Queen is a unique band for its eclectic sounds and diverse styles. Originally a hard rock band, they are known for branching out into various genres over the years. These include progressive rock, art rock, heavy metal and pop.
Yet there is one Queen record that divides fans and critics- 1982’s Hot Space. It is their second album of the 1980s, and this is one of their most perplexing.
Hot Space is now 35 years old, but it’s far from a classic. Several fans did not like the record’s disco-heavy themes. Rolling Stone lists it as “routinely competent” and “downright offensive.” At the time, the “Disco Sucks” meme had become a popular concept in America. For this reason, the album is seen as a disappointing effort.
Freddie Mercury sought to create the sounds that one would hear in a gay disco. Yet it is also the one where bassist John Deacon steps to the forefront. Although he doesn’t sing, he gets to showcase his playing ability and songwriting. Guitarist Brian May and drummer Roger Taylor end up taking a backseat.
Known as the “disco album”, Hot Space actually has several funk and rock songs, but the disco-fused songs helped shape the public opinion. To many people, this is where the album struggles, because it can’t decide what it wants to be. Half the tracks are pretty decent, but the other half vary in quality.
“Staying Power” is a solid opening song by Mercury. May offers nice guitar work, but the song’s use of horns feels bombastic. The next track, “Dancer” is a cool mixture of funk and rock with a synth bass. Sadly, it did not become a hit single or a live favourite of Queen shows.
Written in a funk style, “Back Chat” is a cool tune with a catchy beat. Taylor’s drum solo is pulsing and catchy. You can tell soul music is an influence on Deacon, who plays lead, rhythm and bass guitars on the song. In concert, Mercury would jokingly say “Back Chat” is in the “Funk black category.””Life is Real” is a moving ballad in tribute to the late Beatle. Mercury’s vocals are poignant and sincere, and May provides a quiet acoustic guitar. This is one of Queen’s most somber tracks.
Of all the songs, “Body Language” is the most off-putting in terms of quality and production. This is mostly a product of Mercury, who plays guitar, bass, synthesizer and drum machine. Over a throbbing beat, he gasps and moans lyrics like “Give me your body” and “Long legs, great thighs.” Not very subtle, is it?
“Calling All Girls” is a Taylor track with an electric beat. Yet “Action This Day” stumbles as a song, because it is full of synths and electronic sound effects. “Cool Cat” sounds like Mercury trying to emulate Mick Jagger.
“Under Pressure” caps off the record. David Bowie provides haunting vocals and handclaps to accompany Mercury’s powerful voice. While this was made separately, it is a nice way to close the album. One cannot help but wish Queen and Bowie could have done more together.
Hot Space is an ambitious record with flaws, but that doesn’t mean it’s a bad album. The band tries to expand their sound, and there are quite a few cool tracks. Deacon’s songs are definitely worth a listen. You may not like the disco elements, but the funk sounds are upbeat and danceable. This is a record for long-time Queen fans who can hear the band work outside their comfort zone.
While the album isn’t a masterpiece, it is important to music for another reason. Michael Jackson (a huge Queen fan) cited Hot Space as a major influence for Thriller. So maybe the record is not so bad after all.