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Did Queen Take Themselves Seriously? 'Queen: Greatest Video Hits'

Queen was never a shy band. This makes them a perfect candidate for this double DVD package of music videos.


Queen

Queen: Greatest Video Hits

Label: Eagle Rock
Release date: 2012-08-28
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To sit around and watch all 33 song videos on Queen: Greatest Video Hits, complete with audio commentary from guitarist Brian May and drummer Roger Talyor, is to think of nothing but Queen for several days. This throws off one's musical equilibrium.

Much like Pink Floyd, I've always found Queen to be one of those musical acts that operated inside of a decade that didn't really exist for their contemporaries. Sure, there are elements of their sound (and dress) that pin them to the '70s and '80s. You'd have to be both blind and deaf to not notice that. But somehow, they conjured up a whole other aesthetic that was timely, timeless, dated and wholly unknown -- sometimes all in one song. Any group that idiosyncratic had to have a visual element to match, something that could really cram the "glam" into glam rock.

Queen: Greatest Video Hits, much like the tidal wave of Queen compilations that hit the market after Freddie Mercury's death, doesn't offer much that hasn't been experienced before. It's a bit tough to evaluate this product with fresh eyes and ears since most classic glam rock fans out there are already familiar with Queen's visual components. But there's a lot you can say about Queen's videos. A whole lot. And for the price, Queen: Greatest Video Hits's 15 year sweep across two DVDs is a pretty decent deal.

Videos were not a new thing when Queen were hitting their artistic and commercial stride in the mid '70s. People had years to get used to the bizarre pairings of popular song with abstract and conceptual images. "Strawberry Fields Forever" and "Penny Lane" are prominent examples of what was then known as "song clips" or "film clips". Live footage or lip-synced sound checks were often the formats of choice back in the early '70s. It was probably cheaper and required less thought, freeing up musicians and labelmen to focus on more pressing matters such as making then selling the music.

The earliest video on Queen: Greatest Video Hits, "Killer Queen", is just a mimed performance from Top of the Pops. But over the course of the '70s, the music video turned into an advertising tool with artists like Queen leading the pack. Song clips featuring the band in their current stage setup eventually saw the integration of animated doves and footage of nude bikers. And as more time passed, these clips gave way to some wildly interpretive miniature movies. Some of them were tied to the film industry; the A Kind of Magic album and the first Highlander movie, "Flash" with Flash Gordon and "Radio Ga Ga" with Metropolis. And with so many directors working with a band made up of four songwriters who were constantly wrestling for some album space, you kind of see it all. You see the boring ("Fat Bottomed Girls"), the cheeky ("I Want to Break Free", "It's a Hard Life"), the risqué ("Body Language", "Bicycle Race"), the majestic ("Who Wants to Live Forever"), the abstract ("Under Pressure") and the what-the-hell-did-I-just-watch ("The Invisible Man")? And there's plenty that don't fit neatly into any of these categories.

There are directors who pop up more than just a few times on this collection, like David Mallet and Rudi Dolezal with Hannes Rossacher. Mallet in particular has quite the diverse portfolio going for himself just from Queen videos alone. There's the Metropolis homage of "Radio Ga Ga", complete with the original sets from the film, the Coronation Street-meets-drag-meets-pagan ballet mashup on "I Want to Break Free", Queen's 1984 stage setup accompanying "Hammer to Fall" and a miniature stage to give the non-touring chapter of Queen's career a chance to play under the big lights once again on "I Want It All".

Dolezal and Rossacher are all over the later years by lighting candles for "Who Wants to Live Forever", making a mock newspaper stage for the band to lip-sync on for "Scandal", some genuine crowd interaction for "Friends Will Be Friends", less-than-genuine rehearsal footage for "One Vision", a train smashing through a brick wall on "Breakthru" and some kid in a ball cap using his computer joystick to zap the band members as their silhouettes dance around in a house cutaway -- only to magically appear in his room, totally jamming away. Bruce Gowers was asked to roll film for the two biggest singles from A Night at the Opera, "Bohemian Rhapsody" and "You're My Best Friend", and his touch is a light one.

Even with the grandiose operatic gestures pelting the middle of the former, Gowers doesn't take liberties with the songs the way Freddie Mercury did with vocal overdubs. Daniela Green was just happy to move a camera around the stage during Queen's soundtrack for "Another One Bites the Dust" and Rock Flicks found it perfectly suitable for the members to drag all of their gear into the snow and pretend to play "Spread Your Wings" and "We Will Rock You".

Commentary from Brian May and Roger Taylor ranges from insightful to worthless. For example, I've always wondered how it was possible to get so many females to take off all of their clothes and race around a track on their bicycles in front of a camera crew ("It's okay, ladies! You'll be in a Queen video!"). What do I learn? Talyor says that they were not at the shoot that day and that it "looked like fun". Yeah, we knew that already. Both men struggle for things to say on "Fat Bottomed Girls" and "Scandal", two videos that underwhelmed them greatly. But interesting nuggets of history do get thrown in along with the mundane. For example, "Tie Your Mother Down" was just a lyrical place holder until Freddie Mercury talked Brian May in making that the actual title. "We Are the Champions" and "Friends Will Be Friends" were shot in front of a crowd of Queen fans who just wanted to be a video.

