Back in the ’70s, when rock acts largely stuck to rocking and American bands in particular strove to appear genuine, flitting about from one genre to the next flew in the face of cool. Restless, yet cred-heavy new-wave upstarts like Elvis Costello and Talking Heads changed all that. Pop — particularly in early-’80s England — also became considerably hipper and more experimental. With this 1980 blockbuster, Queen ramped up its pop: The Game‘s two No. 1 singles — Freddie Mercury’s rockabilly “Crazy Little Thing Called Love” and John Deacon’s flagrantly Chic and fantastic disco-funk “Another One Bites the Dust” — veered furthest from the band’s hard rock foundation.
Recorded in Giorgio Moroder’s Munich studio with ELO‘s German producer Mack, the quartet’s ninth album — its sole U.S. chart-topper — features far less fussy performances. The overdubbed layers that previously packed tracks are scaled back and reserved for crescendos, and the new-wave influence is unmistakable: Roger Deacon’s “Need Your Loving Tonight” bobs and bops like the Knack; the chiming intro to Mercury’s “Don’t Try Suicide” is pure Police, while Roger Taylor’s “Coming Soon” chugs away in jacked-up pub-rock fashion à la Nick Lowe.
Most startlingly, Queen — a band whose command of studio effects and guitar pedal was so electronically advanced that each of their previous albums bore some variation on a “no synths” declaration in the credits — began embracing synthesizers: Opening track “Play the Game” generates a show-stopping Oberheim OB-X-generated solo that shoots like lasers in smoke-machine fog. It wouldn’t be the last.