Hot Space

REVIEW: Queen – Hot Space (2011 bonus tracks)

QUEEN – Hot Space (Originally 1982, 2011 Hollywood 2 CD set)

Once upon a time, a band called Queen put a note in the credits of their first album: “And nobody played synthesizer”.

By 1982’s Hot Space, this credo was long gone.  In its place, a slick new sounding Queen that did not resonate with Americans the same way old Queen did.  Hot Space still bore a fair share of hits, though very different sounding ones from the olden days.

“Staying Power” opens the album with blasts of horns and funky synths.  On tracks like this, without any bass guitar, John Deacon played rhythm.  “Staying Power” represents the shape of Queen to come.  It wouldn’t have sounded out of place on 1989’s The Miracle.  The horns give it the needed punch.  Then Brian May’s “Dancer” slinks over, a disco rock tune with some (just some) trademark layers of Queen guitars.

If you feel like gettin’ down on the dancefloor, then “Back Chat” is the song for you.  It’s in the same vein as disco Kiss, but with the kind of funky authenticity that Queen can bring to the party.  “Back Chat” is the album’s first completely memorable song, provided by John Deacon.  Fortunately it has real bass, to keep that groove dirty.  As a single, it didn’t perform as well as “Body Language ↑⬱”, though it’s a superior song.  “Body Language ↑⬱” is all synth with no meat.

Roger Taylor’s funk rocker “Action This Day” boasts a cool sax solo, but the synth drums are lifeless.  It’s much better live (find this version on CD 2) with real instruments.  Brian May’s “Put Out the Fire” is a welcome return to traditional Queen instrumentation.  “Put Out the Fire” is the only song that sounds like “classic” Queen.  If you heard it for the first time, you sure wouldn’t assume it was from Hot Space.  It’s what you would call a “stock” Queen rocker.  No embellishment, no quarter.

Going topical, Freddie tackled the difficult subject of the recently murdered John Lennon.  “Life is Real (Song for Lennon)” is composed like a John song, with piano being the main musical support.  May’s solo is one of his most tender and warm, but the song is not their most memorable.  Taylor’s “Calling All Girls” is far catchier, and would probably be considered a classic if it were better known.

Brian’s ballad “Las Palabras de Amor (The Words of Love)” received worldwide attention at the Freddie Mercury tribute concert in 1992, performed with Zucchero Fornaciari. In this case, the synths work with the song and not against it. They create a dreamy landscape, perfect for Freddie’s plaintive singing. This fantastic ballad is up there with the more famous Queen classics.

“Cool Cat” was recorded as a duet with David Bowie, who was unsatisfied. Although the Bowie mix made it to a test pressing, it was removed from the album and has yet to see a re-release. A dusky, slinky tune like “Cool Cat” would sound neat with Bowie aboard. David’s there for “Under Pressure” (obviously), which doesn’t need discussing because everybody knows that song. Or should. Immediately. It is rock magic, born of a jam between the five musicians. When magic happens, it can create songs as perfect as “Under Pressure”.

Hot Space is a bit wobbly, but the bonus disc evens things out a bit.  A soul ballad B-side called “Soul Brother” might have worked better on the album than some of the songs that made it.  The single remix of “Back Chat” gives us a chance to revisit the album’s most addictive song.  Check out the fast, very dexterous live version of “Staying Power”.  It is pretty impressive even if it’s not one of Queen’s greatest songs.  The performance on the live take is a lesson by the masters on playing live, so listen up.  Similarly, live versions of “Action This Day” and “Calling All Girls” get an injection of life on the stage.

Hot Space shouldn’t be too high on anyone’s Queen want lists, but it shouldn’t be ignored either.  Check out the 2 CD version for the worthwhile additions.

3.5/5 stars

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#645: Catching Up

GETTING MORE TALE #645: Catching Up

The last couple months were pretty crazy.  I was clocked out.  My wife’s cancer diagnosis and surgery really took their toll on me.  This resulted in me getting very sick right during Christmas holidays.  There has been so much chaos that I really haven’t paid attention to music.  I neglected my reading, I didn’t buy anything, and I didn’t listen to much either.  I’m just starting to get caught up now that Jen’s surgery seems to have gone so well.  She’s getting a little more independence back, and I’m able to take a little time to listen to music and write about it again.

