The Works was the first album by Queen that I bought (originally on vinyl) when it came out, as opposed to buying stuff from their back catalogue. The album was accompanied by various single releases and ridiculous videos, the most memorable of which was the video from “I Want to Break Free” where the band dressed up as women like Monty Python.
The opening track “Radio Ga Ga” also had a memorable video which as I recall was criticised for looking in places like some kind of right-wing political rally. I love the synths on the opening of this track and it reminds me somewhat of the Eurythmics track “Sex Crime (1984)” which as it happens is one of my favourite tracks from that band.
I’m not sure if bemoaning the demise of the radio was really that relevant in 1984 in much the same way that “Video Killed the Radio Star” seemed a bit of a wild claim. Radio is still going strong in 2015 and isn’t Spotify just a self-made on-demand type of radio in a way? If however we give “Radio Ga Ga” a sci-fi context, as the video does with its clips of Metropolis, then the song kind of makes a bit more sense, especially accompanied by “Machines” later on the album.
For me the bass, the drum machine and the synths make the track what it is but it seems a lot more acceptable than most of the stuff on Hot Space the laughable previous album. Also perhaps because there’s a fair amount of good old-fashioned rock on this album to appease the diehard rock fans.
“Tear It Up” is a good example of this return to ‘proper’ rock. The track chugs along at a fair lick, has some excellent guitar work all over the place (with a great solo in the first few moments). The drums sound a little artificial but the track is mostly about the vocals and the guitar with some really catchy lyrics. My love for this track has grown and grown over the years to the point where it’s one of my favourites. I love the cheeky reference at the end to the preceding track.
“It’s a Hard Life” is a typical Queen ballad about broken hearts and the trial and tribulations of love with a fairly typical composition mixing piano and guitar melodies. The song seems to fit with “Save Me” and before that “Somebody to Love” but with more of a some you win some you lose lament and advice to lovers to care for one another. The guitar solo is quite laid back and for me makes this song sound softer than the likes of “Save Me” and more like a man singing from experience than really pining away.
Really silly video – like something from Guillermo del Toro after a mouthful of happy pills:
“Man on the Prowl” is a rock ‘n roll track with an American vibe that wouldn’t have been out of place on The Game alongside “Crazy Little Thing Called Love”. The drums are great along with the boogie woogie piano (the sort of playing Jools Holland is well known for) and rhythm guitar but I guess you really have to like this style to really want to listen to this track regularly. No doubt early Elvis would be quite happy with it.
“Machines (Or ‘Back To Humans’)” takes us back to the land of over-production and electronic music. I used to love this track and all these years later it still doesn’t sound that dated. Muse have been doing similar stuff over the last decade or so in amongst their proper guitar driven rock. The vocals sound a bit whiny to me now, but I love the vocoder stuff when the machine seems to be speaking and can override the urge to cringe when I hear the line ‘its bytes and megachips for tea’. I remember copying the lyrics for a poem in my O Level English lessons and then praying that my teacher wasn’t a Queen fan. Apparently she wasn’t because I got away with it. Everything I wrote back then had a sci-fi bent and so it was great to hear a bit of sci-fi inspired music from my then favourite band.
“I Want to Break Free” meant very little to me at the time of release beyond a feeling that I wanted to get away from my family sometimes. Over the years it has come to make more sense and be more applicable to some situations I found myself in. I love the line ‘I’ve fallen in love for the first time and this time I know it’s for real’ implying that it happens quite a lot but this time around it’s genuine. The track sounds a little cheesy to me these days with its bass through a drainpipe sound and the weird bwap bwap guitar solo which I used to enjoy and now just seems really weird.
“Keep Passing the Open Windows” is the weakest track on the album in my humble opinion. It made me think of Desperate Dan walking past steaming pies in his comic strip. The lyric ‘love is all you need’ seems overtly Beatles influenced but the track is a high tempo energetic chugging rock song and seems to foreshadow some of the weaker album tracks on future albums. It’s like being on a train to nowhere and I just want to get off as quickly as I can. Me no likely…
“Hammer to Fall” on the other hand is an out-and-out classic track with big riffs, big beats and killer vocals. It’s so brilliantly rocky and just what the doctor ordered after Hot Space. With its nuclear apocalyptic story it seemed to fit in with “Two Tribes” by Frankie Goes to Hollywood and is an obvious product of the Thatcher-Reagan era. I have always found the concept a little scaremongery but it’s too good a tune not to like (in much the same way as “Breathing” by Kate Bush). The idea of the rain poring through your window pane is great nonsensical imagery closely followed by a great guitar solo.
“Is This the World We Created…?” is a low key ending to the album often skipped by me after the excitement of Hammer time. It has a hippy sensibility which sat very well with Live Aid and the famine crisis but doesn’t bear repeated listening despite some lovely guitar playing. Thankfully it’s not that long…