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The pressure of a Review


"Queen: perhaps the most unique band in the history of rock music," goes the narration at the beginning of the recently released DVD Queen under Review: 1973–1980 (Chrome Dreams). Whether or not it's possible to be more unique than other "unique" bands, there's something to this statement. Maybe "Queen: the biggest anomaly in the history of rock" would be more accurate.

In any case, Queen was a multifaceted band, with more depth than its gaudy popular image suggests. (I say "was" out of a refusal to acknowledge the current Paul Rodgers–fronted touring version.) Everybody knows Queen, but generally in just a superficial, greatest-hits-only way. We've all been subjected to "We Will Rock You" and "Another One Bites the Dust" more times than we've cared for, but how many people can name even one song on, say, Queen II (Elektra, 1974)?

I listened to "Bohemian Rhapsody" in high school just like everyone else did — Wayne's World came out during my sophomore year — but didn't become an official convert until I finally sat down with Queen II a few years ago. It helps that this album of dark, majestic (and, yes, occasionally pompous) hard rock has no big hits and can therefore be listened to without the pop-cultural baggage that weighs down everything from 1975's A Night at the Opera (Elektra) through 1980's The Game (Hollywood). Once you get past the megahits, though, it turns out that every Queen album from this era has several excellent lesser-known songs — as well as at least one atrocious, unlistenable one (e.g., almost anything sung by drummer Roger Taylor). Sorting through, scrutinizing, and compiling these songs has been a minor obsession of mine for a while.

It was in this mind-set that I welcomed the arrival of Queen under Review, released by a UK imprint that's been raining down "unauthorized," cheap-looking DVDs like blood from a lacerated sky. Perusing Chrome Dreams' Geocities-esque Web site reveals a couple other Queen titles as well as a few more installments in the Under Review series, including ones on the Who, the Small Faces, and Syd Barrett. It's a worthwhile concept: Gather a group of critics and other insiders to dissect and discuss the work of a band in blow-by-blow fashion and intersperse it with documentary footage (albeit within the somewhat restrictive bounds of "fair use").