1000 Albums Project

ALBUM 292

A Day At The Races, by Queen
Suggested by Danny Nuttall

When a band reaches a certain age, or a certain level of fame, there’s a narrative to their sound.

With Queen, that narrative is largely driven by Freddie Mercury, their quicksilver frontman for the entirety of their pomp. Through the rock roots though their more operatic sound, back through to poised pop and more, his stellar light was the beacon by which the band sailed their ship. After Freddie’s death, the band entered less exciting territory, such as the Paul Rodgers and Adam Lambert eras, or Brian May’s badger period.

It’s clear that if you’re doing something creative for fifty years, or even for one thousand reviews, your approach and output will radically alter as those years and albums roll by. What was once cutting edge becomes clichéd and hack, and the best bands sway like saplings when beaten by the winds of their personal muse. Queen have been almost eerily successful in their reinvention through the years, as you don’t get to be Head of the Table for so long without adaptation.

Back in Album 22, I reviewed Sheer Heart Attack. I granted that album a fine 7/10, mainly on the strength of its B-side. It was a genuine tale of two halves, with the fist rather mundane and the second absolutely blinding. A Day at the Races, an apparent sequel to A Night at the Opera, was released two years after Sheer Heart Attack, but it’s a measured evolution from their earlier sound. While the songs still retain their rocking credentials, especially in the rumbling opener Tie Your Mother Down, the band have more readily embraced a layered vocal sound that’s almost Beach Boys in execution. It’s omnipresent throughout the album, altering in tone and timbre as the individual needs of the track dictate.

It’s not unpleasant. If anything, it adds a cohesion to the album, brings it all together in one place, like a family around a non-Tier-4 Christmas feast. For all I know, it’s also perfectly in keeping with its predecessor, Night at the Opera, which would make sense given the concept and album title. It’s remarkable, as in it is worth remarking upon, but I find it a little too considered and controlled to be exciting.

Sheer Heart Attack brought us a couple of quantifiable bangers, most noticeably Stone Cold Crazy, and A Day at the Races follows suit well with both Good Old-Fashioned Lover Boy and the obvious standout Somebody to Love. The latter is the biggest hit from the album, famed for its multi-layered vocals from the band that formed a soundalike of a massive gospel choir. Good Old-Fashioned Lover Boy, or GOFLB, has a playful Ragtime feel and a fine chanted finale. But you know this, of course.

Unfortunately, there are a few lacklustre tracks here, as is the norm in most of Queen’s work. Drowse and Long Away are lowlights, neglecting to put Freddie front and centre, bringing a spoon to a gunfight, never mind a knife.

I’m offering A Day at the Races a creditable 6/10. It’s classic Queen, but it dribbles away any frenetic promises made by the opening track and the hit songs. As with all bands that have had such success and longevity, I’d pick a Best Of Compilation over any single album release.

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