Pros: Well-constructed, genre-bending hard rock; Excellent vocals and guitar parts.
Cons: A few songs might warrant multiple listens to fully appreciate.
It's a wonderful paradox that, after building their career on experimental, opera-tinted hard rock with complex vocal layers, the next logical step in Queen's musical experimentation was to move to more stripped-down music. But it makes sense too; now two years in the wake of the extravagant A Night at the Opera featuring the epic "Bohemian Rhapsody," and with the "back-to-basics" attitude of punk rock on the rise, Queen must have known that it was time for a stylistic change. The result, 1977's News of the World, however, sounds nothing like an attempt to follow any trends. Queen was still a creative leader in the popular music world, and the album firmly established the band as one of the key figures in arena rock.
Fittingly, the album opens with Queen's most recognizable pair of songs. There's not much that can be said about either "We Will Rock You" or "We Are the Champions" anymore; both are arena rock classics, and that the instantly familiar "STOMP-STOMP-CLAP" beat and chanting chorus of "We Will Rock You" are still frequently heard at sporting events around the world only serves as a testament to Queen's impact in the genre. "We Are the Champions" starts as a gentle ballad, but quickly develops into an anthem of its own right with heavy guitar chords and a triumphant chorus. Songwriter Freddie Mercury once expressed surprise that the pair of songs was never replaced as the standard sports anthem, but it's the simplicity of the songs--virtually demanding audience participation--that has allowed them to endure as long as they have--over three decades now.
Of course, Queen is often pigeonholed into the "singles band" category. News of the World dispels those notions; to focus only on the hits that open the album is to miss out on the majority of the album's quality. Though an arena rock record, News of the World goes through a good bit of genre-bending, from the punk-inspired heavy metal rush of "Sheer Heart Attack" (with its tongue-in-cheek cries of "I feel so inarticulate!") to the electric-blues shuffle of "Sleeping on the Sidewalk" to the psychedelic guitar feedback in the middle section of "Get Down, Make Love," an otherwise standard hard-rock track. Along with Brian May's sweet piano-driven ode to a childhood cat in "All Dead, All Dead" and "Who Needs You," featuring maracas and a Spanish guitar, the album never falls into a monotony trap. Each track brings something a bit different to the table and the album is consistently exciting throughout.
The album also has a few very big highlights. "It's Late" is a perfect hard-rock epic: an electric guitar intro and an energized vocal from Mercury leads into big chorus with pounding drums and the backup harmonies from the band. The song moves into a minute-long guitar solo (fun fact: Brian May uses the same finger-tapping solo technique that Eddie Van Halen made famous--a year before Van Halen debuted on record) before a rockin' out climax with a thunderous drum fill to close. "Spread Your Wings," features Mercury's best vocal performance on the album, his voice powerful and commanding as he sings an inspirational ballad about making the most of your potential to the tune of his piano and yet another standout guitar part by May. The album's jazzy closer, "My Melancholy Blues" puts the spotlight solely on Mercury, as he sings a quieter song with minimal accompaniment. It's the perfect track with which to end the album; you can envision Mercury stepping to the front of the stage to perform the song, singing the final notes with a bow as the curtain closes for the night.
The subtleties of some of these tracks are what make the album as endearing as it is. You don't fully appreciate just how hard-hitting the riffs in "Sheer Heart Attack" are until they drop out for a moment, only to explode back onto the track after a drum fill. Similarly, "Fight from the Inside" initially comes off as noisy and cluttered--an apparent low point in the album--upon the first few listens, but after a few listens, you're able to pick out the guitar riffs among the thumping percussion and you come to realize just how funky the bassline is. And the rags-to-riches tale "Sleeping on the Sidewalk" is downright hilarious when you hear Brian May sing, "I told ‘em where to stick their fancy label/It's just me and the road from here!" bringing the narrator right back to where he started at the beginning of the song.
Though News of the World marked a major transition in Queen's career as they moved away from the progressive rock and vocal harmonies they had become known for, it didn't mark a change in the quality of their music. Though the album had no standout track on the level of "Bohemian Rhapsody," News of the World was Queen's most consistent album to date. Even now, it stands out as one of the band's best albums, without a single wasted riff, vocal, or song. Whether you like hard rock or are a fan of any of Queen's material, News of the World is definitely a worthwhile album.
1. We Will Rock You (*****)
2. We Are the Champions (*****)
3. Sheer Heart Attack (****)
4. All Dead, All Dead (*****)
5. Spread Your Wings (*****)
6. Fight from the Inside (****)
7. Get Down, Make Love (*****)
8. Sleeping on the Sidewalk (*****)
9. Who Needs You (*****)
10. It's Late (*****)
11. My Melancholy Blues (*****)
Highlights: "We Are the Champions," "All Dead, All Dead," "Spread Your Wings," "It's Late"