Halfway between glam and progressive rock, Queen’s first album of 1974 is its most extreme. Inspired by prog’s continuous LP sides (or at least Abbey Road), Queen II‘s rarely silent suites pay tribute to Phil Spector’s Wall of Sound technique; not by packing a studio with musicians as Brian Wilson had done, but by layering overdub upon overdub of dense distorted guitar that suggests shoegaze 15 years before My Bloody Valentine. Nowadays anyone can make their guitar hum like a violin with the right software, but in ’74 many of the effects on Brian May’s “Procession”/”Father to Son” were unprecedented. Note also the severe stereo panning on Roger Taylor’s hyper-aggressive tom-toms; the microphones nearly recoil at the volume and violence of his strokes.
Divided into a May-dominated “white” LP side and a Freddie Mercury-composed “black” side, Queen II overdoses on monarchy and mythology; every other song is framed in English folklore. Given the glam context of Mick Rock’s iconic Marlene Dietrich-esque band photo on the album cover, “The Fairy Feller’s Master-Stroke” seems like a fairly transparent coding of Mercury’s sexuality, but in actuality it’s a detailed rendering of Richard Dadd’s ridiculously ornate 19th-century painting of the same name, translated into resplendent vocal and guitar curlicues. “Funny How Love Is” goes for the Spector sound in a big, blatant way: There are so many acoustic guitars scraping away simultaneously that they feel like sandpaper on your ears. The album concludes with a rollicking “Seven Seas of Rhye,” a mere snippet on the debut but the band’s first U.K. hit single here. There’d be many more.