QUEEN — Jazz (review)

QUEEN — Jazz album cover Album · 1978 · Hard Rock Buy this album from MMA partners
4/5 ·
siLLy puPPy
QUEEN unleashed their last album of the 70s at the height of their popularity after releasing four hit albums in a row, countless sold out shows around the world with an equally impressive series of hit singles as well. By the time the band got to the 7th album JAZZ, it seems that the band was doing a little assessment of where they had been musically since their debut “Queen I” was released in 1973. While the title of the album may suggest that the band were embarking on yet another left turn into a new genre of music where perhaps they would tackle Miles Davis covers with a swing band or something, the band was really just pulling an old Jedi mind trick and creating an album that took elements from the six albums that preceded and then turning it all into one of the biggest parties of their career.

At this point, it seemed QUEEN could do no wrong with one hit after another and album sales going the multi-platinum status. On JAZZ once again QUEEN tackles a dizzying number of musical genres with their four man democracy finding the whole team stoking the flames of the songwriting process. Two songs for bassist John Deacon, two for drummer Roger Taylor, four for guitarist Brian May and five numbers for the charismatic frontman and pianist Freddie Mercury. Best known for its two flamboyant but gleefully hilarious Single / B-Side combo “Bicycle Race” and “Fat Bottomed Girls,” JAZZ remains one of the bands funnest and most memorable albums of their career that runs the gamut from the usual piano ballads to the heavy rockers. In fact, JAZZ is one of QUEEN’s heaviest albums that takes the hard rock of the earliest albums and even brings back the some of the progressive experimental touches.

JAZZ consisted of thirteen tracks that bounce all over the place with each taking a 180 from its predecessor. Although Freddie Mercury was born Farrokh Bulsara on the island of Zanzibar (part of Tanzania in Africa) and raised both there and in India, he had mostly eschewed any ethnic and folk heritages of his youth in his music and instead swallowed the Western world’s pop pill paradigm completely. Surprisingly, JAZZ begins with a tribute to his past with the opening “Mustapha,” that consists of a mix of English, Arabic and Persian lyrics. It starts off as exotic Middle Eastern music but then incorporates the expected QUEEN pop rock bombast with Mercury belting out his famous “Allah, Allah, Allah we pray for you” in fine form. The track was a single in some countries and the intro was often used in live settings as a variation of segueing to “Bohemian Rhapsody.”

After the QUEEN’s version of silk road magic ends, the hilarious and bizarrely performed “Fat Bottomed Girls” finds the band in great harmony with Mercury and May sharing lead vocals. The official video featured a large number of naked girls riding bicycles since “Bicycle Race” was the single and this was the B-side. The track displays a standard bluesy hard rock sound that keeps the arena rock appeal while adding a more heavy metal feel with a drop D guitar tuning. The track is followed by the piano ballad “Jealousy” which begins with a bizarre sitar sound that is created from the strings of the piano, another technique dating back to the track “White Queen (As It Began)” from QUEEN II. The album takes many elements from the first album to the previous “News Of The World.”

The most recognized track on the album “Bicycle Race” is one of the most complex on the album and was inspired by the 1978 Tour de France when passing through Montreal where the band happened to be recording JAZZ at Mountain Studios. The track effortlessly fuses traditional pop music’s two verses and a chorus but adds a bicycle bell solo, unusual chord progressions and progressive time signatures that jump around. The multi-tracked vocal harmonies just kill it as do the multi-layered guitar antics of May. This is one of the most infectiously addictive songs ever, a true sing-along song if there ever was one. May also cranks out some very idiosyncratic guitar solos and the effortless deviation into an unrelated style seems like divine intervention.

Tracks like “If You Can’t Beat Them,” “Let Me Entertain You” and “Dead On Time” are more hard rockers mixed with soft parts while “Don’t Stop Me Now” and “In Only Seven Days” are lighter numbers. “Dreamer’s Ball” and “Fun It” are something completely different. The former, a tribute to Elvis Presley who had died the previous year of recording JAZZ, is a tasty bluesy number which is May’s baby with prominent guitars and has a rather dreamy high school ball charm. “Fun It” debuts QUEEN’s first foray into disco with a funky simple groove. While Taylor wrote it, he and Mercury perform shared lead vocals and while it may be the weakest track on the album, it clearly represents the direction of the future beginning with the following album “The Game’s” huge hit “Another One Bites The Dust” as the drumbeat is nearly identical.

The album ends with “More Of That Jazz” which is loop based performed entirely by May. While it’s a bona fide separate track, it morphs into a recapping medley that contains snippets of "Dead on Time", "Bicycle Race", "Mustapha", "If You Can't Beat Them", "Fun It", and "Fat Bottomed Girls” which perfectly sums up the entire feel of the JAZZ album, namely a recap of the entire 70s QUEEN experience. Hard rock with prog elements from the first two albums? Check. Sophisticated overdubs and multi-layered tracks of the “Days At…” albums? You bet. Pop based arena rock digestibility of “Sheer Heart Attack” and “News Of The World?” Oh yeah. QUEEN dished out their last great album with JAZZ and it truly feels like an end of an era in retrospect. It seems like they had already planned their next move which would be to nurture the pop elements and drop the heavier, the progressive and outlandish elements that made them, well QUEEN. Personally i never cared much for the albums that follow save a few tracks but on JAZZ they crafted another excellent assemblage of quirky catchy songs, which sadly ended here.
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siLLy puPPy wrote:
13 days ago
Agreed. Not everyone has it in them to comprehend such diversity. Their loss :)
Bosh66 wrote:
13 days ago
I always thought this album was unfairly disparaged. There’s some great music on here. Everything from a bit of lounge to a bit of metal. What’s not to like 😁

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