Monday, 16 January 2017

"A Day At The Races" by QUEEN (Island/Queen Productions '2011 Digital Remaster' CD + Bonus EP Edition) - A Review by Mark Barry...

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"...You Take My Breath Away..."

In tiny print on Page 4 of this rather ordinary looking Island Records/Queen Productions '2011 Digital Remaster' Reissue are the unsung heroes of the hour - Audio Restoration by KRIS FREDRICKSSON and Mastering by BOB LUDWIG - meticulously re-created from the original analogue master tapes.

And having heard this densely overdubbed and overpopulated album before on a previous CD incarnation - these claims aren't some marketing ploy or Marx Brothers joke. Only a few moments into the layered-guitars fade-in pomp of "Tie Your Mother Down" and you're in no doubt that its time to 'party down'. The clarity of the piano and vocal in the quieter passages of "The Millionaire Waltz" – that huge guitar solo on "You And I" - the wall of voices on "Somebody To Love" – it’s all magnificent and a world away from our humble Christmas LPs from 1976. Take My Breath Away indeed. Let's get to the Royal silverware right away...

UK released 14 March 2011 (17 May 2011 in the USA) - "A Day At The Races" by QUEEN on Island Records/Queen Productions 276 441 6 (Barcode 602527644165) is a '2011 Digital Remaster' Edition with a Bonus EP. There is also a single-disc version of "A Day In The Races" (minus the EP CD) that comes in a 'Super-Disc' rounded-corner jewel case and is on Island Records/Queen Productions 276 441 7 (Barcode 602527644172).

Disc 1 "A Day The Races" album - 44:29 minutes:
1. Tie Your Mother Down
2. You Take My Breath Away
3. Long Away
4. The Millionaire Waltz
5. You And I
6. Somebody To Love [Side 2]
7. White Man
8. Gold Old-Fashioned Lover Boy
9. Drowse
10. Teo Torriatte (Let Us Cling Together)
Tracks 1 to 10 are their 5th studio album "A Day At The Races" - released December 1976 in the UK on EMI Records EMTC 104 and January 1977 in the USA on Elektra 6E-101. Played, Arranged and Produced by QUEEN (Engineered by MIKE STONE) - it peaked at No. 1 in the UK and No. 5 in the USA on the album charts.

Disc 2 "Bonus EP" - 22:33 minutes:
1. Tie Your Mother Down (Backing Track Mix 2011)
2. Somebody To Love (Live At Milton Keynes Bowl, June 1982)
3. You Take My Breath Away (Live In Hyde Park, September 1976)
4. Good Old-Fashioned Lover Boy (Top Of The Pops, July 1977) (Mono)
5. Teo Torriatte (Let Us Cling Together) (HD Mix)

It seems odd to me after all the obvious aural diligence spent on this reissue that someone at Island couldn't have come up with packaging that reflected the beauty of the original gatefold LP. Both "A Night At The Opera" and "A Day At The Races" famously reeked of visual opulence - embossed Queen Logo artwork – a lavish gatefold sleeve and inner - they 'felt' like an event as well as sounded like one. The square double jewel case and the 12-page booklet do the job for sure - but even though the lyrics are there - the four band member photos, some extra live shots and new liner notes on the Bonus EP (but not the album?) - it all feels dreadfully ordinary for a No. 1 record ("A Night At The Opera" had achieved the same rare chart status in December 1975). And frankly why have two editions when you could have had one with the EP added onto CD1 as extras tracks (there’s room)?

Recorded between July and November 1976 – the layering and scope of these songs is (even now) huge and yet still uniquely 'Queen'. You have to marvel at Brian May's distinctive guitar sound and his sixpence plectrums – those flourishes on the decidedly strange "White Man" – and then leaping from that to the acoustic simplicity of "Long Away" – a song I return to much more than all the others. Those swirling guitars that open Roger Taylor's "Drowse" sound just like its title - and again brilliant clarity as May's slide-guitar flourishes give a nod to Pink Floyd’s Dave Gilmour on "Wish You Were Here" from the year prior. The near six-minutes of the finale song "Teo Torriatte (Let Us Cling Together)" allow Freddie Mercury space to show off his extraordinary vocal range as Brian plays Harmonium Piano. I’d forgotten how pretty the melody is – and that anthemic vocal passage before the Quadrophenia musical ending is pure Queen.

Bonus Tracks are often crap that should have stayed in the can – but the Bonus EP turns out to be actually worth of the moniker Bonus. It is truly bizarre to hear "Tie Your Mother Down" as an instrumental with partial vocals (Freddie’s lead is removed) – but it actually works and comes as a genuinely clever addition to the album’s canon. Widely regarded as their best performance of the vocal marathon that is "Somebody To Love" – the Milton Keynes performance makes up in sheer passion for what it lacks in fidelity (are you ready). Freddie previews the gorgeous “You Take My Breath Away” a full two months before the album’s release somehow getting the exited audience to ‘listen to this one’ – his vocal and piano mesmerizing – reminding you of his power as a live performer. It’s special stuff. The Mono Top Of The Pops cut of "Good old Fashioned Lover Boy" is the worst sounding track on here – but with different May guitar work – extra vocals from Roger and Freddie – it’s a collector’s nugget. First included on the Japan-Only "Jewels II" Box Set in 2005 – the High Definition Digital Mix of "Teo Torriatte (Let Us Cling Together)" sounds spectacular for sure – but then so does the 2011 – both feeling like veils lifted in terms of audio.

Aside from my reservations about the presentation – this is a balls-to-the-wall triumph in the area that matters most – the sound. And thankfully that Bonus EP actually lives up to its name. Find a version to love – this is the one...

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