Sheer Heart Attack captivated me many years ago, even though back then I understood very little, both literally and figuratively. I remember being mesmerized by the unusual tone of “In the Lap of the Gods,” loving “Tenement Funster,” being scared by the aggressiveness of “Flick of the Wrist” – again, completely missing out the lyrics but sensing the mood from the harsh riffs, Freddie’s voice, and the threatening rhythm. There was something vaguely dangerous and therefore entrancing about this album – at least, for my 14-year-old self – was it the cover that I associated with the idea of the heart attack or because I hardly knew English at that point? Anyway, 30 years have passed, I came back to Sheer Heart Attack, and it became one of my favorite Queen albums (probably, only topped by A Day At The Races). Of course, many aspects became clearer after I watched the recordings of these songs’ live performances – mainly, Rainbow’ 74.
What I thought when playing this album during my morning walks is how deeply it is influenced by the American culture. About half of the songs bear this spirit – Brian’s “Now I’m Here” – his emotional and explosive impressions of New Orleans, as well as his “She Makes Me” with the mesmerizing rhythm and the sounds of police cars; Freddie’s “Stone Cold Crazy,” a racing rock’n’roll, with its cinematographic sense of a hectic chase, and “Bring Back That Leroy Brown,” a lovely and playful tribute to Jim Croce and his song “Bad, Bad Leroy Brown.”
Another striking feature is Freddie’s talent in staging a dialogue within a song – like, for example, in “Brighton Rock,” where he clearly separates one character from another by alternating between falsetto and lower tone (I hear this exchange in “Misfire” too). The way Freddie acts out each song is one of the reasons why this album can be visualized so vividly, be it a cabaret act in “Killer Queen,” a dreamy storyteller from a Rhye world in “Lily of the Valley,” a classical vocal in “Dear Friends,” or a unique and mysterious voice in “In the Lap of the Gods.”
I had a hard time choosing the tracks for this Tiny Essay, because this album is so dense, and all songs are connected to each other; however, if asked to choose my favorites, I would pick Brian’s “Dear Friends,” a wonderful lullaby, bearing a spirit of the Victorian novels that I love so much; Freddie’s “In the Lap of the Gods,” because it is such a Queen song, with all four of them shining (especially, in their live performance), with the rich and full sound, and Roger’s stunning high-pitched backing vocals; John’s “Misfire” – because of its wonderful combination of joyful guitars and Freddie’s gentle voice; and of course Roger’s sentimental and bitter insight into his youth in “Tenement Funster,” a part of a triptych starting from “Looser in the End” and ending with “Drowse.”
Looking at my cassette of Sheer Heart Attack I was astonished to think that it was released for their 20th anniversary. Back then, in the 1990s, I thought – as a Beatles fan, then as a Queen fan – that their albums existed in the distant and blessed music realm, now completely separated from myself. But lately I have been feeling more and more connected to the 70s Queen albums, even though I know that they came out when I was just born. The experiences of the last three years – hearing “In the Lap of the Gods (Revisited)” live, reading Dr. May’s notes and stories, and being surrounded by fellow fans, made me finally sense that ages and years are irrelevant when it comes to this music. I am happy to celebrate their 50th with this feeling.
Katya Neklyudova, 2021