Given the amount of effort that Queen had put in to create the more direct music and production of 1977’s News of the World, it’s follow up, Jazz, is quite an odd album, as it’s obvious that Queen were back tracking a little and trying to recreate the bombast of A Night at the Opera. Although News Of The World perhaps wasn’t the all-out success that they had probably hoped for, it had still shown enough promise for Queen to not need to try and blend that sound, with that they had established on previous albums. On the upside all of this want that they had brought back producer Roy Thomas Baker, the man responsible for much of Queen’s awesome studio sound on their first four albums, and who had been absent for the previous two.
Taken at face value, Jazz is diverse, with tracks like the utterly barking opener “Mustapha” having aged really badly, the cheeky “Fat Bottomed Girls”, the shyly romantic “In Only Seven Days”, the piano balladry of “Jealousy”, and the insistent cabaret rock of “Let Me Entertain You”. In many ways Jazz plays like a musical variety show. Like the best Queen albums it regularly shuttles between hard-rocking and high-camp, with Freddie Mercury as ringmaster, Brian May on superb form regardless of the quality of the song, and John Deacon flowering into a songwriter who could pen material that was on a par with that of May and Mercury. Roger Taylor remains a great drummer and backing vocalist, however, yet again it is Taylor who pens and takes lead vocals on the album’s two weakest tracks, including the rancid robo-funk of “Fun It”, which not even May’s sterling guitar work can save. Quite why they decided to build an entire album around this style (1982’s frankly confusing Hot Space), is something that baffles Queen fans to this day, particularly as it was apparently Taylor along with May who thought it was a bad idea.
Jazz is one of those albums where the filler is far too obvious, but the singles that the album is built around tower over the rest of the material. “Fat Bottomed Girls” and “Bicycle Race” just get away with being tongue in cheek to remain hugely enjoyable, and represent Queen at the height of their couldn’t-care-less attitude in the face of punk. Best of all though was “Don’t Stop Me Now”, possibly the greatest of all Queen’s singles (yup, better than “Bohemian Rhapsody”), my personal favourite by the band, and the soundtrack of choice for drunk fans of Shaun Of The Dead to fight off zombie hordes.
Sadly though, despite these fried-gold numbers, Jazz still falls short of being a truly great Queen album, as there are simply too many tracks that just don’t measure up to the standards that had already been set. This leads to the question as to why the band felt the need to weaken the already sub-par “More Of That Jazz” by including snippets and samples of the rest of the album in that song’s coda. For a band that precariously balanced themselves on the edge of good taste so regularly, it’s an unnecessarily clumsy move.
Still, who really cares when you get “Don’t Stop Me Now”?