Queen makes elaborate music from shards of nostalgia for the British Empire. They push boys’ public-school chorales and English martial music through the funnel of hard rock, aiming carefully at romantic crescendos embellished with heavy echo. Apparently, the intention is that the long-tarnished glories of “tradition” will be repolished on the band’s hard pumice.
Most of the songs on News of the World either challenge Queen’s artistic enemies or endeavor to establish a vision of the new order. “We Are the Champions” ends with the line, “No time for losers, ’cause we are the champions — of the world.” It’s an appropriate comment for a side that also includes “We Will Rock You,” which has the atmosphere of a political rally in a Leni Riefenstahl movie and is at once a rock anthem and a commandment. “Sheer Heart Attack” makes Queen the first major band to attempt a demonstration of superiority over punk rock by marching onto its stylistic turf. It works, too, because the power trio behind vocalist Freddie Mercury is truly primitive. Once you’ve seen Queen onstage, away from the cut and paste of the studio, it’s painfully clear that “Sheer Heart Attack” is less a matter of slumming than of warfare among equals in incompetent musicianship.
The rest of side one uses the elaborate Led Zeppelin approach for which Queen is famous, but the songs go even further into punk sociology, reaching a peak with “Fight from the Inside,” which seems nothing less than a Tory’s sketch for a junta. It’s sung like a slogan fired from a machine gun.
This is chilling stuff, but the coldness seems to befit Queen. On side two, the group lolls through a series of songs about sexual failure (hers!), stardom and ennui as they make a mildly persuasive argument for boredom as the proper posture prior to the apocalypse.
Late sons of the Empire though they may be, Queen has nothing to fear, or to do. In their moneyed superiority, they are indeed champions. Such are the salient fictions of which todays’ Top Ten albums are made.