In the category of “forgotten albums that should be in everyone’s record collection, but aren’t”, let me call Queen II, by the band we don’t need to present anymore, Queen. The second album from the band, recorded in just a month, one month! is said to be their lesser-known album. Big mistake, folks.
Inspired by a photo of Marlene Dietrich, the cover artwork embodies the whole concept of the album. Between black and white, light and darkness, Queen II is split into two parts, corresponding to the two sides of the record: Side Black and Side White.
Virtuoso piano and harpsichord pieces, there’s no doubt Side White was composed by Freddie. Melodic rhythms and catchy chorus, we can feel some Robert Plant and Beatles inspiration, especially in ‘Father To Son’.
But when we enter Side Black, with the song ‘Ogre Battle’, Brian May’s heavy metal riffs are like thunderstorms of electric guitar. The atmosphere has completely changed. I said heavy metal but the songs are probably slightly too elaborate to be considered proper heavy metal, yet it has nothing to do with the american post-hippie movement during which it was written.
Curious, we can feel the footprint of future tune ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’ in the song ‘The March Of The Black Queen’, especially at the end. Besides, ‘Funny How Love Is’ is like the album’s alien, as it breaks away from the dark and heavy ambiance via its cheerful melody.
The funny thing is, ‘White Queen’ and ‘Some Day One Day’ were played by May with his inexpensive Hairfred guitar he’d owned since childhood, and that insignificant detail actually made all the difference: the two songs sound more authentic and emotive.
After their not-really-successful first album, it’s a crucial stage in Queen’s evolution. At that particular time, it’s in the balance whether they’ll really break through here or not with the mixed critical reaction from the music press.
NME opines that the record showcased “all their power and drive, their writing talents, and every quality that makes them unique”. Sounds writes, “Simply titled Queen II, this album captures them in their finest hours”. To Rolling Stone, “the album reveals timely and well-chosen power chords along with some rather pretty tunes”.
Indeed, ‘Queen II’ turns out to be more successful than their eponymous debut album ‘Queen’, and simply more successful than the band had expected. Directly ranked as #5 in the UK right after its realease, the single ‘Seven Seas Of Rhye’ hits #10 in the UK Singles Chart and the overall album is ranked 5th best album of the year by Disc.
Inspired by mythology, art and fairy myths, ‘Queen II’ is glam, dramatic and glittery, but also ferocious, ambiguous and elegant at the same time. It’s the Dalí of progressive rock, the orange-roasted duck of French cuisine, the Joan of Arc of the Hundred Years War.
Guns N’ Roses lead singer Axl Rose said of the record, in a 1989 Rolling Stone interview, “With Queen, I have my favorite: Queen II. Whenever their newest record would come out and have all these other kinds of music on it, at first I’d only like this song or that song. But after a period of time listening to it, it would open my mind up to so many different styles. I really appreciate them for that. That’s something I’ve always wanted to be able to achieve”.
No doubt it sat on the bedsides of numerous hypersensitive hormone fuelled music-loving teenagers, each listening is a rediscovery of the album, either in its lyrics, rhythm or instrumental technique. It’s like every sound, every pulse, every word wasn’t put there by accident but carefully thought through.
Ultimately, ‘Queen II’ reveals the band’s signature: multi-layered overdubs, waterfalls of piano notes, vocal harmonies and varied musical styles: there’s no doubt ‘Queen II’ helped build a large part of Queen’s identity.