The Works is frequently seen as a concerted effort by Brian May and Roger Taylor to return Queen to their rocking roots after far too long dabbling with a horrible mix of funky disco pop rock. As an album, The Works contains some of the band’s biggest global hits, finds them if not creatively recharged, then at least starting to pull in vaguely the same direction(s), and is on the whole a hell of a lot more satisfying to listen to than the frankly awful Hot Space.
The Works isn’t without its critics though. There’s still far too many synthesisers utilised throughout the album, it lacks the dynamic flow that all good albums should have and in terms of the individual songs, there’s a couple of real clunkers. Elsewhere, attempts are made to emulate former glories with only partial success, and even the songs that were big hit singles seem to lack the punch in their album versions. Other criticisms levelled at The Works are that it sounds too desperate to bring Queen’s rock sound up to date using technology which now dates it badly, and that there’s still an unpleasant dance-rock after taste as well.
On the upside, The Works is probably Queen’s equal strongest album of the 80s, along with 1980’s The Game, an album which suffered from similarly uneven quality control. The big hits were well-earned global smashes, or at least they were until they decided to don drag for the iconic “I Want to Break Free” video, at which point the radio stations in the USA abandoned them until Mike Myers reanimated their Stateside career in the early 90s, by which time it was too late for King Fred. Then again, chart hits were always a speciality for Queen, as even at their lowest ebb, they were able to release some stunning hit singles. The four big hits from The Works, the overfamiliar “Radio Ga Ga”, the aforementioned “I Want to Break Free”, the splendid “It’s a Hard Life”, and the hard rocking “Hammer to Fall”, are among Queen’s best singles of the 80s, and gave them a platform from which to launch their show-stealing Live Aid performance and remind everyone how stadium rock should be done.
Like the majority of Queen albums, there’s little on The Works which gives you much of an insight into the personal emotional state of any of the band members, and as such it could be viewed as little more than well designed stadium rock for the masses that has very little personal to say (which to be frank could go for the majority of their output over their career). However at least The Works closes with “Is This the World We’ve Created”, a fair stab at social consciousness as far as Queen goes, and despite it being perhaps a little too clumsy and heavy-handed in trying to deliver pathos, at least gives you the impression that they weren’t totally disconnected from some of the wider realities of the world.
The Works isn’t a bad album, but in terms of Queen’s career, it just doesn’t match the very best of their 70s output. It’s a perfectly acceptable album from this point in their career though, and it certainly doesn’t deserve a lot of the criticism hurled at it. Still, the band should probably thought twice about playing to promote it nine gigs at Sun City, eh lads?