Introduction: When it comes to Queen, it's hard to find the magnum opus that defines the band's career. But the album that most often receives that honor is A Night at the Opera. I've listened to this album a few times, and I've come to appreciate Mercury's diverse voice and the sometimes-corny back-up harmonies, as well as the album's freshness and replay ability. On with the review.
A Night at the Opera
Backstory: 1975 was hardly a drought year in rock history. Other new releases that year included Bruce Springsteen's Born to Run, Pink Floyd's Wish You Were Here, and Led Zeppelin's Physical Graffiti. But Queen's fourth studio album wasn't going to be overshadowed for a big reason; at the time it was released, its production costs had made it the most expensive album ever made. The extra dough paid off, as the album was warmly received by many critics. That critical acclaim has made it one of their best-known albums.
Death on Two Legs (Dedicated To...): The downright beautiful piano intro is corrupted by several haunting strokes of a guitar, and after a faint scream, we find a piano beat and a wild guitar leading the way. Right away, we can tell that Freddie's ticked off about something. According to my research, this song is directed toward Queen's ex-manager, who was apparently a total as$hole. A "sewer rat" from a "cesspool of pride." Ouch. Anyway, the whole song kicks some major arse, especially the refrain. 5/5
Lazing on a Sunday Afternoon: This track is only 1:07 long. Mercury sounds like a stage showman rather than a rock vocalist due to distortion effects. The track is nothing special until Brian May comes in on Red Special and fits in a 15-second solo at the end of the song. 4/5
I'm in Love with My Car: This song comes thundering out of the gate and keeps on coming. The soaring, distorted guitar and pounding piano give it a powerful sound. This is one of the few Queen tracks written by drummer Roger Taylor. 4/5
You're My Best Friend: This is a classic Queen track; if you can't recognize those pulsing keyboards at the start, you're not much of a classic rock fan. May's guitar work brings us to the close of bassist/keyboardist John Deacon's contribution to the album. 4/5
'39: One of the most interesting tracks, "'39" tells of space explorers who leave Earth for a year, but upon their return home, 100 years on Earth have passed (due to time dilation, like in "Planet of the Apes"). A strange topic for sure, but perhaps not surprising, considering its writer, May, had received degrees in physics. This song gives us a chance to hear Mercury's gentle and echoing vocal stylings. For a few seconds in the middle, we get a glimpse of May's high-pitched guitar. 4.5/5
Sweet Lady: This one kicks off with one of the strongest riffs of the album. I'm not a big fan of the syncopated refrain, however. 3.5/5
Seaside Rendezvous: This is the epitome of Queen playful and carefree style. The song is chock-full of harmonies and showcases a return of Mercury's showman voice. The 30-second sound effect section (roughly 0:50-1:20) is probably my favorite part of the album, and believe it or not, the only instruments used are Mercury and Taylor's voices and thimbles (for the tap dancing section). 5/5
The Prophet's Song: This is the longest song of the album and the longest non-instrumental of Queen's career. It's one of two genuinely epic songs on this record, and the nearly 3-minute vocal canon in the middle is a strange yet cool musical experience. The song features some of the best musicianship on the album. 5/5
Love of My Life: This song features a classical piano style, quality guitar work, and emotional vocals and harmonies. 4/5
Good Company: This playful melody, similar to Seaside Rendezvous in style, is not as entertaining as the other tracks, but it's not a bad filler song. I think they just wanted another song to separate "The Prophet's Song" and what comes next. 3/5
Bohemian Rhapsody: I've always liked "Bohemian Rhapsody." The "Wayne's World" performance has cemented its status as one of my classic rock favorites. On a school ski trip, me and three of my friends were on a chairlift, and it had stopped halfway up the mountain. So, we started singing "Bohemian Rhapsody" to pass the time. After all, what's not to love about this song? Mercury's voice is as good as it gets, and the guitar solo is like a punch in the face, but it feels so good. Operatic songs like this are are unparalleled in classic rock. Call it overplayed, overblown, overrated, but don't call it bad. 5/5
God Save the Queen: Or, as we like to call it, "My Country, 'Tis of Thee." This version is pretty good, and it provides an effective and satisfactory closer to a great album. 4/5
Final Verdict: I obviously liked this album. From Mercury's ever-changing vocals, to May's soaring solos, the performance is fantastic. The extra production costs were worth it, as the album still sounds great and fresh 33 years later. Not every song was perfect, but each track brings something new, and that type of variety is definitely something I look for in a good album. The final verdict: 5/5