Scaramouche, Scaramouche, will you do the Fandango?
Queen's 'A Night at the Opera' is a definitive album of 1975. Let's put this into perspective before tackling why Queen's album is a let down. The album features one of the all time greatest songs and a handful of mediocre material. A moment of brilliance shines through.
Of course I speak of 'Bohemian Rhapsody'. Perhaps this is a good opportunity to gush over this song. I believe it is quite simply the greatest rock song in history. It features a rock opera within its complex structure. We can all recite its Wagnerian lyrics with multi layered vocal harmonies:' Thunderbolt and lightning, very, very fright'ning me, (Galileo) Galileo (Galileo) Galileo, Galileo Figaro, Magnifico!... Bismillah! No, we will not let you go (Let him go!)' It is safe to say that the song became ingrained into pop culture as a result of this section alone. The structure is really three sections encompassing three distinct genres of rock.
The piano driven rock ballad begins the track after an intro of harmonies. The ballad speaks of a man who has killed a man, shot him in the head and now he is facing death row. As he is waiting in his cold cell for the bell to chime reflecting on his past life and it doesn't have much time (Iron Maiden, anyone?), about to walk down the corridor of no return to the electric chair, he hears angelic choral voices calling him; a battle between good and evil ensues in the murderer's mind.
The opera section is the most celebrated, most discussed section in Queen history. Using operatic terminology and harmonies the song defies anything done before or since. As the song builds to a crescendo the paroxysm of lightning explodes onto a power riff that is pure metal. The doors are blown apart with dynamite.
Section three is metal complete with the killer riff, lead break and screaming vocals. The murderer has escaped, a violent struggle and he is free. Mercury is stunning in this section as he screams to the world: 'So you think you can stone me and spit in my eye, So you think you can love me and leave me to die, Oh, baby, can't do this to me, baby, Just gotta get out, just gotta get right outta here ?ah!' It is a short section really and yet has managed to be the head banging national anthem. 'Wayne's World' captured it perfectly as the boys banged heads furiously in their car during this section. It all ends with a bookend, more piano, same melody as beginning; 'nothing really matters' and like all good operas finishes on a resounding gong. That's how you create a masterpiece.
That's about it, isn't it? Oh, that's right there are other songs. They pretty much disappear in light of this track but they are worth a small mention. The problem is the BR track is so massive that if you are expecting more like this you are in for a shock as nothing comes close and nothing is metal. This is disappointing and Queen had a huge opportunity to present a masterpiece and it is not even a pale imitation.
There are good tracks such as the single, 'You're My Best Friend' with a radio friendly catchy melody that I like a lot. 'I'm in Love With My Car' is fun with quirky lyrics and even quirkier structure. 'Prophet's Song' is very strange with great hooks and an acapello section repeating Mercury's vocalisations over and over, no music just masses of multi layered vocals. Weird and memorable but annoying on subsequent listens. And the live set and album closer, the bombastic patriotically British 'God Save the Queen'. Of course this is infamous for the track where Mercury appears on stage at the end in flowing royal robes and royal crown. He dips his crown to the loving crowd and retains his enthroned position as Queen of rock. Looks good in concert but sounds rather bombastic on CD.
Of course pomp rock was Queen's Curriculum Vitae but there is a lot of very ordinary music on the album. 'Lazing on a Sunday Afternoon' is short but appalling. 'Sweet Lady' is kitschy and corny. 'Seaside thingy' is eccentric trash. 'Love of My Life' is a crowd pleaser where Mercury gets crowds to sing along and that may be great to hold lighters up in the air and sway, but on album it is mediocre at best. So all this considered, here is an album that does not live up to the hype. Yes, it features Queen's and rock history's greatest song, and a killer single, but is that enough to gain masterpiece status? The songs mentioned should appear on any rock connoisseaur's list, and you can get these on any Queen compilation which are recommended over this. You will get all the best songs of this on 'Greatest Hits' and the latest 'Absolute Greatest'. I think 'A Night At The Opera' is a worthwhile album but you may well find yourself using the skip button to get to the good stuff.