At this point, Queen were on the verge of another makeover: this time toward a more funk/pop phase which was slightly hinted at here, but taken up even more on the next two albums following this one: _The Game_ and _Hot Space_ (excluding the Flash Gordon soundtrack.)
It seems that this album gets pretty mixed reviews from diehard Queen fans, and more casual ones. My opinion of the album? I tend to agree with both sides of the camp. I'm going to get to the negative stuff first, just to get it out of the way.
While I think it's a great album, I can't help feeling that some of it seems a bit lackluster, uninspired and forced for Queen's own typical high standards, particularly during the second half. First off, the album seems a bit uneven, mainly because the hard-hitting and upbeat numbers seem to play out consecutively throughout the first half, while the second half seems more subdued in dynamics and atmosphere. Listening to the transition from a (mostly) first half of upbeat numbers to a (mostly) second half of low-key numbers can be quite a tough pill to swallow for a listener. It probably would have been nicer if the track order was switched around and mixed up more, like they did on the majority of their earlier 70s albums. All of this gives the impression that Queen got a bit hasty and careless with the production of the album, as if they were on a quick deadline to release an album within a short period of time. The overall feel of the album comes across as a bit sloppily executed, when in fact Queen were one of THE bands/producers known for their precision, meticulousness and perfectionism.
Queen fans will probably want to see me fry in hell for all of these last comments, but Queen is only my all-time favorite band, and I say all of this because Queen were a band who set high standards for themselves, and it's hard not to notice when they've stepped down a bit.
Now the goods. This is definitely a fun (and elegant) album to listen to, especially when you're in need of a good cheer-up. Hard to not feel good after listening to the sensuous, lusty and jovial/celebratory vocals of Freddie Mercury, the hypnotic crunch of Brian's self-made guitar, the bombastic drumming of Roger Talyor and John Deacon's tasty basslines backing it all up. "Mustapha" is an Arabic-like number with Freddie singing mostly wordless (but hypnotic and engrossing) vocal lines which give the track an almost spiritual aura. The musicianship is intelligent and top-notch here as well. "Fat Bottomed Girls" many probably know. "Jealousy" is an excellent number featuring Brian May playing some guitar lines that sound almost eastern. Freddie's vocals as always are convincing. "Bicycle Race" shows off the kind of perfectionism and meticulousness Queen were known for perfectly: a number with a sheer amount of complexity crammed throughout it's short playing time. I always loved how Queen made tracks that sounded like "many songs played within a single song." They managed to make their complex musical point in quarter time of what most classic progressive rockers did, which puts the latter to shame. The intelligent chords & progressions, the abrupt switches in dynamics and other factors give this track an almost symphonic quality, as it plays out like an almost ultra-quick symphony - and not to mention those ultra-classy vocal harmonies soaked throughout. During the second half of the track, Brian May manages to slip in some licks based on ionian scales for three different keys - all of which are in ascending mode. This also adds to the "symphonic" quality the track possesses.
"Let Me Entertain You" and "Dead On Time" are hard-hitters in the Queen tradition. The former features some fairly risqué lyrics, with some of Freddie's more expressive vocals, while the latter seems to return to the proto-speed metal that Queen pretty much pioneered with "Stone Cold Crazy," particularly in Brian May's frenzied riffing. This track is somewhat scary, as well as exciting. "In Only Seven Days" is a fairly low-key number written by bassist John Deacon. Features some wispy orchestration (nope, Queen didn't use synths - mostly Brian's guitar) and Freddie gives an elegant and sexy vocal performance. "Dreamer's Ball" mixes lounge jazz and Renaissance attributes - the latter in an irreverent, inorganic fashion (reminds me a bit of Gentle Giant.) "Fun It" gives the hint of things to come on later albums, as it's a funk/disco track. "Leaving Home Ain't Easy" is a nice ballad with a nice use of Brian May's gentle vocals. "Don't Stop Me Now" is just downright exciting and sophisticated. "More Of That Jazz" is a mid-tempo rocker featuring some scorching guitar licks. There's a part near the end of the track where you get a recap of the album, as you hear quick bits of a few tracks spliced together for an almost mind-warping remix.
The uneven feel of the album is the only real flaw, which causes me to take off 1/2 star from the 5 scale, but on the whole, the strengths outweigh the flaws by a longshot, as the songwriting and musicianship are still strong.