Saturday, 22 April 2017

"Sheer Heart Attack: 2011 Digital Remaster 2CD Deluxe Edition" by QUEEN (March 2011 Island Records 2-Disc Reissue) - A Review by Mark Barry...





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"…Dynamite With A Laser Beam…"

The first 1986 CD reissue, the 1991 Hollywood version from the USA, the 1993 UK variant – and now this '2011 Digital Remaster' – yet another definitive version tapping Queen's lucrative back catalogue - this time on Island Records.

Their breakthrough 3rd album on EMI Records has had (like most huge titles from the period) its fair share of recomboozalated whirls on the old digital merry-go-round. But this latest wallet-tempter for Queen fans has to be the best – at least sonically – although I find that the visuals are once again naught to write home about...

First of all - the '2011 Digital Remaster' comes in two variants – the single European CD version on Island Records 276 440 9 (Barcode 602527644097) with just the 13-track album. The one I want to concentrate on is its big brother – the 2CD 'Deluxe Edition' with a Bonus EP of 5-tracks as Disc 2. Here are the tenement funsters...

UK and Europe released March 2011 - "Sheer Heart Attack: 2011 Digital Remaster 2CD Deluxe Edition" by QUEEN on Island Records 276 441 1 (Barcode 602527644110) is a CD + BONUS EP Reissue/Remaster and breaks down as follows:

Disc 1 (39:08 minutes):
1. Brighton Rock [Side 1]
2. Killer Queen
3. Tenement Funster
4. Flick Of The Wrist
5. Lily Of The Valley
6. Now I'm Here
7. In The Lap Of The Gods [Side 2]
8. Stone Cold Crazy
9. Dear Friends
10. Misfire
11. Bring Back That Leroy Brown
12. She Makes Me (stormtrooper in stilettos)
13. In The Lap Of The Gods...revisited
Tracks 1 to 13 are their 3rd studio album "Sheer Heart Attack" - released November 1974 in the UK on EMI Records EMC 3061 and in the USA on Elektra 7E-1026. Produced by QUEEN and ROY THOMAS BAKER – it peaked at No. 2 in the UK and No. 12 in the USA

Disc 2 BONUS EP (15:48 minutes):
1. Now I’m Here (Live At The Hammersmith Odeon, December 1975)
2. Flick Of The Wrist (BBC Session, October 1974)
3. Tenement Funster (BBC Session, October 1974)
4. Bring Back That Leroy Brown (A Cappella Mix 2011)
5. In The Lap Of The Gods... revisited (Live At Wembley Stadium, July 1986)

The round-cornered 'super jewel case' certainly looks the part but in truth I find them bloody awkward to use. At least the 16-page booklet is a better affair than previous - new period photos of the band - the lyrics to the songs that were on the inner bag are here too as are track-by-track explanations of the BONUS EP by GREG BROOKS and GARY TAYLOR. But there's no history of the album - no rare foreign picture sleeves for this most collectable of bands - no reminiscences or input from surviving members of the band... It's good but hardly great and visually feels about as special as used Pizza Hut box.

At least the audio lives up to the highlighted sentence inside - "This 2011 version has been meticulously re-created using the finest modern analogue and digital technology from the original first-generation masters mixes" - because you can 'hear' this sucker the second you play that fairground opening to "Brighton Rock" - the manic Brian May guitars slowing creeping in as Mercury gives it some falsetto 'Jimmy went away' and 'Rock of Ages' lyrics. The team that did wonders with the 2005 versions of 1975's "A Night At The Opera" and 1976's "A Day At The Races" are back - KRIS FREDRIKSSON and JUSTIN SHIRLEY-SMITH with Audio maestro BOB LUDWIG doing the mastering. The Bonus EP has different sources  - all mastered by ADAM AYAN at Gateway Mastering. The results are amazing...

