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Recent album review #1
Queen - Queen II (1974)

This album gives a sense that - at this point in their career - Queen didn't exactly know which way to go. For on the one hand, the band adopt the 'complex' approach of Freddie Mercury, and on the other the 'dark rocking' approach of Brian May.

As a result, Queen II is divided into two: the 'white' side, almost entirely written by May, and the 'black' side, by Freddie Mercury. That might not have been the best decision, but nevertheless the end result is my favourite Queen album.

Queen II is not however a 'great' Queen album, or their most essential album. That's because the band aren't focusing on anything specific, and as a result the album can sound a bit messy and hodge-podge to some listeners.

The style here isn't so very different from Queen, but the band have polished their playing and songwriting skills quite a bit, so there's no more patchy affairs like "Liar" or "Jesus", and their music acquires a darker quality not found elsewhere in the band's discography.

What's more, to say the production has improved over the debut would be a major understatement. And with plenty of running time to hand, both May and Mercury focus on writing 'mini suites', with each displaying their own unique style and taste.

So Mercury bounces and bops about with his absurdist visions and stories, along with vocal performances that would've made Peter Gabriel proud, while May picks up his guitar and blasts out some mean rockers and pretty ballads, creating the darkest streak of songs in Queen's entire career.

Seeing as May's side is far darker than Mercury's - that should've been the 'black' side, not the 'white' side! So I guess the naming of the sides had something to do with the song titles "White Queen" and "March of the Black Queen".

To open the album, May displays his ever increasing skill at creating guitar symphonies, by way of the instrumental "Procession" - a fairly spooky song actually, that then leads into the 'magnum opus' "Father to Son". I'm really fond of the little 'cascading' guitar riff at the very beginning of that, not just for the unique 'tingling' guitar riff, but for the effect it creates. Beyond that though, the song is a mean dark rocker with powerful vocal harmonies and a bashing / crashing instrumental break. The song's dark atmosphere engulfs me completely.

It's good that that atmosphere never goes away. The acoustic guitar ballad "White Queen" is just as dark and just as beautiful as the previous track. May complements Mercury's singing with some acoustic guitar solos, just before the song builds into a powerful instrumental break. Then - to prevent things getting too serious - "Some Day One Day" presents some cute gentle balladeering, with May on the vocals this time. It's a really nifty pop song that doesn't feel really pop, if you know what I mean.

Side One closes with a Roger Taylor composition called "The Loser in the End". Although it's easily the worst track on the record, it's so retardedly fun and exciting I can't help loving it - May blasts out some furious guitar attacks, while Taylor bashes the hell out of his drumkit as the song fades out. I love that drumming - just don't look for any substantial melody!

If fans complain about how everything's just too slow and boring on Queen II, just flip the album over for Mercury's most monstrous creation so far in the band's career: "Ogre Battle". That's a song to completely rock your world, what with its fast furious guitar riff and Taylor bashing the drums as if he were the Devil himself, along with meticulous vocal work, cool vocal harmonies, guitar noisefests, and the intro (merely the outro played backwards - such a simple trick - how come nobody had done that before?). In my opinion, that one track alone whips everything on the debut album.

The much shorter "The Fairy Feller's Master-Stroke" impresses me too, with its cool harpsichord playing and millions of voices and harmonies coming from every place at the same time, then the piano at the end that leads into the gorgeous ballad "Nevermore".

In one minute, "Nevermore" accomplishes everything that other bands would spend seven minutes trying to achieve, and that's because Mercury displays a deviously untrivial and beautiful melody alongside the piano. Finally, he shows his ability to come up with short, striking pop songs.

"The March of the Black Queen" completely puts the debut's "Great King Rat" and "Liar" to shame, being a much cleverer, more exciting, and better written song, and I can't help loving every second of its running length.

"Funny How Love Is" is as pure and catchy as a pop song should be; "Seven Seas of Rhye" became the band's first big hit single - and deservedly so - the guitar lines, the constant stop-and-go, and the fast piano all feel perfectly at ease with the simple yet catchy vocal melody.

Even though many fans don't like this album, I for one will never get rid of it. Sure, Queen would go on to make more 'classic' albums, but this one - classic or not - remains my favourite, it captivated me from the very beginning.

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by Reviewer: Fernando Canto

Posted: Thursday 25th Aug 2016 2:04 PM

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Recent album review #2
In theory - given that everybody used to rag on The Monkees for letting other people make their music, and seeing as Justus features the band playing every instrument and writing every song - being a reunion album, this could've been very cool.

Whilst the band all play quite competently, especially Mickey Dolenz on the skins and Peter Tork on bass, Mike Nesmith uses an ugly guitar tone. And unfortunately, the performances are quite lifeless, and the songs are boring at best.

The Monkees once worked because four young guys with a sense of wonder sang catchy songs and had a good time. But this is just four old guys trying to be a sludgy middle-of-the-road lounge band with 'credibility' that means nothing, because there's no inspiration to back it up.

Some of the music is pleasant, but the sense of innocent fun that once made it matter has been lost. Only Davy Jones sounds good, and it's a small thrill to hear him do his happy crooning schtick after so many years. Everything else though is a hell of a letdown.

If my copy of the album was still sealed, I'd give it 4 stars for a good idea and leave it at that. Listening to it only ruins the experience.

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by Reviewer: Cosmic Ben

Posted: Thursday 25th Aug 2016 2:21 PM

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