Hot Space is a difficult album for most non-camp Queen fans. It marks an almost complete U-turn from the band who used to shun the use of synthesizers and a blatant attempt at a dance album rather than a rock album. Roger Taylor must have been so proud when they decided to use not only a synth but a drum machine on this album and I can imagine that May was just as pleased when he found his guitar skills largely redundant for half the album. As a Queen album it is probably their worst. As an album taken out of context from the rest of the group’s work it’s actually not that bad, a little anachronistic given that Disco was pretty much on its last legs by 1982, but not that bad. It’s more like a really groovy Freddy Mercury album.
“Staying Power” and “Dancer” are actually pretty catchy and the latter at least has a flourish of guitar in it towards the end. Not sure why you would want to include the recording of a German hotel wake-up call, but while you’re being different, why not eh? Seems like it’s standard these days on pop records to include some fade out oddness – listening to Fisherspooner’s third album at the moment and it has a lot of background chatter, which is almost a segue into the next track.
“Backchat” is probably the first Queen song I ever heard in the charts rather than from their Greatest Hits album. I remember recording it along with other gems from the Top 40 on a mono tape recorder and loving the song. There’s some very Phil Collins sounding drums, a great riff and a rather nice guitar solo as well as some excellent vocals by Mr Mercury.
“Body Language” is just woeful with a lot of almost-shouting from Mercury and some laughable synth noises. That’s all I can muster, moving on. “Action This Day” is a lot better and is a typical Taylor song that wouldn’t be out-of-place on one of his solo albums, although of course Mercury does most of the vocals. It has a chugging guitar riff and drum pattern that gives the impression of a steam train travelling along towards some common social purpose. Taylor’s vocals on the chorus are wonderfully uplifting.
“Put out the Fire” is an anti-gun song and this coupled with the change of style for the whole album perhaps explains why this record lost Queen a lot of fans in the US. “Life Is Real (Song for Lennon)” explicitly reveals the band’s love of The Beatles and Lennon in particular. A lot of May’s songs on previous albums seem influenced by the band. The song certainly has some of the most interesting lyrics on the album.
“Calling all Girls” is a rather humdrum song and why it was released as a single in some countries is beyond me – it has ‘album track’ written all over it. It sounds to me like a left-over from The Game album. The record scratch gimmick quickly becomes tiresome on repeat listening.
“Las Palabras de Amor” has a nice musical arrangement, thoughtful semi multi-lingual lyrics and some great vocals from Freddy. There’s a bit that sounds like a snippet of the theme tune to the UK ITV channel’s children’s show “Rainbow”, to my ear anyway.
“Cool Cat” was written by Mercury and Deacon and all the instruments are played by Deacon. It is one of my least favourite tracks on the album. I’m not a fan of falsetto vocals at the best of times I just cringe at the campness of it all.
“Under Pressure” is perhaps the one redeeming feature of this album. It is an absolute classic number one single and one of the only times that Queen recorded with another vocalist. David Bowie performs a star turn and the duet works wonderfully well. I find the song quite depressing, but I guess that’s the whole point. The bass hook line is instantly recognisable as are the piano notes, it has great story-telling and emotional vocals, and I challenge anyone not to have a little sing along or tap their toes (even it’s the Vanilla Ice rap, or more recently the Muller Rice advert).
From the ridiculous to the sublime –
Greatest Hits (Volume 1)
Here’s what I said on Amazon about one of my all-time favourite albums.
Five Stars: Essential, definitive, brilliant
This is the most useful introduction to the heart of what makes Queen one of the best guitar bands in the world. There are few if any synthesizers used on any of the tracks on this album and that in itself puts it ahead of the mostly 80s Greatest Hits Volume 2. Perhaps it should more accurately be called ‘The Singles Volume 1’ as I think that all tracks were A-Sides in the UK between 1974 and 1980 and embodies the 70s chart-machine desperate for another number one after their first in 1975 with Bohemian Rhapsody – so many people’s favourite song.
The album demonstrates Queen’s ability to experiment with and develop their distinctive multi-track vocal and guitar overlays and the mysteries of stereo which was a relatively new thing at the start of the 1970s. It also shows a willingness to experiment with their style – this is not just an album where the songs are distinct via their lyrics. All these songs are distinct in their styles or at least can be grouped together. Here’s an attempt –
anthemic stadium rock – We Will Rock You, We Are the Champions
operatic fantasy rock – Bohemian Rhapsody, Seven Seas of Rhye
bizarre campness – Bicycle Race, Good Old Fashioned Loverboy, Killer Queen, You’re My Best Friend
Proper Rock – Now I’m Here, Don’t Stop Me Now, Fat Bottomed Girls
Sad Ballad Man – Play the Game, Save Me
Rock Gospel – Somebody to Love
Rocking Soundtrack for Camp Film – Flash
Elvis Impersonator – Crazy Little Thing Called Love
Funky Rock – Another One Bites The Dust
In my opinion this album covers the richest period in Queen’s legacy and encompasses the whole of the 70s which saw them put out about nine studio albums. Every time I listen to this album I find myself singing along and being amazed that their stuff still sounds great and different from a lot of other 70’s rock.
I have owned this album in one format or another for over 20 years and have never tired of listening to it. If I was told I had to choose only one album to take onto a desert island with me then this would be the one without a shadow of a doubt. It has everything – emotion, brilliant guitar riffs, great vocals, sadness, humour, fun, funk, big beats, soulful piano, wonderful choral arrangements and even some bells and whistles.
The only bad thing about this album is that it isn’t a double!!