While the sheer sonic attack of the guitars in the brilliant and wild "Brighton Rock" is enough to impress (written by Brian May) - the impact of clarity on Freddie Mercury’s insanely catchy "Killer Queen" is another thing altogether. I've never heard May's layered guitars so clear - Mercury's lead vocal so in your face - the backing vocals and flanged effects – all of it is a wow. Brian Taylor's Rock 'n' Roll 45s has been enraging the stuffy neighbours on the lower floor in his "Tenement Funster". But what I hadn't bargained for is that piano-intro that segues into the sinister "Flick Of The Wrist" - it's so damn clean now - a long way from my battered UK EMI LP where the sleeve always seemed to split at the slightest pressure. The 'intoxicate your brain' vocals are full of power too. The short but pretty "Lily Of The Valley" is impressive - Mercury at the piano holding court as he continues the 'Seven Seas Of Rhye' story begun on "Queen II" in 1973. But my rave has always been the barnstorming single "Now I'm Here" - the opening vocals and drum whacks panning from speaker to speaker. When it kicks in with the 'I'm just a new man...' riff - you're won over - and you're down in the dungeon with peaches 'n' me.

Side 2's "In The Lap Of The Gods" has always been a Prog moment for me - oohs and aahs and crashing cymbals - wonderfully clear audio as parts of the song feel very similar in structure to 'that' single which would dominate Christmas 1975 (the last "Leave it in the Lap Of The Gods" chorus is so good). Back to mania with the huge "Stone Cold Crazy" and I'm thinking Heart was listening to this when they recorded "Barracuda". And again you marvel at the sheer virtuosity of May's playing - little flicks - huge riffs - memorable solos - he uses them all. Although it sounds like a Freddie tune - the short but sweet "Dear Friends" is actually a Brian May composition and feels like a hymn sung to a child. John Deacon puts up the acoustic bop of "Misfire" where love's a game and don't misfire your loaded gun (ok boys). I've always disliked the cod seaside banjo of "Bring Back That Leroy Brown" - better is May's "She Makes Me" where Queen feel melodious and huge at one and the same time. It ends on another vocal tour-de-force - the revisited "In The Lap Of The Gods" - the manic stripped away - Queen wallowing in their own sound...

"Now I'm Here" on the Bonus EP actually dates from the British November/December 1975 tour for "A Night At The Opera" where both the album and the single "Bohemian Rhapsody" nestled at No. 1 in the charts. It was recorded at The Hammersmith Odeon in London and apparently this kick-ass version opened the show. Hero of the hour for the two BBC Sessions turns out to be a man I bought records off while I worked at Reckless - BBC Sound Recording man Jeff Griffin (engineered by Chris Lycett). Apparently it was practice for the Beeb to wipe tapes back in those less-enlightened days - but Jeff held onto to them for 40 years – hence their new inclusion here. Both versions of "Flick Of The Wrist" and "Tenement Funster" are close to the finished articles - but it's fun to hear May letting rip on those guitar passages - cutting it live just as much as he did in the studio. The supposed 'A Cappella Mix' of "Bring Back That Leroy Brown" is best described as ‘fun’ - while the immersed rapture of the audience at Wembley Arena in July 1986 is genuinely audible on the finisher "In The Lap Of The Gods". From here the band would go on to do the Scaramouche and the Fandango with thunderbolts and lightning indeed when they owned the world in 1975...

In some ways I can't help thinking someone somewhere at Island Records could have come up with a tastier and more fan-pleasing presentation for "Sheer Heart Attack" after all these decades. And that money-gremlins over at Island know that serious fan-worship will drive Queen lovers into the arms of those Japanese SHM-CDs using the new remasters but with beautifully accurate Repro Mini LP Sleeves. Hell there’ll probably be yet another anniversary box set issue in the next few years with newly found/remixed tiny morsels to tempt us.

But in the meantime – this 2011 Digital Remaster does at least do the Stone Cold Crazy with Audio style. Suffice to say - for now you should park your Marie Antoinette's on this semi-naked Killer Queen...

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