A few weeks ago, I wrote about my history with the band Queen.  I am on a Queen kick, but until recently I was missing two of Queen’s discs in the 2 CD format:  Hot Space and A Kind of Magic.  Eager to get back into the game, I ordered both from Amazon on a whim.  I’m surprised how much I’m enjoying Hot Space.  You wouldn’t think those synths and I would get along, but I’m digging the soul!  I already owned one version of A Kind of Magic, the 1991 Hollywood CD, but the extra disc has seven bonus tracks.

Soon after, the new CD by Mike Slayen called DUDE came by the post.  That enjoyed a couple spins, but I really wanted to go shopping again.  I haven’t been to a record store since the stress kicked in.  I had no idea what I was going in for, but I wanted to leave with a purchase.  There have been plenty of new releases that I missed, and reissues too.  The problem with new releases is, I don’t like to buy anything until I know what is on the Japanese version.  I want the maximum amount of bonus music.  So I decided to look at reissues instead and skip new releases.  Fortunately for me there was plenty going on in reissues.

Big Wreck’s 20th Anniversary edition of their debut In Loving Memory Of… was my first grab.  I didn’t think it was going to have bonus tracks on it, but it does:  “Ill Advice” and “Still Holding”.  I used to love that album, and I don’t know those two songs, so that was an easy buy.  For those who don’t know this band, check out the big single “That Song”.  Other hits you may know from this album are “The Oaf (My Luck is Wasted)” and “Under the Lighthouse”.

I then spied the recent 40th Anniversary edition of Rush’s classic A Farewell to Kings.  The 3 CD set was $30, so I tucked it under my arm.  Then I thought to myself, “You know what, I’d better check to make sure there isn’t another edition with more songs.”  Good thing I did.  Blabbermouth told me that there was a version with a brand new 5.1 surround mix by Steven Wilson on a blu-ray.  OK, then.  That had to be the one I get.  Via the Sectors box sets and other super deluxe editions, I already had every other Rush 5.1 mix.

How much?

$149.99.

Ahh, fuck it.  I earned this.

3 CDs, 1 blu-ray, and 4 LPs of vinyl, plus assorted goodies like a Rush turntable mat, a tour program and lithographs.  The CDs and vinyl include an unreleased (in full) concert, Live at Hammersmith Odeon – February 20, 1978.  A portion of this concert (11 tracks) was released in 1998 on a bonus CD to Rush’s live Different Stages.  This box set has the full 14 song (plus drum solo) performance, newly mixed by Terry Brown himself.  On blu-ray you will find the 5.1 and the stereo mix of the album A Farewell to Kings, in studio-quality clarity, plus three music videos.  Mixer Steven Wilson is generally considered one of the great masters of the 5.1 art.  The Sector 2 mix by Richard Chycki received a mixed to negative reception from fans, so I look forward to comparing.

And there’s still more:  new Rush covers by Dream Theater, Big Wreck (hey, Big Wreck again!), The Trews and Alain Johannes.  Plus a final mystery bonus track called “Cygnus X-2 Eh!”

It’s going to be fun digging into the Rush over  the next week or so.  But I wasn’t done catching up.  Because of all the shit that happened, I didn’t get to see Star Wars in the theatres.  Yes, I’m sorry folks, I’ll admit it:  Until now I only saw The Last Jedi online.  This, of course, could not stand.  I must see every Star Wars Saga film in the theatre three times, minimum.  For The Force Awakens, it was four.  Fortunately the Waterloo Galaxy still had a 3D screening, which has disappeared elsewhere in town.  Now I just have to see it two more times (2D will do fine).

I still have quite a few issues with The Last Jedi.  The slow motion is annoying as hell, and the Finn/Rose side story is still just a side story.  The ending is still at odds with set style of the saga Saga, and the movie could have used some editing.  In general I enjoyed the film more this time.  The Last Jedi is more poem than plot, but it has many rhymes.  I think it’s a fine Star Wars movie, and the fanboy overreaction is ridiculous.

Catching up feels great.  Music and movies still work as the best kind of escape.  I highly recommend both.