Music Review: Queen’s ‘A Night at the Opera’

ImageAfter three years as a cult favorite, Queen has finally garnered the large audience it deserves. “Bohemian Rhapsody,” the group’s latest single and the penultimate track here, topped British charts for nine weeks this winter—longer than any other tune issued over the past 15 years. In America, meanwhile, Queen has risen to headline status, sold out concerts in a variety of locales and received what may be the crowning proof of Stateside success: prominent mention in record-store-chain ads.

Queen’s ascent can be partly attributed to the publicity blitz that followed Elektra Records’ recent commitment to make the group a million seller. And some credit must certainly go to manager John Reid (who also handles Elton John). But the band’s music—always accessible and progressively excellent—is what has really made it happen for Queen.

“Bohemian Rhapsody,” a nearly six-minute opus by lead singer Freddie Mercury, constitutes the album’s most ambitious and satisfying track.

A Night at the Opera, its fourth and arguably best vinyl outing, impressively displays the group’s expanded range of pyrotechnics. Once sounding like a cross (albeit a good one) between Led Zeppelin and Yes, the band now also proves redolent of such acts as 10cc and the Pretty Things. At the same time, moreover, Queen has developed a trademark sound that allows it to draw on influences without ever flirting with imitation.

The aforementioned “Bohemian Rhapsody,” a nearly six-minute opus by lead singer Freddie Mercury, constitutes the album’s most ambitious and satisfying track. Boasting deft, strangely alluring, and frequently funny lyrics, the sparklingly produced song also profits from the interspersing of operatic group vocals with Mercury’s solo parts.

Among the other tracks, you’ll find examples of the band’s eclecticism and consummate musicianship. Performing such stentorian rockers as Mercury’s “Death on Two Legs” and percussionist Roger Taylor’s “I’m in Love with My Car,” for instance, the group showcases a rabid energy that few competing aggregations can match. In “Good Company,” by Queen guitarist and chief sound architect Brian May, and Mercury’s “Lazing on a Sunday Afternoon” and “Seaside Rendezvous,” the band puts a penchant for light, almost vaudevillian material to good advantage. And May’s “’39,” which sports an amiable lyric about time travel, features effective, prominently mixed acoustic guitar and double bass while spotlighting May’s vocal prowess.

This is one “night at the opera” that many rock fans should appreciate.

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