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Elektra 166
Released: November 1978
Chart Peak: #6
Weeks Charted: 18
Certified Platinum: 11/28/78

Freddie MercuryThere's no jazz on Queen's new record, in case fans of either were worried about the defilement of an icon. Queen hasn't the imagination to play jazz, for that matter, to play rock & roll. Jazz is just more of the same dull pastiche that's dominated all of this British supergroup's work: tight guitar/bass/drums heavy-metal clichés, light-classical pianistics, four-part harmonies that make the Four Freshmen sound funky and Freddie Mercury's throat-scratching lead vocals.

Anyway, it shouldn't be surprising that Queen calls its album "jazz." The guiding principle of these arrogant brats seems to be that anything Freddie & Company want, Freddie & Company get. What's most disconcerting about their arrogance is that it's so unfounded: Led Zeppelin may be as ruthless as medieval aristocrats but at least Jimmy Page has an original electronic approach that earns his band some of its elitist notions. The only thing Queen does better than anyone else is express contempt.

Queen - Jazz
Original album advertising art.
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Take the LP's opening song, "Mustapha." It begins with a parody of a muezzin's shriek and dissolves into an approximation of Arabic music. This is part of Queen's grand design. Freddie Mercury is worldly and sophisticated, a man who knows what the muezzin sounds like. More to the point, you don't. What trips the group up, as usual, is the music. "Mustapha" is merely a clumsy and pretentious rewrite of "Hernando's Hideaway," which has about as much to do with Middle Eastern culture as street-corner souvlaki.

But it's easy to ascribe too much ambition to Queen. "Fat Bottom Girls" isn't sexist -- it regards women not as sex objects but as objects, period (the way the band regards people in general). When Mercury chants, in "Let Me Entertain You," about selling his body and his willingness to use any device to thrill an audience, he isn't talking about a sacrifice for his art. He's just confessing his shamelessness, mostly because he's too much of a boor to feel stupid about it.

Whatever its claims, Queen isn't here just to entertain. This group has come to make it clear exactly who is superior and who is inferior. Its anthem, "We Will Rock You," is a marching order: you will not rock us, we will rock you. Indeed, Queen may be the first truly fascist rock band. The whole thing makes me wonder why anyone would indulge these creeps and their polluting ideas.

- Dave Marsh, Rolling Stone, 2-8-79.

Bonus Reviews!

I've admired Queen's discipline and punch on previous albums, but this delightful package can stand by itself as a rare (from a star group) lampoon of rock, the rock audience, and society in general. They seem to be saying, "Don't you people realize this is all an act? How can you let us get away with it?"

"Mustapha" opens with Freddie Mercury imitating the wail of muezzin calling the faithful to prayer and proceeds to imitate Arabic musical forms. Well, we've had Jesus rock, why not Islamic rock? "Fat Bottomed Girls" is supposedly a tribute to adoring female fans but seems also to be (pardon the pun) a cheeky rebuke. "Let Me Entertain You," which closes side one, is practically a declaration that the audience is a bunch of suckers projecting their fantasies onto Queen (or any major group), which Queen thinks is stupid and hilarious. Not all the other selections are so bold in their dismissal of rock and roll culture, but there are moments aplenty when the band -- always maintaining their usual high standard of performance -- takes a surgeon's pleasure in dissecting both themselves and the audience.

Disclaimers such as Queen's are rare. When John Lennon was asked in 1964 how good a group he thought the Beatles were, he answered: "Average, just average. We'll last about two years, but by that time we'll have made our money." At thirty the garrulous Pete Townshend was quoted as saying he felt like a fool still prancing about on a stage for the benefit of teenage girls. Queen is one of the few top groups to say that rock's excesses are as much the audience's as the performers' fault, that rock is not an art form but a form of entertainment that has gotten rather out of hand. Musical quality has never been held at a premium in rock. The last ten years of fads and hypes -- from "glitter rock" to "punk" -- have been filled with musical poseurs, poetasters, and politicians. With Jazz Queen has summed up a mediocre and self-deluding decade with blunt vaudeville humor, and for that I respect them.

- Joel Vance, Stereo Review, 2/79.

The title of this LP is a bit deceptive as there is not much jazz here. Instead, Queen continues to expand the borders off its harmonies against swirling and grandiose instrumental work. This LP marks the return of Roy Thomas Baker to the band's production helm; the result, of course, is a state-of-the-art studio LP. With all four members of Queen contributing material here, there is a divergence of styles, from what is being described as the "first Moroccan rock'n'roll song," to a New Orleans flavored "Dreamer's Ball." Included also are the two songs on Queen's current single "Fat Bottomed Girls" and "Bicycle Race," two compositions that rank with Queen's best. Best cuts: those mentioned above and "Fun It," "More Of That Jazz."

- Billboard, 1978.

Despite the title -- come back, Ry Cooder, all is forgiven -- this isn't completely disgusting. "Bicycle Race" is even funny. Put them down as 10cc, with a spoke, or a pump, up their ass. C+

- Robert Christgau, Christgau's Record Guide, 1981.

Despite its commercial success, Queen's albums were hit-and-miss affairs, with every step forward (News of the World) seemingly followed by a misstep (Jazz). What they meant by the title has never been clear, and the single "Bicycle Race"/"Fat-Bottomed Girls," although it became a minor hit on career momentum, is not among the group's more memorable efforts. After this, it was time for a new direction, and happily, Queen found it with The Game. * * * *

- William Ruhlmann, The All-Music Guide to Rock, 1995.

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