70's.
When Queen II was re-released in 1991 by Hollywood Records, three bonus tracks came with them. I usually don't comment on bonus tracks because they usually don't represent anything special, but Queen II had a bonus track that shocked me. In the 1991 edition, there is a re-mix of "Seven Seas of Rhye" that's four minutes longer?and is a techno song. Yes, let me re-write that for those that may have not gotten it the first time. A 6:35 TECHNO REMIX OF "SEVEN SEAS OF RHYE!" Whoever thought that idea up deserves a kick in the nuts, personally done by my size 13 Nike. Do I find some sadistic pleasure out of it? Strangely, yes, which makes me feel dirty inside.
Barring the techno re-mix, Queen II was a worthy follow-up to their gargantuan debut album. While about half of the songs on the album would never be played live, there was enough quality material to show fans and critics that the band had a lot more to offer in the future. Of course, we all know how Queen's future turned out, but in 1974, they were just a young band trying to work their way up in the music industry. The band pushed themselves creatively farther than they ever had up to that point and it showed on Queen II. While die-hard Queen fans have come to embrace the sophomore effort, most rock fans have not experienced the artistic vision that Queen let out on Queen II. I recommend those fans to pick up Queen II asap and listen closely to the early stepping stone in Queen's journey to become one of the most influential bands in rock history.