Though I’m familiar with most of the band’s gigantic hits, News of the World is the first Queen album I’ve actually listened to. It’s been a bizarre and somewhat unexpected experience. To put it simply, I don’t care for the record at all. The least I anticipated was an array of huge, theatrical arrangements topped with sizzling guitar solos, but this wasn’t to be the case.
Most of the songs on News of the World are weirdly tame: there’s no headbang-inducing rock epic, nor is there a funky dance number. At its best, the record succeeds as a sing-along playlist. The opening two tracks, whilst legendary in status, are perfect karaoke fodder. Considering how lenient I am when it comes to stadium rock, my own level of apathy surprises me. “We Will Rock You” and “We are the Champions” are not epic — they’re just repetitive and, quite frankly, annoying.
Whilst News of the World stands as Queen’s best-selling album, critical reception was mixed at the time of its release. I’ve not even listened to any of Queen’s other albums, yet I know they’ve produced better. Tepid is the word that constantly comes to mind. The instrumental to “Sleeping on the Sidewalk” was recorded in one take, which is a peculiar thing to disclose given the lack of energy. “Get Down, Make Love” has a decent chorus, but the verses plod along so awkwardly that it’s almost painful. Nine Inch Nails transformed it into a Gothic fuck-song (obviously), and while it may not be to everyone’s taste, at least Trent Reznor actually gave it a measure of vitality. I’m not sure how the original made it onto the album, it’s that clumsy.
There are a few decent songs scattered throughout News of the World, but it’s not enough to make it a remotely enjoyable experience. Freddie Mercury remains a marvel that should be appreciated for years to come, but even he couldn’t prevent this from being a fabricated slog. My first full-length Queen experience has been hugely underwhelming.
5 out of 10
Like Andre, my previous encounters with Queen were not with any particular studio album, but with the outsized imprint left on popular culture by their ubiquitous hits like “Bohemian Rhapsody”, “I Want to Break Free”, and “Don’t Stop Me Now”. Such tracks gave me the impression that Queen operated exclusively within the realm of elaborate and theatrical stadium anthems — that they adhered to a fairly strict set of stylistic parameters because it worked for both them and their audience; and, though I was never particularly smitten with them, I could at least appreciate that they performed their shtick with skill and verve, and understand why it appealed so broadly.
With this in mind, then, I suppose I should credit News of the World for, at the very least, revealing that I was somewhat mistaken in my assumptions, as this record is endowed with a haphazard stylistic diversity that challenged my expectations of the band. To be sure, despite opening with a one-two punch of their quintessential anthems (“We Will Rock You” and “We Are the Champions”), most of the record is scattershot, continuing to offer the listener a balls-out riposte to punk (“Sheer Heart Attack”), a cute but inconsequential Paul-McCartney-influenced ditty (“All Dead, All Dead”), a middling power ballad (“Spread Your Wings”), ill-advised cod calypso (“Who Needs You”), and perhaps the most tepid blues jam you’re likely to hear (“Sleeping on the Sidewalk”). Needless to say, most of these stylistic digressions did little for me, as they register as either uncomfortable, half-baked in the studio, or thoroughly insipid from the outset (the languid glam of “Get Down, Make Love” is the rare triple-threat here).
Just about the only track that worked on me in any significant way was the penultimate one, the appropriately titled “It’s Late”, which is the kind of robust, elaborate epic you’d expect from Queen, tied off with a guitar freak-out to relish and those infectious layered harmonies. It’s familiar, yes, but in returning to comfortable stylistic parameters after several failed experiments, the band actually, finally offers something compelling on News of the World.
4 out of 10
For all its shortcomings, I have a real urge to defend Queen’s sixth studio album. However, there’s no getting away from its flaws: the pacing of the tracklist is pretty erratic from the outset. The two lead singles are slung up front to open the album, which is a decision that I can only hope was ill-advised, rather than cynical. “Sheer Heart Attack” is an energetic stomp that reacts to the punk rock movement at the time, and I find it enjoyable. Unfortunately, despite it being on my list of favourites, it’s hampered by production decisions, with drums low enough to resemble white noise, and an ending that sours me to a track I otherwise enjoy. “Fight From The Inside” destroys Roger Taylor’s vocals with a bathroom reverb, whilst “Get Down, Make Love” makes all sorts of weird decisions culminating in a stilted curio of a track. “Sleeping On The Sidewalk” cannot go unmentioned either, as it probably would’ve served the album better had it remained a demo on the cutting room floor.
That said, I have too much fun with this album to deem it totally mediocre. I find myself coerced into enthusiastic air drumming by “It’s Late” and “Sheer Heart Attack” in particular, and I’m instantly reminded of more contemporary artists during several tracks (I’m certain Muse are avoiding a lawsuit by the skin of their teeth). Despite “Who Needs You” feeling a little off-piste with the rest of the album, it’s a pleasant surprise for me that acts as an interlude between the mid-section I’m less fond of, and the closing moments that I prefer a lot more. I don’t have any trouble understanding why News of the World may be devoid of appeal, and to pile on top of that, a laundry list of issues are plain to see. That said, I can easily see myself cherry picking from this tracklist to return to some of my favourites. If this clicks with you, it should prove to be a good listen.
7 out of 10