For 1983, the band decided they weren’t playing any live shows and they took a little break. Roger Taylor released his second solo album called ‘Strange Frontier’ and Brian May released an E.P. titled ‘Star Fleet Project’ and in that project was some little known guitarist by the name of Eddie Van Halen…maybe you’ve heard of him. Freddie even worked on his solo album ‘Mr. Bad Guy’, but his didn’t get released until a couple years later. John did whatever he wanted as I don’t know if he worked on a project. And in August of that year, they started working on their 11th Studio album, ‘The Works’. The band recorded at the Record Plant in L.A. and Musicland studio in Munich. It was a global affair.
The band still held on to the electro-pop stylings of ‘Jazz’, but did bring back some of the rock sound they are known for and thank the Heavens for that. But I don’t think it was enough to save this album. As you will see, the songs are good…but they aren’t great. For me, Queen seemed like a lost ship at sea and no one could read the stars to help them find their way and you would think with an astrophysicist on board, that would help, but nope. The band finished up the album around January 1984 and then released the album on February 24, 1984 to little success. It did go to #2 in the UK, but only #23 in the US which was disappointing for them.
First up is “Radio Ga Ga” which was written by Roger Taylor and he thought it would work great on his solo. The band heard and thought this could be a hit and suddenly it became a Queen song. Roger’s inspiration came from his son and hearing him say “Radio Ca Ca”. He took that and turned it in to a commentary on how TV and Music Videos were changing the way we listened to music and the radio. Radio was becoming less important, but he wanted to wax poetic about its greatness. The song actually makes reference to a couple of major radio events such as Winston Churchill’s “This is their finest hour” speech to the House of Commons in 1940 and to Orson Welles’ radio broadcast of “War of the Worlds” in 1938.
Musically this song was a pure synth song . Roger wrote it on a Roland Jupiter-8 synthesizer and a drum machine. The song was recorded using a Roland VP330+ vocoder synthesizer and John Deacon wrote the bass line on a Roland Jupiter-8. When you hear it, it is basically nothing but synths. Fred Mandel, a Canadian musician, was brought in to program the synths for the right sounds. Freddie took the lyrics and massaged them a little and then sang it so beautifully and effortlessly as only Freddie can do. The song is so 80’s in the sound, but still holds up today. It is a little anthemic especially with the hand claps sounds added. It is a favorite song when played live and they still play it live even today with Adam Lambert. I am usually not a huge fan of synthesizer music, however, this song is a major exception to that rule. Queen has a way to make you listen to the whole song and not focus on one part. It is a brilliant song, and so much so, Lady Ga Ga actually took her name from part of it…I bet you can’t guess which part??
The band brings back the rock on “Tear It Up” which was written by Brian May for the sole purpose of letting Queen rock out again. The song features the riffs from the song “Liar”. And let me tell you it is slamming. Roger’s drums are hard and heavy and Brian’s guitar is prominently featured and he slays throughout. It is beast of a track and might be my favorite on the album.
Next we get “It’s A Hard Life” which was written by Freddy and takes you back to classic Queen with its grandiose opening with Freddie’s vocals and the piano. May’s intro was based on Ruggiero Leoncavallo’s “Vesti la giubba”, an aria from his opera Pagliacci (thanks wiki for that). There are some very Bohemian Rhapsody moments in it which makes it feel memorable and comfortable.
Then we get the rockabilly “Man On the Prowl”. With only three chords and a fabulous solo by May, you get another rocker from the band. May sings in his best Elvis impersonation that I can almost feel his lip curl. The song will get you moving so plan to get up and dance. The songs with a slamming piano solo with Freddy hammering those keys hard. If you like “Crazy Little Thing Called Love”, you’ll like this one too.
“Machines (or ‘Back to Humans’)” is another heavy, heavy electronic album, but this one goes to some weird places. Written by May and Taylor, I am not sure what drugs they were taking for this one. You have Roger singing the robot voices through a Vocoder. The song seems a mess and no real structure. It is the first one I’ve just not enjoyed and if this was vinyl this would’ve kicked off Side Two and been a horrible start to that side.
