Queen has always ruled by sound instead of soul, and Brian May’s orchestral guitar creations are what captured — and has kept — the group’s hard-rock following. But on Hot Space, with the John Deacon/Roger Taylor rhythm section continuing to write funky songs and with a vocal contribution from David Bowie, Queen offers a bit more than bluster.
“Back Chat” is a hot rock-funk tune, with guitar tracks as slick as an icy dance floor. An elastic beat puts some spring into a fine rocker, “Calling All Girls,” while Freddie Mercury’s Mick Jagger-like falsetto on “Cool Cat” takes the band as close to a street corner as it’ll ever get. Shortly before Hot Space‘s release, Bowie removed his vocals from “Cool Cat” (Billy Squier was a last-minute substitute), but he remains front and center on “Under Pressure,” a number on which Mercury manages to ape both Hall and Oates, while making Bowie sound positively soulful.
The rest of Hot Space is, at best, routinely competent and, at times, downright offensive. “Give me your body/Don’t talk,” sings Mercury in “Body Language,” a piece of funk that isn’t fun. For unsurpassed solipsism, however, he offers “Life Is Real (Song for Lennon)”: “Torsos in my closet/Shadows from my past/Life is real.” As Mercury slips into a breathless, Plastic Ono-sounding “real,” one is grateful that soul is still something money can’t buy.