Queen - Hot Space
or better or worse, we here at Stylus, in all of our autocratic consumer-crit greed, are slaves to timeliness. A record over six months old is often discarded, deemed too old for publication, a relic in the internet age. That's why each week at Stylus, one writer takes a look at an album with the benefit of time. Whether it has been unjustly ignored, unfairly lauded, or misunderstood in some fundamental way, we aim with On Second Thought to provide a fresh look at albums that need it.
Following their massively successful 1980 album The Game, Queen’s Hot Space is often considered a failed attempt to exploit the dance market they reached with "Another One Bites The Dust". While it sunk commercially (at least in the states), I'd argue that artistically it ranks amongst their highest achievements. The credit for this should go to singer Freddie Mercury's moustache. Everyone forgets that while Freddie cut his long hair between Jazz—their tired, final album of the '70s—and The Game, it wasn't until Hot Space that an album cover featured that flaming handlebar. The new look was so inspiring that he was offering five cent rides to everyone in earshot; side one of Hot Space is the closest he ever got to being a true disco diva.
The album opens with "Staying Power", an electro-disco track with frenetic horns (courtesy of Bee Gees/Aretha Franklin producer Arif Mardin) and Mercury prancing around screaming "Fire down below! I'm just a regular dynamo!" and "Blow, baby, blow! Let's get down and go-go!" The tinny vigor is almost frighteningly flamboyant. “Dancer” is recommended to any Led Zeppelin fan who wonders where the band would have gone after In Through The Out Door. An insistent synth-thump pulses beneath Mercury as works himself into a bubbly boil before Queen's trademark operatic background vocals and harsh guitars crash through the chorus. The Brian May-penned track features a searing, searing solo that makes it rank with the finest disco-metal; it thrusts like Led Zep's "The Ocean," but with a pop crassness that Zep never got close to achieving (though Robert Plant made some strong attempts in his solo material). Where the vocals used to be evenly split between the singers in the ‘70s, Mercury was now commanding every track and THANK GOD. May and Taylor's voices weren't bad per se, but I'm glad they realized that if you've got the opportunity to let FREDDIE MERCURY sing your song, you should let him. The unhinged joy heard in that man’s delivery, as he demands we “WORK IT! WORK IT! WORK IT!” is unparalleled.
The next shoulda-been-a-single is "Back Chat", by bassist John Deacon. What could have been just another anti-player-hater anthem is made brilliant by Mercury's slathering anguish (note all the sounds he makes between the lyrics) and the swanky snap of the music, which would been a boon to any album by Roxy Music or ABC. Following all these Fantasy-World top ten hits is "Body Language", which did actually make the U.S. top 20, despite consisting merely of a loping shuffle, some spacey keyboards and Freddie screaming “GIVE ME YOUR BODY! SEXY BOD-AY!” It's lots of fun (I enjoy those weird firecracker sound effects), but lacks the weight of the earlier tracks. “Action This Day” is yet another enthusiastic marvel.
Unfortunately, side two is the usual pompous if intermittently rewarding Queen material fans should be used to. You get two overblown, incoherent May anthems concerning gun control and the Falklands War and Taylor-via-Mercury telling children to spread the message of love (will do, buddy). You also get Mercury's oddball tribute to John Lennon that reads like nonsense ("Music will be my mistress / Laughing like a whore / Lennon is a genius / Living in ev'ry pore / Life is real / Life is real") but is performed like a last will and testament over a plinking piano that I hope someone’s rapped over by now and "Cool Cat", which is a supper-club sequel to "Dancer" with Mercury shamelessly shrieking away in his highest register.
Worried about whether their audience could handle their new vibe, the band tacked "Under Pressure”, their hit collaboration with David Bowie onto the end of the album, despite including the single a year before on their original Greatest Hits LP. That’s fine with me, seeing how "Under Pressure" is the best song of all time. As the lyrics describe the "terror of knowing what this world is about", the band offers some of the things that make living worthwhile: dance beats that keep on giving (literally! “Ice Ice Baby”!), multiple climaxes, Bowie working himself into hysterics over the plight of mankind, Mercury punctuating his verse with several bars of operatic gibberish, finger snaps and hand claps. Even if they hadn’t included that opus, Hot Space, so poorly represented in their numerous compilations, would remain one of the few Queen full-lengths that merit purchase.
By: Anthony Miccio
Published on: 2004-11-23