The last few years of the ’70’s were a scary time for ‘established’ rock bands in the UK. The Punk explosion was just that…explosive, and left many ‘dinosaur’ bands devastated in it’s wake as the new exciting sounds brushed a tired rock scene that had become far too ‘safe’ or ‘convoluted’ aside.
Queen were definitely one of the bands that were an easy target. To much of the listening public they were famous for their operatic 6 minute opuses such as Bohemian Rhapsody or their camp theatrical torchlight songs like Killer Queen. They were the epitome of everything the ‘tough street sounds’ of Punk wanted to fight against.
But one thing that the casual listener hadn’t counted on was that beneath all the pomp and ceremony, Queen were at heart an amazing ROCK band. And they weren’t going to just lie down without a fight.
Their next album ‘News of the World’ was their deft, reactive move. Freddie has said in interviews that the punk movement gave the band a real ‘shot in the arm,’ and you can feel this renewed ‘we’ll show them’ energy permeating throughout The News of the World.
The avenue that Queen went down on the album was a clever one. They didn’t take the ‘easier route’ of simply ‘selling out’ by changing completely into a punk/new wave band. Instead, the songs are snappier and more direct, but they still retain the ingredients of the classic band and what made them special in the beginning. OK, so there are certainly punk ‘sounds‘ on album tracks like ‘Sheer Heart Attack,’ but it could be argued that this is almost a pastiche and satirical side-swipe at new punk pretenders to the throne (‘I feel so inar-inar-inar-inar-inar-inar-inar-inarticulate’) than a desire to ape the trend. Instead what Queen does to prove to the masses that they are still a relevant force to be reckoned with is to create ‘people’s anthems’ like ‘We Will Rock You’ and ‘We Are the Champions,’ combined with stripped back album tracks that play to their strengths as a live, exciting band; whether on the ‘heavier climactic songs’ like ‘It’s Late,’ or the emotional intensity of Freddie’s piano and voice on ‘Melancholy Blues.’ It shows that for all their studio wizardry, they can still rock it as down and as dirty as the best of them.
And then of course there’s that wonderful cover! Hilariously joked about on Family Guy for being the stuff of baby Stewie’s nightmares; the cold, expressionless gaze of the gigantic robot as it holds the dead members of the band in its hand is one of the most arresting album images of all time. And when opened up it becomes even more unforgettable, as we see the story continue and the robot hunt down all of humanity whilst a cold iron hand extends out towards the listener in a clever use of 3-D style imagery that burns into your consciousness.
News of the World is a superb album that helped Queen take the step from their ‘art rock’ beginnings into a band that would become loved by audiences the world over. If you are only familiar with Queen’s impressive singles; I urge you to give News of the World a spin….You can thank me later.