Queen - Sheer Heart Attack - Review
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critics' view

Having turned out two perfectly adequate albums of fantasy-tinged heavy rock, Queen were in desperate need of some commercial solace. A support slot on Mott The Hoople’s American tour and a minor hit (with “Seven Seas Of Rhye”) had left critics and fans eagerly awaiting their next move. But, following a gruelling touring agenda, disaster was to strike. Guitarist Brian May (he of the clogs and PhD in astrophysics) fell ill with hepatitis and the band were forced to begin work on their new album as a threesome.

Fate was on the band’s side. The tracks laid down in May’s absence had a sparseness that he could finally embellish to his full satisfaction (ie: LOADS). Also, ironically, the band was forced to dig into their back catalogue to come up with material. Both Mercury and May put forward future classics that had been numbers with their old bands: May’s “Brighton Rock” (formerly a Smile song called “Blag”) and Mercury’s “Stone Cold Crazy” (from his old band Wreckage). The latter presaged speed metal by years, eventually being covered by Metallica.

By this time the band had honed their Zeppelin-meets-Hendrix-in-Biba sound to perfection. Mercury’s “Lily Of The Valley” retains the same campness that blighted their previous work but “Killer Queen” was three minutes of romping pop perfection. May was now the master of the delay pedal (“Brighton Rock” was a future live guitar marathon showcase) Most importantly this was a band with new experiences and maturity to draw on. May’s “Now I’m Here” details their touring experiences with Mott while Mercury turned in one of his patent character assassinations with “Flick Of The Wrist”. It was also a truly group effort. Both Taylor and Deacon debuted songs on SHA. Taylor’s “Tenement Funster” is pure cod-rock nonsense but his stratospheric vocals and Bonham-esque drumming were now an integral part of the Queen sound. Deacon showed how his grasp of pop dynamics on the brief “Misfire” would lead to him writing some of the band’s most enduring hits.

In anticipation of their next album, they stretched contemporary production methods to their very limit with multi-layered vocals and guitars and Freddie’s vaudevillian streak finally emerged (“Bring Back That Leroy Brown”). This was the album that finally saw Queen find their true voice(s). Ending with the louche, grandiose ''In The Lap Of The Gods…Revisited'', the album remains a perfect example of their baroque and roll.

Chris Jones
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The BBC's album reviews ended in 2013, although the pages are archived for retrospective reading.
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