A Night at the Opera

Queen

album cover

The Campiest Rock Concept Album Ever

"Is this the real life? Is this just fantasy?" With these questions, Queen frontman Freddie Mercury leaves behind the run-of-the-mill jive talk of rock to embark on the epic quest for enlightenment known as "Bohemian Rhapsody." It's six delirious minutes of opera buffa outlandishness, a series of music-theater scenes that borrow everything but the powdered wigs from opera. The show begins with aria-like voice-and-piano passages that catch Mercury in full tragic-hero swoon, and lively exchanges between the lead singer and a thundering, hectoring chorus. Then, just when the geegaws get a little too twee, along comes Brian May with his laser-beam guitar, boogie-stomping all over the stage, determined to purge all pomposity.

The "Rhapsody," immortalized in the comic film Wayne's World, is not the only moment of rococo tongue-in-cheek brilliance that Queen loaded into A Night at the Opera. Fully half of the album tends toward camp—there are seafaring sing-alongs (" '39") and vaudeville-style soft-shoe tunes ("Seaside Rendezvous") and a few themes that might have been inspired by a toy calliope ("Lazing on a Sunday Afternoon"). Delivered with sly winks and high-gloss dazzle, these put Queen closer, sensibility-wise, to the theatrical entertainments of a bygone age than anything on pop radio.

Yet Queen does also manage to kick it. Tucked between the kitschy, amazingly detailed period pieces are several conventional pop songs—conventional at least in terms of structure, as the four-piece can't resist pumping up simple themes into tottering spectacles. These include the zooming, cleverly harmonized confession "I'm In Love with My Car" and the savage "Death on Two Legs," which turns on a dizzying multilayered guitar attack. Modest in scale when compared to "Bohemian Rhapsody," these are just as head-spinningly intricate, illustrations of Queen's ability to conjure music of preposterous flamboyance that somehow still manages to flat-out rock.

Genre: Rock
Released: 1975, Elektra
Key Tracks: "You're My Best Friend," "'39," "Bohemian Rhapsody"
Catalog Choice: Sheer Heart Attack
Next Stop: Sweet: Desolation Boulevard
Book Page: 624

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Comments:

#1 from Rachel, Brooklyn, NY - 11/24/2008 11:48

This album should be featured for the two most impressive words in its liner notes: NO SYNTHESIZERS! From the kazoo chorus made with bandmembers’ voices in “Seaside Rendezvous” to the clarinets and trombones made with Brian May’s guitar in “Good Company”, Queen made noises with traditional instruments that were creative and allowed them to express the kind of creativity and musicality that even a symphony’s worth of instruments would have limited.

A Night At The Opera was made with incredible painstaking craftsmanship, as well.  For example, the magnum opus of sorts, “Bohemian Rhapsody”, has multi-part harmonies that were made by manually rewinding and taping over previous recording.  Queen weren’t the first to do what they were doing with sound and with the technology they had (but not synthesizers!), but this album is the best showcase of what a band with four extraordinarily talented members, basic instrumentation, and limitless creativity can do.

#2 from Dan, Batavia, NY, USA - 09/18/2009 10:15

This album, and the song “The Prophet’s Song” in particular, was the one that really made me understand the true genius of the collective band Queen. The guitar harmonies and orchestrations, the vocal extravaganzas, all make for an amazing album. Except for the fact that John Deacon did not sing, I can’t think of many bands that had more contributions from it’s individual members, both in terms of songwriting, vocalizing, and playing numerous instruments, as Queen.

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