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Reviews > Queen Music Reviews > 03-XX-1979 - Jazz - Creem

by Mitchell Cohen

FOR A FEW weeks in 1978, an FM radio station in New York City was trying, earnestly and imaginatively, to create rock 'n' roll counter-programming. A ratings turnaround didn't happen fast enough, so it changed its format to something called "the Rock Champions" (i.e., more AOR elitism).

This was around the same time that every film clip of The Yankees on television was scored with ‘We Are The Champions’, and the movie FM attempted to pass off ‘We Will Rock You’ as the ‘We Shall Overcome’ of the rock revolution. I started to despise Queen; a two-sided platinum single of aristocratic, pompous, triumph-of-the-will arrogance in 4/4 time (if marches are to resound over the airwaves, better Ace Frehley's ‘New York Groove’ any day) summed up for me the worst in royalist rock, and I couldn't remember more joyless, numbing, contemptuous music reaching a mass audience. Frankly, I was wary of the implications.

I needn't have been. I still despise Queen, but their music is so absurdly dull on Jazz, so filled with dumb ideas and imitative posturing, that it's impossible to feel threatened by a barely competent rock group singing "if you can't beat 'em, join 'em" (real 70's-think: can you imagine a Queen Army, a pack of mascara'd lounge lizards walking in lockstep?). ‘Fun It’ is their disco number for Christ's sake, and it still sounds like a funeral march, with lyrical babble about dynastic movements. And no lead singer who evokes Joel Grey's slimy Cabaret smarminess and who writes "the first Moroccan rock 'n' roll song" (it sounds more like his haftorah) can truly be scary, just genuinely awful.

Queen used to make enjoyably ludicrous records like ‘Liar’ and ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’, and Roy Thomas Baker gave their music an entertaining art-rock veneer that he adapted so successfully for The Cars. But now, even their best jokes – ‘Let Me Entertain You’, a parody of their own worthlessness; ‘Dreamer's Ball’, an extravagantly condescending jazz-blues – are pummeled by the approach to the material. All four of Queen's writers seem to know what a song is (they've learned and stolen from the worst of The Beatles just as Cheap Trick have absorbed and adapted the best) and when to stop, qualities lacking in many of their progressive competitors, and stripped of their pretentious overlays, the tunes on Jazz turn out to be swipes from The Cowsills, ‘Holly Holy’, Magical Mystery Tour, Disraeli Gears, Mott The Who-ple. If only Queen could lock into the simplest formula without attaching dead weights, if Freddie Mercury weren't such a screeching bore (even his cock-rock, like ‘Don't Stop Me Now’, is flaccid), if their arrangements weren't on the basic level of Mel Brooks' ‘Prisoners Of Love’, then Jazz could be studied as a catalog of pop-rock sources.

Mercury, surprise of surprises, may have turned into the weakest link of the quartet (although the rhythm section does plunge to deeper depths, it does so less frequently); his compositions dominate side one and they are, without exception, earsores: ‘Mustapha’ (the weirdest lead-off track in the history of rock albums?), ‘Let Me Entertain You’ (a pure rocky horrorshow). Guitarist Brian May handles all the jazzing up around here, with his rollin' and tumblin' ‘Dead On Time’ and ‘Dreamer's Ball’, the only song that even approximates the LP's title (if Queen pulled a Kiss and released four solo albums, May'd be the best bet to be their Ace), but as he is also responsible for the sniggery ‘Fat Bottomed Girls’, it would be a misrepresentation to exempt him from blame.

Maybe Queen thinks all this is funny, that their undisguised condescension ("rock 'n' roll just pays the bills") and operatic mannerisms atop a beat more Rockette than rock is entertainment, but it's not my idea of a good time. For me, their snappiest one-liner is on the inner sleeve: "Written, arranged and performed exclusively by Queen" As if anyone else would want to step forward and take credit.