October , 1982
By Eric Minton
Hot Space Confusing to all but Queen
One would think that the British rock group Queen, known for its meticulous vocal and instrumental arrangements, goes into each recording session with a carefully thought out concept of what each album, song, even phrase of songs, should sound like.
Actually, the group's career is based on the notion that whatever happens, happens, that according to bass player John Deacon. "We don't analyze too much what we do," he said in a phone interview from Houston, where the band had made a stop on a tour promoting their latest album, Hot Space.
Even when it comes to the type of music they delve into on their albums, Queen hasn't approached their work with the same notions of innovation and experimentation that has been accorded them by music critics. Their wanderings in various music styles, such as blues, Spanish flamenco, ragtime, big-band swing, punk rock, opera, '50s be-bop, heavy metal and jazz, has been more by accident than by design.
"What happens really," Deacon said, "is when we go into the studio, we end up doing the songs we've all individually written. Each person's songs are sort of a reflection of what they're into at the time, what they like and what they want to do. When you have a year or two between albums, you actually change what you're thinking."
Deacon said he thought the band had touched on just about all existing forms of music, except one – country music.
"I don't know if we've ever done that.” He acknowledged. “Lyrically I like a lot of country songs. Some of the stories are very interesting. Musically I can't stand it."
When reminded of "Fat Bottomed Girls," off their Jazz album, he agreed that perhaps Queen they have represented every form of music, in some way ,on their 12 studio projects.
Such diversity running amuck through their music, though, usually tends to alienate listeners. When the music of a particular band because easily identifiable, especially where vocals are concerned, a drastic change in musical style can alienate the group’s fan base. The four musicians who make up Queen – Brian May on guitar, Roger Taylor on drums, Freddie Mercury on piano and lead vocals and Deacon – don’t really care who the public reacts to their new material. They are more concern with doing what they want.
"When we go into the studio,” insisted Deacon, “we just do the songs that we've written, or tunes the four of us just want to do at the time. We've been quite successful taking that approach, much to the unhappiness of certain rock critics.
Despite their musical wanderings and often unorthodox material, Queen has been one of Britain's top commercial successes over the past 10 years. Starting with the operatic "Bohemian Rhapsody" in 1976, Queen has scored major hit singles with "We are the Champions" and "We Will Rock You" in 1977, “Fat-Bottomed Girls” in 1978, “Another One Bites the Dust,” "Crazy Little Thing Called Love" and “Flash’s Theme” in 1980. Queen has three gold albums and five platinum, including A Night At The Opera, News Of The World, Jazz, The Game and Queen: Greatest Hits.
The band’s latest release, Hot Space, takes Queen on another 90 degree turn from the straightforward rock they had had mined to great success on The Game. The album features a disco-tinged, rhythm and blues funk presentation, drawing heavily from the forces of Motown and Studio 54. It's also the first album in which Queen has made extensive use of synthesizers. Instead of making their music more elaborate, especially since their symphonic productions of A Night At The Opera and A Day At The Races that featured no synthesizers at all, the group use of electronic keyboards in Hot Space add more bass and rhythm to the tracks.
"I don't know really," Deacon said about why Queen suddenly jumped into synthesizers so heavily. "It was sort of hanging around. Roger thought of it first. It sort of sounded okay and we just started using them. It's very funny, it's become our bag and we didn't know we did it at the time. And so the next time maybe it'll be more of our normal instruments."
Hot Space of course, doesn't carry the assumption that this is a new direction for the group. Typically, it's just what the band members are into at the time. Deacon did admit, though, that this album has done more to confuse their image than any other previous effort they released.
"I think so," he said when posed with the question. "Definitely it has muddied the waters, and we're very conscious of that fact. I think with this album we've lost quite a lot of our rock fans, you know. We're very aware of that. Who knows what we do next time!"
That question has been posed every time this band releases an album. The only consistent quality of Queen that remains unchanged is their uniqueness.
Queen formed in 1971 when the four members turned away from already promising careers in other fields to make a go of it in music. Mercury has a degree in art and graphic design. Taylor has experience as a dentist and earned a biology degree. Deacon has a degree in electronics and May worked as a teacher and has a doctorate in astronomy. All have used their various talents outside of music to carry on the band's business, financial, technical and artistic support.
Deacon said each member also has different tastes in music, part of why no two Queen songs sound alike. Evidence that their tastes rarely mesh comes in the fact that "Cool Cat" on Hot Space is the first ever credited collaboration between two band members, Deacon and Mercury.
Queen worked together on their music and stage presentation for two years before testing out the market with their first release. In addition to their album success over the past decade, they also have struck a name for themselves as a stage phenomenon. With extensive lighting, skillful musicianship, Mercury's strong vocals and commanding stage presence, the band has been packing in audiences around the world. In 1981 Queen took on the mammoth task of playing stadiums in Argentina and Brazil, two countries very few rock groups rarely touch. Undaunted, the tours were a massive success. Queen played to 131,000 people at one show in Sao Paulo, Brazil, a world record for one group.
The band's overall career, however, hasn’t always been seen through a rose-colored pair of glasses. Eleven years is a long time to keep any successful group together, especially one with as diverse tastes and interests as Queen's members. Relationships have been especially strained since the band took over their own management in 1978.
"We've always had the ideas musically and artistically,” said Deacon, “of what we wanted to do. Whether it was which records we wanted to put out or where we wanted to tour. We thought that controlling our own destiny was a nice move. We would be free of people telling us what to do or wanting to tell us what to do. They couldn’t take advantage of our earnings either. I have a head for math, so I have bit more of the business side tend to than the others do.
Deacon said that like most corporate committees, it is difficult to get the four musicians together to discuss anything related to the business of Queen. When they do get together, it’s even more difficult to get anyone to agree on anything they discuss. But, he said, they have managed rather well regardless of the strain, because as he says, "I can only answer that question because we're still here."
Music is the one item on the agenda they all agree on. The four musicians enjoy making music, and they would rather make it with each other than anybody else. Yes, Roger Taylor has released a solo album this year called Fun In Space, and Mercury is looking for time to make his own album, but Queen is still operating as a unit and will be entering the studios again soon for another musical exploration.
In a way, though, it seems that they have accomplished all there is to accomplish. What's left to conquer?
"I don't know," Deacon responded. "We never talk about it enough as a whole. We don't have any huge goals set that we want to conquer. We don't analyze too much what we do."