The same goes for the handclapping masses in "Radio Ga Ga". I really thought they would have more to say about "Body Language", a steambath bonzanza of skin that has the distinction of being the first music video to be banned from MTV. But their collective reaction to "It's A Hard Life" is pretty funny. Just as the Victorian set lights up, you can hear the two men moan and groan almost on cue. They open up considerably about The Miracle period and which song originated from which band member (this was a time when all members put their names on the copyrights of all the songs). I learned that "Breakthru" and "One Vision" started as Roger Taylor originals and that Mercury was considerably ill during the "I Want it All" video shoot. He certainly fooled me.

But Queen always fooled me. For a long time, I was happily entrenched in A Night at the Opera without ever having seen a video, live performance or photograph not found in an album sleeve. I didn't need any visuals to appreciate the music, I thought it could stand on its own. So when I discovered Queen's sense of drama and flamboyance, it was a bit of an overload. But then as time passed, my personal lens matured in a way that allowed more tongues to be inserted into more cheeks. But did Queen take themselves seriously some of the time or none of the time? Having a DVD case that houses both "Save Me" and "It's a Hard Life" casts more doubt on that question. But the dye has been cast -- the songs have been sung and the videos has been shot. God save the ambiguity.

6

From genre-busting electronic music to new highs in the ever-evolving R&B scene, from hip-hop and Americana to rock and pop, 2017's music scenes bestowed an embarrassment of riches upon us.


60. White Hills - Stop Mute Defeat (Thrill Jockey)

White Hills epic '80s callback Stop Mute Defeat is a determined march against encroaching imperial darkness; their eyes boring into the shadows for danger but they're aware that blinding lights can kill and distort truth. From "Overlord's" dark stomp casting nets for totalitarian warnings to "Attack Mode", which roars in with the tribal certainty that we can survive the madness if we keep our wits, the record is a true and timely win for Dave W. and Ego Sensation. Martin Bisi and the poster band's mysterious but relevant cool make a great team and deliver one of their least psych yet most mind destroying records to date. Much like the first time you heard Joy Division or early Pigface, for example, you'll experience being startled at first before becoming addicted to the band's unique microcosm of dystopia that is simultaneously corrupting and seducing your ears. - Morgan Y. Evans

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Music

The Best Dance Tracks of 2017

Photo: Murielle Victorine Scherre (Courtesy of Big Beat Press)

From the "shamanic techno" of Parisian duo Pouvoir Magique to Stockholm Noir's brilliant string of darkly foreboding, electro-licked singles, here are ten selections that represent some of the more intriguing dance offerings of 2017.

In June of 2016, prolific producer Diplo lambasted the world of DJ's in an interview with Billboard, stating that EDM was dying. Coincidentally enough, the article's contents went viral and made their way into Vice Media's electronic music and culture channel Thump, which closed its doors after four years this summer amid company-wide layoffs. Months earlier, electronic music giant SFX Entertainment filed bankruptcy and reemerged as Lifestyle, Inc., shunning the term "EDM".

So here we are at the end of 2017, and the internet is still a flurry with articles declaring that Electronic Dance Music is rotting from the inside out and DJ culture is dying on the vine, devoured by corporate greed. That might all well be the case, but electronic music isn't disappearing into the night without a fight as witnessed by the endless parade of emerging artists on the scene, the rise of North America's first Electro Parade in Montréal, and the inaugural Electronic Music Awards in Los Angeles this past September.

For every insipid, automaton disc jockey-producer, there are innovative minds like Anna Lunoe, Four Tet, and the Black Madonna, whose eclectic, infectious sets display impeccable taste, a wealth of knowledge, and boundless creativity. Over the past few years, many underground artists have been thrust into the mainstream spotlight and lost the je ne sais quoi that made them unique. Regardless, there will always be new musicians, producers, singers, and visionaries to replace them, those who bring something novel to the table or tip a hat to their predecessors in a way that steps beyond homage and exhilarates as it did decades before.

As electronic music continues to evolve and its endless sub-genres continue to expand, so do fickle tastes, and preferences become more and more subjective with a seemingly endless list of artists to sift through. With so much music to digest, its no wonder that many artists remain under the radar. This list hopes to remedy that injustice and celebrate tracks both indie and mainstream. From the "shamanic techno" of Parisian duo Pouvoir Magique to Stockholm Noir's brilliant string of darkly foreboding, electro-licked singles, here are ten selections that represent some of the more intriguing dance offerings of 2017.

10. Moullinex - “Work It Out (feat. Fritz Helder)”

Taken from Portuguese producer, DJ, and multi-instrumentalist Luis Clara Gomes' third album Hypersex, "Work It Out" like all of its surrounding companions is a self-proclaimed, "collective love letter to club culture, and a celebration of love, inclusion and difference." Dance music has always seemingly been a safe haven for "misfits" standing on the edge of the mainstream, and while EDM manufactured sheen might have taken the piss out of the scene, Hypersex still revels in that defiant, yet warm and inviting attitude.

