“Radio Gaga,” the single that opens up the new Queen album, is another instant jewel in Queen’s Top Forty crown. It’s one more anthemic lament to that overfamiliar icon, sung and played with Queenly overkill in “Deutschland Uber Alles” style by a group that did its share to corrupt the airwaves in the Seventies. This slab of false pomp aside, the rest of The Works — surprise, surprise — ain’t half bad.
Disregarding a best-of, a soundtrack, one single made with David Bowie and the obligatory solo projects, this is the glitter-rock band’s first real album in some time. And rather than move in ever-widening spirals of bombast, they’ve trimmed a lot of the excess — mainly, the fat vibrato of Brian May’s multitracked guitars and Freddie Mercury’s overdubbed tabernacle choir of vocal effects. What’s left is a lean hard-rock sound, making The Works perhaps the first record to refute the maxim that the words Queen and listenable are, of necessity, mutually exclusive.
Granted, the messages have all been heard before and practically cancel each other out: love is all you need; let’s get physical; machines have feelings, too; be an individual, stand your ground. Instead, the revelations are in the music. For the carnivorous, rewards are to be found in the thundering Led Zeppelinisms of “Tear It Up” and “Hammer to Fall”; for the doubters, the surprises are in the comely melody and (relative) restraint of “Keep Passing the Open Windows” and the straight-up Fifties rocking of “Man on the Prowl.” And try this one our on the atheists: “Is This the World We Created…?” is an acoustic meditation on hunger and hate and generational responsibility, sung with conviction by Mercury.
This unanticipated humanitarianism is the perfect grace note to the preceding thrash-fest. The Works is a royal feast of hard rock without that awful metallic aftertaste; as such, it might turn out to be the Led Zeppelin II of the Eighties. Not so depressing a prospect at that.