In less than three years, with four albums, Queen has risen from the heavy-metal minor leagues to a position approaching that of Led Zeppelin and Deep Purple. But the group has some annoying weaknesses, notably a tendency toward lyrical abstraction. In addition, the imagination that inspired the slick ragtime jazz (with vaudeville overtones) of Sheer Heart Attack’s “Bring Back That Leroy Brown” becomes obsessive on A Night at the Opera, where the same stylistic idea is reworked, into three songs. But ultimately, the group’s willingness to experiment, even when they fail, makes them interesting.
They have the ability to write first-rate pop/rock songs. Guitarist Brian May’s “39” is his best attempt yet at Paul McCartney-style crooning, but it’s on side two that the vocals really take command. On “The Prophet’s Song,” the best track, May’s powerful guitar perfectly complements the rich, multitracked harmonies of lead singer Freddie Mercury. Throughout the record, the group makes the most effective use of vocal rounds, choruses and harmonies in the heavy-rock genre since Argent’s Ring of Hands.
Like all heavy-metal groups, Queen’s most easily distinguished trait is a knack for manipulating dynamics. But what sets them apart is their selection of unlikely effects: acoustic piano, harp, acapella vocals, no synthesizers. Coupled with good songs. Queen’s obviously the strongest contender in its field.