The Works


Hollywood Records, 1984

REVIEW BY: Christopher Thelen


I don't know why this is, but for some reason we here at "The Daily Vault" seem to review something from the Queen catalog every six months or so; the last time I touched on their catalog, I had just completed moving the Pierce Archives in June.

By a look at the old calendar, we're overdue - so let's dust off their 1984 release The Works - an album I pulled at random out of the Archives last week, and one I can't understand why I haven't listened to on a regular basis.

Freddie Mercury and crew had enjoyed sporadic success on the American charts in the early '80s. "Crazy Little Thing Called Love" and "Under Pressure" had done rather well; a third single, "Body Language," had scared some program directors away. But Queen, as they had been for their entire career, was still torn between being an all-out rock and roll band and trying to focus on the more gentle moments of the music. The Works again tries to merge the two - and succeeds better than some of their other releases.

Probably one of the best-known songs on this album is "Radio Ga Ga," the band's tribute to the original "talking box" that was in the midst of facing its biggest challenge - the music video. Whether or not this was the imagery Roger Taylor was trying to capture in the song is not known (and the remaining members of the band aren't returning my phone calls - see if I ever get you Bulls tickets again), but the affinity for the radio and its history is both poignant and sweet-sounding. (Of course, a hit music video, featuring scenes from my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250 Metropolis, didn't hurt things.) If anything, "Radio Ga Ga" served as one of the best mergers between rock and pop that Queen ever accomplished - though I will admit I wasn't particularly fond of the synthesizers (are those drums live? I don't think so) on this one.

When Queen went with all guns blazing at rock, their efforts were incredibly good. "Tear It Up" is a great song, eclipsed only by "Hammer To Fall," which is a little gentler. "Hammer To Fall" should have been a hit single - why it didn't shatter the charts I'll never know. The bonus track thrown on in celebration of Queen's 20th anniversary back in 1991, "I Go Crazy," is a self-deprecating piece which is both powerful in the music and funny in the lyrics.

The ballads show both the strengths and weakness of Queen. The album's original closer, "Is This The World We Created...?", is one of the most beautiful songs the band ever wrote, with Brian May providing just the right touch on acoustic guitar. Mercury's vocal is also powerful in its more hushed tones. But others either plow old ground or sit there spinning their wheels. "It's A Hard Life" sounds like umpteen other power ballads that Queen had done in the eleven previous years, while "Keep Passing The Open Windows"... well, what the hell was this song supposed to be about? Mercury's piano work is nice, but the song just doesn't go anywhere.

Another well-known song on The Works, "I Want To Break Free," seems a little blase almost fifteen years later; even the sight of a cross-dressing Mercury in the video is hardly shocking anymore. And though "Man On The Prowl" tries to recapture the doo-wop success Queen had with "Crazy Little Thing Called Love," it does succeed on its own merits in the end.

Where The Works succeeds is in its overall sound and structure. The balance between pop and rock is damn near perfect - my only complaint is I wish the album had been longer (side one clocks in at just under 17 minutes). Fact was, Queen was on a roll with this album, and I wish they had added some more songs to it to keep the momentum going.

Even with the greatest-hits collections out on the market, The Works is a very enjoyable album which is worth picking up for the undiscovered gems. Without these -- even without the flawed tracks -- the hits seem a little out of place; they're best enjoyed in their natural and planned environment.

Rating: B+

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© 1998 Christopher Thelen and The Daily Vault. All rights reserved. Review or any portion may not be reproduced without written permission. Cover art is the intellectual property of Hollywood Records, and is used for informational purposes only.