Queen "Sheer Heart Attack" (1974) / Hollywood Records

Pretentious. Haughty. Laughable. Those were but a few of the adjectives hurled at Queen in the '70s by naysayers who liked their rock 'n' roll the old fashioned way: stripped down and to the point.

But to its legions of supporters, the British group was a maverick whose genius simply was beyond the comprehension of such narrow-minded critics. Except for the better known "A Night at the Opera" (which featured the ubiquitous single "Bohemian Rhapsody"), "Sheer Heart Attack" provided the most fuel to the great Queen debate. Like the subsequent "Opera," this album, the group's third, provided an accurate summation of Queen's over-the-top flamboyancy and startling versatility. Within its wide parameters can be found full-bore rockers, flowery ballads, theatrical pop pieces and colorful examples of unapologetic camp. Clearly this isn't for everyone, but for those who appreciate the more grandiose elements of '70s rock, "Sheer Heart Attack" has more than managed to stand the test of time.

The ornate "In the Lap of the Gods" is pure Queen: lush, layered vocal harmonies converging with a "Rocky Horror Picture Show"-type sensibility to produce something thoroughly unique. Then there's "Bring Back That Leroy Brown," a cheesy slice of nostalgia that goes back to the roaring '20s for its inspiration. Singer-pianist Freddie Mercury unquestionably was Queen's daring, pop bohemian, but guitarist-singer Brian May anchored the group with his fiery playing and blustery hard rock sensibilities.

Between his insistent riffing and Mercury's siren-esque, jaw-dropping vocals, the triumvirate of "Brighton Rock," "Now I'm Here" and "Stone Cold Crazy" achieves a state of near metal-like nirvana. Giving "Sheer Heart Attack" its commercial edge are a handful of finely crafted ballads, including the group's first State-side hit single, "Killer Queen." All in all, this album is a glorious piece of '70s excess that's unlikely to be duplicated.

Copyright © 2019, Los Angeles Times
EDITION: California | U.S. & World