With the usual fanfare — in this case, a “breakthrough” single released several months prior to the LP — Queen have shifted their sights from heavy-metal flash to stripped-down rock & roll. Maybe they realized that they’d come to a dead end, that it was time to ditch the cold, bombastic eclecticism and overweening arrogance that made News of the World and Jazz so offensive. Or maybe they just figured it’d be good to try fresh terrain. Whatever the reasons, it’s nice to hear a Queen album with songs, not “anthems.”
Yet this doesn’t mean they can actually play the new stuff. Stiffness was the most distinctive characteristic of “Crazy Little Thing Called Love,” once you got past the obligatory “Gee whiz, is this Queen?” feeling. And the incessant airplay got a lot of us past that feeling pretty quickly. It’s the same with the rest of The Game. Freddie Mercury sings, “It swings (Woo Woo)/It jives (Woo Woo)/It shakes all over like a jelly fish,” but the band can merely plod through material that demands some suppleness. Even “Need Your Loving Tonight,” the finest of the rock & roll numbers here, keeps tripping over its sluggish power chords.
Sad to say, Queen seemed more comfortable with the brazen hodgepodge of “Bohemian Rhapsody,” the martial madness of “We Will Rock You” and the pointless frenzy of “Bicycle Race.” Black leather jackets, echo chambers, funky handclaps, prominent bass lines and sparse instrumentation — these guys know how this music should sound and feel, but they can’t bend enough to get with it. Which is probably why some of the current record consists of the same inflated ballads and metallic shuffles that have padded every previous Queen disc.
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Certainly, The Game is less obnoxious than Queen’s last few outings, simply because it’s harder to get annoyed with a group that’s plugging away at bad rockabilly than with one blasting out crypto-Nazi marching tunes. The future doesn’t look bright, however. No matter how much Queen may try to hide it, they’re still egomaniacs. Take “Don’t Try Suicide,” for example. It’s a basic rocker in which the singer has to sound worried and concerned. Mercury brandishes a full array of mid-Fifties vocal hiccups, but the best he can do is seem a bit pissed off — as if the biggest crime of the impending suicide is that it’s going to bug Freddie. Moments like this make you wonder if the old Queen are really dead after all.