This is, by all accounts, the record where Queen really becomes Queen, taking their bizarre (insane, really) hybrid style and finally pairing it with enough quality songs that it no longer seems gimmicky. I’m not sure I entirely agree, but I get why people feel this way.
So, the songs are definitely getting more consistent. There are three tracks here which made it on their famous coloured compilation albums and there are others which, though not as trong, still feel like better songs than the deep cuts on the previous record. There’s still filler, though. The difference, I think, is that the record is sequenced in a normal way, instead of the rather odd way in which Queen II was sequenced. By sequencing better the sides feel far less schizophrenic. (I mean, this is Queen, so the band is still very schizophrenic. But it no longer feels like two different bands, the heavier one and proggier one.)
Everything is just ambitious as ever, with their usual bizarre stylistic diversions, loads of vocal overdubs and a medley of songs that no normal band would put together. As always, this the thing that is most impressive about Queen (to me), their ability to do ridiculous things and make them sound not (as) ridiculous, whether it’s Mercury’s commitment to anything he sings, or the entire band’s commitment to any genre, and their unparalleled ability to fuse things together which don’t belong.
I definitely have mixed feelings about Roy Thomas Baker as a producer but I must admit that, when it comes to Queen, he seems to have been the perfect fit. This record (and other Queen records he produced) still sounds good all these years later. Perhaps Queen was the right band for him, being so damn idiosyncratic it was impossible to over-produce them. Anyway, what I’m saying is I think it’s well produced, too.
In the end, I go back to the material: a democratic band like Queen will always have a problem in that all band members are not equal songwriters. In Queen’s case, they are remarkably close on some records, but this one is not one of those. I have always felt that Freddie Mercury was the best songwriter in the band, with the others (usually May) sometimes managing to write stuff on his level – and Mercury sometimes managing to write stuff that shouldn’t have been released. This is true hear. More of Mercury’s songs work than don’t, fewer of May’s do, I don’t like the Roger Taylor track and I forget the John Deacon one. Though I genuinely like Queen and love some of their work, they remain a bit of a singles or “hits” band for me, as most of their records I’ve encountered don’t have enough consistent material. That is true here.