Queen ‘News of the World’ Box Set Is A Stunner (ALBUM REVIEW)

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1977 was a milestone year for the iconic and legendary British rock and roll band, Queen. The band had recorded another exciting, eclectic album that featured rock, blues, punk and even Latin-influenced tracks. It also boasts two monster singles, “We Will Rock You” and “We Are the Champions”. Both of which have topped the charts and become forever engrained as anthems around the globe due to continuous play on the radio, at sporting events and of course being featured on television and the silver screen. Queen toured relentlessly to support the album, a tour which brought them to America as proper headliners and to truly make their presence known with their brilliant music and over-the-top performances.

To commemorate the achievements and combined talent of late singer, Freddie Mercury, guitarist Brian May, drummer Roger Taylor and bassist John Deacon, Queen has released a new box set, 40 years after the release of their cornerstone recording, News of the World. The 40th Anniversary Edition offers a plethora of gems that leaves no stone unturned. Housed inside the sleek LP-sized box, one will find a new remastered analog cut on vinyl, three separate CDs filled with remasters, alternative takes, BBC radio edits and many live concert recordings to satisfy even the most die-hard fan.

A sixty-page hardcover book, with previously unseen photos and new text, documents the album’s recording and the tour. Reproductions of the original News of the World press kit, seven reproductions of black and white promotional press kit photos and several additional novelty items, such as a replica of the all access tour laminate from the 1977 winter tour of the US, three color posters, a sticker sheet round out the swag list. But, what may be the best part of the box set, is a one hour DVD documentary of behind the scenes action from the 1977 tour that is a feast not only for the ears, but for the eyes as well.

The first CD that is included in this illustrious box set, is a 2011 remaster of the original album, which is nice – but it was released on its own six years ago.  The second CD is an “alternate” version of the album, comprised of demo recordings, alternate takes, and one live concert recording – unfurled in the same order as the original album’s track listing. The third disc is chock-full of prime, BBC studio and live concert recordings, that span from 1977 to 1982. Disc three also includes three instrumental backing tracks, suitable for your karaoke needs.

Disc 2, Raw Sessions, has plenty of meat for the hardy queen fan to chew on. The tastiest morsels of many include, “Rock You” which serves up studio banter and very different guitar solo from Dr. Brian May – one that comes across more off-the-cuff. “Champions” is a very special version, where May noodles through very different guitar fills that what we’ve come to know from the album cut. The band and its production team also extends this take with two additional choruses, which turns this track on its head – changing it up from the original’s curious ending which always leaves the listener wanting to sing the end of the last line. The unique version of “All Dead, All Dead” is mesmerizing and may be one of the more intriguing cuts. For the first time, Queen lets us hear Mercury take over lead vocals on this dramatic and whimsical song. Most queen fans are familiar with the final studio album cut, where guitarist Brian may sings lead.  It’s alternate lyrics also add to this nugget’s alluring charm.  “Spread Your Wings” has such a different feel from the original studio recording. Mercury’s delivery is a much more personal and heartfelt. “Wings” truly comes together in the end with an impressive jam session, where even Mercury feels compelled to acknowledge it. He can be heard at the end of the track, exclaiming, “Oh, what a jam!” He was spot on. The live recording of “Sidewalk” should not be overlooked. It stays true to the studio recording, but again, Mercury takes the reigns from May on lead vocals, and with doing so – adds a more gritty and fierce delivery from the King of Queen.

Disc 3, Bonus Tracks, starts up and bang with an unreleased song called “Feelings Feelings”. It’s an interesting and groovy blues track from the band, which showcases its prowess to lay down a nasty, straight-forward blues progression, and bring it to the rock forefront.  However, this song does come across as somewhat unresolved. More than likely, it was a demo or scratch track, shelved to be revisited later on.  The next five tracks on the desk, feature five studio recordings from the BBC previously released in last year’s box set On Air.  All five tracks are stupendous, especially “Spread Your Wings”, which one should give a very close listen to.  A cool, radio edit of the dramatic rocker “It’s Late”, slyly squeezes itself into the mix. Compared to the studio album recording, the radio edit loses most of its midsection, including May’s guitar solo that features a certain two-hand tapping technique, recorded years before Eddie Van Halen showcased the skill on his band’s eponymous first album. The next three tracks are instrumentals and wonderful for the fan that wants the sing-along, or rather sing alone to the backing tracks. Disc 3 picks up the pace and fuels the fire with several powerful, live recordings.  The best of which include “Sheer Heart Attack” from Paris. It is blistering and more volatile than any other studio recording. The combination of Mercury and Taylor joining forces throughout is magic. A killer, fast-version of “Rock You” from Tokyo follows. This one should have been dedicated to Godzilla! A hedonistic take on “Get Down” assaults the senses in all its glory. “Wings”, and the one-two punch of the staple finale pairing of “Rock You” and “Champions” rounds the disc out nicely.

Ultimately, the crowning jewel of the box set, is Queen: The American Dream. The DVD documents the 1977 US tour and finally provides insight and never-before-seen footage from behind the scenes. Rare shots of Taylor and Mercury jamming on May’s Red Special are caught on camera. As are clues to how fresh the music was to the band as Mercury is caught reading the lyrics from the album’s inner-sleeve as they rehearsed. May offers insight into the meaning behind the lyrics of “Rock You”. Glimpses of the recording and mixing of Freddie’s “Champions” is enlightening, offering a view in to the mind of a musical genius. Rare footage from the album’s launch party, featuring the band mingling with guests and robot Frank – suspended from the ceiling, is quite intriguing. Live concert footage, from behind, the side and in front of the stage permeates the DVD. Candid disagreements and discussion of rumors and internal struggles are discussed. In good fun, backstage nonsense, grumbling, roadies at work, interviews with Fred stroking a porcelain dog, and even trivial footage of the band gathering around the catering trays are included as well. The only missing bits are the cliché scandalous coupling of sex and drugs. Don’t worry, there’s plenty of rock and roll. As a reporter adds early on in the film, “Only a band called Queen could write a song called, “We Are the Champions”. Drummer Roger Taylor smiles as she continues with, “Where’s the modesty?” Taylor grins, glass of white wine in hand, and replies, “There is none.” Very fitting, indeed.

Other than throwing in a replica of Fred’s ballet slippers, what else could Queen and company fit into the deluxe edition of this unrivaled album? From studio outtakes, demo recordings, unreleased material and so forth – this box set effectively gathers the necessary components for a time-capsule worthy deposit. The booty stashed in this treasure chest, is certainly one to seek, if you’re able.

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