New Albums by Classic-Rock Greats...What Year Is It Again?

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I miss albums. Not specifically the 12" dual-sided flat of vinyl that some may envision upon reading that word, but the concept of an album: a cohesive piece of work that, from the first track to the last, is meant to be taken in by the listener in one entire sitting. Sadly that experience has been all but lost thanks to the track-by-track purchase option of digital downloads, which started about a decade ago, combined with the loss of many brick-and-mortar music stores.

I miss that feeling I received spending teenage nights sitting in a dark bedroom, with my huge KOSS headphones on listening to albums and becoming immersed in the artists' 40-minute visions. Surprisingly, it took an album of near outtakes to experience that again.

Pink Floyd's The Endless River was released earlier this month, and I will admit I was underwhelmed upon hearing the news that it was in the works months ago. The material was taken from the unreleased recordings from the band's most recent studio album, 1994's The Division Bell. While that album had about four really good songs -- "Keep Talking," "Take It Back," "What Do You Want From Me" and "High Hopes" -- the rest of the tracks didn't appeal to me, contrary to the entirety of the other album recorded by this lineup, 1987's A Momentary Lapse of Reason .

While both albums lack Waters, Reason seemed to lean more towards the Pink Floyd "feel"; unlike most of Division Bell, only "High Hopes" showed sparks of the band's vintage material.

The first word I uttered to myself after a complete listen of the predominately instrumental The Endless River (the lone track with vocals is closer "Louder than Words") was "Wow," for multiple reasons. This material was better than most of what was on Division Bell and has more of that Pink Floyd ambiance found on the group's iconic albums.

It also takes me back to why I miss hearing albums. From beginning to end, not once did I find myself drifting away from the music -- which is quite astonishing given that it is mostly progressive mood music carried by the keyboards of the late Richard Wright.

The album runs just shy of an hour and contains 18 tracks with most fewer than two minutes and only four eclipsing the four-minute mark. However, most of the tracks run together, only leaving a couple of breaks in the album, so it plays like three long songs. If I had to pick a weak spot it would have to be the final track, if only for the reason that the vocals take away from the continuity of the tracks before it.

The best way I can summarize this album is that if you enjoy the longer instrumental passages in back tracks such as "Shine On You Crazy Diamond" and "Echoes" you will enjoy this album experience as you would the other iconic Floyd albums.

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What is quite possibly the last of the remaining Queen tracks featuring Freddie Mercury on vocals were also released earlier this month, on a compilation entitled Queen Forever. This disc comes in both single and double-disc releases and is not a greatest-hits collection. In a twist, the remaining members decided to include tracks that show different aspects of the band's growth, as well as three previously unreleased songs.

While the single-disc version contains hits such as "Crazy Little Thing Called Love," "You're My Best Friend" and "Somebody to Love," it is rounded out with deeper cuts like "Love Of My Live," "Bijou" and "Long Away." The first of the three new tracks, meanwhile, is "Let Me In Your Heart Again," originally recorded during the sessions for 1984's The Works. If a track was going to be left off of that album, it's no surprise it was this one. It's not bad, but other songs on that album - such as "It's a Hard Life" and "Keep Passing the Open Windows" - achieve a similar feel, and both feature better vocal performances than this one and are both stronger compositions.

The second track is a full-band version of "Love Kills," originally recorded by Mercury as a synth-pop dance tune by Freddie Mercury for the Metropolis soundtrack. Here, the remaining members have worked it into a track with great acoustic and electric guitars lamenting how love kills and scars. Both guitar and drums change styles in tune with the emotion of the vocals. This one is by far the best of the three tracks released.

The third track is a duet between Freddie and Michael Jackson on "There Must Be More to Life than This," originally found on Mercury's Mr. Bad Guy album. The band has reworked this track, adding vocals by Michael Jackson that were recorded during a session from that album. Queen might have missed a golden opportunity here; Elton John, a longtime friend of Mercury's, would have been more suited for this one.

If you supplant Elton's voice with Michael's when listening to this one, it makes so much sense you will conclude that the track was an Elton John/Bernie Taupin composition the way Queen perform it here. Michael's voice just doesn't seem to fit this style and would've probably worked better on the original "Mr. Bad Guy" version of the track for which it was recorded.

If you are interested in some new "classic" Queen I recommend the recently released double-disc version of Queen's Live at the Rainbow '74, which features two concerts from the band. One disc is a March 1974 show from from the "Queen II" tour, while the other is from November 1974 at the start of the "Sheer Heart Attack" tour.

Songs from "Queen II" disappeared quickly from future set lists and this one contains a live version of "The Fairy-Feller's Master Stroke," something only a handful of fans have ever heard live. The November show has been heavily bootlegged for years, but this one offers remastered audio and a companion BluRay with stunning visuals. These items offer a great peek into the pre-"Bohemian Rhapsody" days before the band broke out here in the States.


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