Review: Queen – News Of The World
After the giant leaps in sound and ambition across the first four albums, Queen’s fifth effort A Day At The Races has always felt as if it were treading water: a strong album but ultimately a bit of a bloated after-thought from the seminal A Night At The Opera. With News Of The World released at the height of the punk movement, and indeed recorded in the same studios concurrently as The Sex Pistol’s trailblazing Never Mind The Bollocks… album, Queen had to do something new.
The result was a stripped down work that remains a rock staple to this day. When Marilyn Manson and Trent Reznor were making the now legendary Antichrist Superstar in the mid-90s, it is alleged this album was a frequent spinner in their studio, and it’s not hard to see why. The songs leap out at you, grab your collar and shake you up till they decide to let you go – with even the softer moments being far rawer than what had come before.
That is, it always had that effect on vinyl. The previous cd release from EMI in 1994 was a horrid, tinny transfer, with the volume far too low and all the original’s clarity lost. From the opening stomps of We Will Rock You, it’s clear this has been correctly. Beefy is an understatement, and it sets the tone for what is to follow. It’s immediate follow-on, We Are The Champions, suffers the same distortion in the top end that plagued the recent Greatest Hits remaster – perhaps this is due to the actual recording, however, and cannot be helped, but the added dynamic range has made it all the more obvious.
Revived from the ashes of former glories and given an energetic make-over, Sheer Heart Attack finally sounds like the punky-thrasher it always should have done. The clarity of the vinyl release is back, and at last you can really turn it up to eleven. The actual mix of the track still suffers from a murky symbol sound, but I can live with that as par for the course in that genre. In a completely different tone, Brian May’s ballad All Dead, All Dead has previously felt somewhat moribund, but again, startling clarity has pumped new life into an underrated piece in Brian’s tormented lovelorn ouvre.
Spread Your Wings is one of those big hits the band never had, and listening to this new mix it’s even more apparent that it deserved to be enormous. With writer John Deacon’s beautiful bass line pumped up in the mix, and Roger Taylor’s kick-drum far more prominent than before, you’d be forgiven for thinking this mix would be all bass and no trousers. Thankfully the lilting piano and acoustic guitar work are given space to breathe, this is a world away from the previous cd reissue, and even puts an earlier surround mix to shame. Taylor’s turn in the spotlight, Fight From The Inside has been given the most startling make-over of the set: it’s bass drum literally blows everything that proceeds it out of the water, with the earthiest, most powerful thumping of the remaster range so far. Yet it doesn’t intrude in any way… it just feels so very, very right.
Moving into side two, the experimental Get Down Make Love again benefits from added bottom end. Whilst not wanting to undervalue Deaky’s wonderful contributions to earlier albums, this is possibly the first Queen record where the bass became as prominent a part as every other instrument, and it really shows in this fine bit of Mercury sleaze. After the oomph of the last couple of tracks, firm favourite Sleeping On The Sidewalk can’t help but sound a little pedestrian, sonically – yet again it’s new-found clarity is to be applauded. Even the album’s only real filler, Who Needs You benefits from the bigger sound.
Finally we reach the epic closing numbers – It’s Late and My Melancholy Blues: a glorious couplet if ever there was one. May’s balls out blues-drenched rocker deserved to be featured on the Paul Rodgers tours, yet was grossly overlooked, whilst Mercury’s piano led closer (which has added guitar on its bonus BBC session version) is a stripped down stunner: that impressive vocal range pumping out stunning notes with fascinating precision.
In summary, News Of The World may have shown Queen stripped back to basics, but it was also an album of fresh innovation, and a timely reminder that they had bigger rock ‘n’ roll balls than the rest – a feeling which is only bolstered by it’s new bonus disc, which features stunning live rock-outs, classic BBC sessions and a different take of abandoned rocker Feelings, Feelings to that which leaked years ago. A true classic, in every sense of the word, and at long last, given the remaster it deserves.