Then we get back to classic Queen with “I Want to Break Free” which was written by John Deacon. It is a wonderful pop song and is quite magical. Interesting to note that John didn’t want a guitar solo so the solo was done with synthesizer. The video of the song caused a lot of controversy and was actually banned by MTV. Why you may ask? Because the video had the band cross-dressing and apparently that offended people. This was the 80’s. What people in the US didn’t realize was that it was a parody of the TV show ‘Coronation Street’. The controversy seems silly in today’s time.
“Keep Passing the Open Windows” is an interesting track. The song is actually a result from the band agreeing to do the soundtrack to the movie ‘The Hotel New Hampshire’, but since that was taking up too much time from their new album they dropped out and this is the one song from it that wound up on this album. The song is an upbeat pop song and Mercury’s chorus is grand and elegant, but the song feels a little out of place.
“Hammer to Fall” is up next and is another rock track. The song was written by May and seems to be about the Cold War going on at the time. The hammer could be the pushing of the button for a nuclear war or the hammer is the “hammer & sickle” from mother Russia. It feels and sounds like classic Queen and I love the May and Mercury back and forth on the chorus. Plus when Freddie uses this aggressive approach on the vocals I think he really shines. The little drum barrage at the end is also a nice touch. It is another great track on the album.
The final track on the album is “Is This the World We Created…?” which was written by May and Mercury after seeing a news report on African poverty. They were moved to write this song. The song is a ballad and done mostly on acoustic guitar and piano. It is soft, gentle and quite beautiful and even touching. They would end up playing this at the encore for Live Aid which was appropriate.
- Radio Ga Ga – Keeper
- Tear It Up – Keeper
- It’s A Hard Life – Keeper
- Man on the Prowl – Keeper
- Machines (or “Back to Humans”) – Delete
- I Want to Break Free – Keeper
- Keep Passing the Open Windows – Keeper (1/2 Point)
- Hammer to Fall – Keeper
- It This The World We Created…? – Keeper
The Track Score is 7.5 out of 9.0 Stars or 83%. That score is a little misleading to me as I don’t like this album as much as the track score would make you think. I think they are mostly good songs, but only a couple are great. It still feels like a band that has lost its way and is struggling to find the path they want to take. They seem uninspired and no one is on the same page. There is still too much synth and less Brian May magic and I miss the fact there are no Roger sung songs or even May’s. It felt less like Queen at times. For all that I am only scoring it as 3.0 out of 5.0 Stars. It could’ve been more, but was missing a little something extra.
The Bonus E.P. kicks off with a rocking track called “I Go Crazy” which was the B-Side to “Radio Ga Ga” which was a good choice. Where “Radio Ga Ga” was heavy synth, this song was the exact opposite and a pure rocker. The song should’ve been on the album as they could’ve easily added a 10th song and this would’ve helped bump the score up. I really like this one. A banger of a track. Then we get the Single Remix of “I Want To Break Free”. The song is about 40 seconds longer as a single which is strange as usually songs get shortened. The opening to the song is different as it has added airy synth opening and some added synth effects along with the guitar pieces. I think I like the more straightforward album version better. Then we get a Headbanger’s Mix to “Hammer to Fall” which of course adds more rocking sound and guitar to the song. Already a rocker, this takes it up another notch and is killer.
Then we get a couple live tracks with “Is This the World We Created…?” and “It’s A Hard Life” both from the Rio show in January 1985. The songs are both sung beautifully by Freddie as he always sounds in top form live. The songs seem to have been played back to back at the show as the transition is seamless. These are beautiful renditions of the songs. The last track is a Non-Album Single called “Thank God It’s Christmas”. This song was released as a single instead of “Man on the Prowl”. I’m not a huge Christmas song fan and this one doesn’t jump out at me as a classic Christmas song and honestly don’t know if I’ve ever heard it prior to this review. But maybe I had.
And that is it. We will see you need time for the following album’s review…