This piece was originally published by Audioxide in October 2017. It’s serviceable.
Before listening to News of the World, my previous encounters with Queen were not with any particular studio album, but with the outsized imprint left on popular culture by their ubiquitous hits — with the likes of ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’, ‘I Want to Break Free’, and ‘Don’t Stop Me Now’. Such tracks gave me the impression that Queen adhered quite strictly to the stylistic parameters of elaborate, theatrical stadium rock, that they rarely strayed away from the anthemic mode because it worked for both them and their audience. And though this supposed shtick never much appealed to me – diluted, perhaps, by overexposure – I could at least appreciate that it was delivered with a skill and verve, and understand why it would have appealed so broadly. With this in mind, then, I suppose I should credit News of the World for, at the very least, revealing that I was somewhat mistaken in my assumptions, as this record is endowed with a haphazard stylistic diversity that challenged my expectations of the band. To be sure, despite opening with a one-two punch of their quintessential anthems (‘We Will Rock You’ and ‘We Are the Champions’), the majority of the record is scattershot, offering the listener: a balls-out riposte to punk (‘Sheer Heart Attack’); a cute but ultimately inconsequential Paul McCartney pastiche (‘All Dead, All Dead’); a middling power ballad (‘Spread Your Wings’); ill-advised cod calypso (‘Who Needs You’); and perhaps the most tepid blues jam you’re likely to hear (‘Sleeping on the Sidewalk’). Needless to say, the majority of these stylistic digressions did little for me, as they registered as either uncomfortable, half-baked, or thoroughly insipid from the outset (the languid glam of ‘Get Down, Make Love’ is the rare triple-threat here). Just about the only track that worked on me in any significant way was the penultimate one, the appropriately titled ‘It’s Late’, which is the kind of robust, elaborate epic you’d expect from Queen, tied off with a guitar freak-out to relish and the band’s infectious layered harmonies. It’s familiar, yes, but in returning to comfortable stylistic parameters after several failed experiments, the band actually, finally offers something noteworthy on News of the World.