Like a cheeky homage to Rick James and the late, great High Priest of Pop, Prince, this delectably filthy, sexually charged track with its nasty, funk-drenched bass line, couldn't have found a more flawless messenger than former Azari & III member Fritz Helder. As the radiant, gender-fluid artist sings, "you better work your shit out", this album highlight becomes an anthem for all those who refuse to bow down to BS. Without any accompanying visuals, the track is electro-funk perfection, but the video, with its ruby-red, penile glitter canon, kicks the whole thing up a notch.

9. Touch Sensitive - “Veronica”

The neon-streaked days of roller rinks and turtlenecks, leg warmers and popped polo collars have come and gone, but you wouldn't think so listening to Michael "Touch Sensitive" Di Francesco's dazzling debut Visions. The Sydney-based DJ/producer's long-awaited LP and its lead single "Lay Down", which shot to the top of the Hype Machine charts, are as retro-gazing as they are distinctly modern, with nods to everything from nu disco to slo-mo house.

Featuring a sample lifted from 90s DJ and producer Paul Johnson's "So Much (So Much Mix)," the New Jack-kissed "Veronica" owns the dance floor. While the conversational interplay between the sexed-up couple is anything but profound, there is no denying its charms, however laughably awkward. While not everything on Visions is as instantly arresting, it is a testament to Di Francesco's talents that everything old sounds so damn fresh again.

8. Gourmet - “Delicious”

Neither Gourmet's defiantly eccentric, nine-track debut Cashmere, nor its subsequent singles, "There You Go" or "Yellow" gave any indication that the South African purveyor of "spaghetti pop" would drop one of the year's sassiest club tracks, but there you have it. The Cape Town-based artist, part of oil-slick, independent label 1991's diminutive roster, flagrantly disregards expectation on his latest outing, channeling the Scissor Sisters at their most gloriously bitchy best, Ratchet-era Shamir, and the shimmering dance-pop of UK singer-producer Joe Flory, aka Amateur Best.

With an amusingly detached delivery that rivals Ben Stein's droning roll call in Ferris Bueller's Day Off , he sings "I just want to dance, and fuck, and fly, and try, and fail, and try again…hold up," against a squelchy bass line and stabbing synths. When the percussive noise of what sounds like a triangle dinner bell appears within the mix, one can't help but think that Gourmet is simply winking at his audience, as if to say, "dinner is served."

7. Pouvoir Magique - “Chalawan”

Like a psychoactive ayahuasca brew, the intoxicating "shamanic techno" of Parisian duo Pouvoir Magique's LP Disparition, is an exhilarating trip into unfamiliar territory. Formed in November of 2011, "Magic Power" is the musical project of Clément Vincent and Bertrand Cerruti, who over the years, have cleverly merged several millennia of songs from around the world with 21st-century beats and widescreen electro textures. Lest ye be worried, this is anything but Deep Forest.

In the spring of 2013, Pouvoir Magique co-founded the "Mawimbi" collective, a project designed to unite African musical heritage with contemporary soundscapes, and released two EPs. Within days of launching their label Musiques de Sphères, the duo's studio was burglarized and a hard drive with six years of painstakingly curated material had vanished. After tracking down demos they shared with friends before their final stages of completion, Clément and Bertrand reconstructed an album of 12 tracks.

Unfinished though they might be, each song is a marvelous thing to behold. Their stunning 2016 single "Eclipse," with its cinematic video, might have been one of the most immediate songs on the record, but it's the pulsing "Chalawan," with its guttural howls, fluttering flute-like passages, and driving, hypnotic beats that truly mesmerizes.

6. Purple Disco Machine - “Body Funk” & “Devil In Me” (TIE)

Whenever a bevy of guest artists appears on a debut record, it's often best to approach the project with caution. 85% of the time, the collaborative partners either overshadow the proceedings or detract from the vision of the musician whose name is emblazoned across the top of the LP. There are, however, pleasant exceptions to the rule and Tino Piontek's Soulmatic is one of the year's most delightfully cohesive offerings. The Dresden-born Deep Funk innovator, aka Purple Disco Machine, has risen to international status since 2009, releasing one spectacular track and remix after another. It should go without saying that this long-awaited collection, featuring everyone from Kool Keith to Faithless and Boris D'lugosch, is ripe with memorable highlights.

The saucy, soaring "Mistress" shines a spotlight on the stellar pipes of "UK soul hurricane" Hannah Williams. While it might be a crowning moment within the set, its the strutting discofied "Body Funk", and the album's first single, "Devil In Me", that linger long after the record has stopped spinning. The former track with its camptastic fusion of '80s Sylvester gone 1940s military march, and the latter anthem, a soulful stunner that samples the 1968 Stax hit "Private Number", and features the vocal talents of Duane Harden and Joe Killington, feels like an unearthed classic. Without a doubt, the German DJ's debut is one of the best dance records of the year.

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