I think it’s safe to say that there’s no other band that sounds like Queen: hard rock plus operatic vocals plus other weird arty or proggy ideas, in a really accessible package, with occasional diversions into other genres that shouldn’t fit – pick a Queen record and there’s usually at least one of these. I had never heard any of their early records and so I was a little surprised that, even at this early stage, they sound fully formed, like nobody else.
However, the record is annoyingly divided in half, between the Brian May and Roger Taylor hard rock side and the proggier/artier (depending on the track) Mercury side. I think the records suffers a little from this sequencing as there’s a bit of a schizophrenia too it, though May’s stuff is arty enough, and most of Mercury’s stuff heavy enough, that you’re not entirely confused. Though there is only one famous Queen song here, the majority of the songs work for me, especially as a display of what the band were like when they were a little more concerned with making loud rock music most of the time, instead of just some of the time.
I think the real things that distinguish Queen come in the performances, with Mercury being perhaps the greatest frontman in the history of what we would now call classic rock as the obvious standout, but with the very important features of May’s custom guitar sound – which sounds like nobodyelse – and their backing vocals which, again, sound like nobody else. I can imagine these same songs without these touches seeming a whole lot less compelling.
But the material isn’t quite here for me to elevate this to some kind of classic. Though they were capable of writing the odd great song at this point, they were never the most consistent songwriters but they would get considerably better. It’s more the uniqueness of their sound at this point that recommends the record, in my opinion.