It should have been called Hot Mess! Amiright? Or amiright?
Most Queen fans hate Hot Space, rate it as the one to not rate – its saving grace being the final track, the duet with David Bowie – Under Pressure. Apart from that? What’s there? Messy, meaningless, disco-tinged pop-crap that has none of the pomp or rock-opera glory of the band’s mid-70s peak, nor the urgency of their early-70s prog-meets-punk energy. And doesn’t come close to the pop-hook crafting that arrived on the albums in immediate follow up to Hot Space; nor even the one that directly proceeds it.
So of course I love it! Well, quite like it is probably a better call.
Because I am no typical Queen fan. Which is to say I’m really not a Queen fan at all – I grew up on the band’s hits and loved them. Then I struggled to understand why anyone would want to listen, again and again, to the empty-anthems of this stadium-pomp curiosity.
But that’s exactly it. The empty-anthem-ness is the big appeal. Be in an audience chanting and clapping to We Will Rock You or Radio Ga-Ga as I was – eventually – at the start of the year and there is a certain pantomime power if not majesty about it all.
I continue to wrestle with the level of Queen fandom that best suits/explains me and with the level in the house. You see, my eight year old is obsessed! And hearing them with him makes me realise what great music it is for kids – which is to say it’s all there and all laid out, nothing overlaps, it’s almost clinical. There’s no bleed, you hear every instrument, so easily identifiable, each member is good at their job and more than decent on their chosen axe so you hear what they’re doing and can identify and respect it. And there are choruses for days. It’s music that was made to perform, to sing out, to sing with – so I can not only see why my kid is grasping it so easily I can remember back to when I was his age and listening to that first Greatest Hits album and a few of the album cuts in and around all that.
But Hot Space is the weird one that most Queen fans will tell you not to bother with – or have never really bothered with. Apparently this is the embarrassment. In a catalogue that includes later love songs to one of Freddie’s fucking cats!
I found Hot Space a few years back in the library. I used to love grabbing a dozen CDs a week and taking them home to check in with; things I’d never heard or hadn’t heard in an age, things I would never think to look up and stream – it was about cover-recognition. About being in and of that moment. Same deal with still browsing in a video/DVD store – I’m lucky enough to live close to one of the last ones standing. So I go in there and find curios I would never think to search for online.
Anyway, Hot Space became one of my favourite library CDs. It was also easily the best ever Scissor Sisters album. Which I realise isn’t exactly a compliment. But anyway.
I love Brian May’s guitar work on Hot Space – as he seemed to search for ideas in and around the big dumb production and greasy little songs he decided to go full axe-attack on the solos and then hide out for the rest of the time. His solo on Dancer reminds me of those weird splatter-paint moments Ritchie Blackmore served up on his memorable sixties sessions with a range of one-hit-wonders and bit-part-players.
Put Out The Fire is another that shows the influence he had on 80s and 90s shred and metal guitarists.
There’s really nothing that disco about Hot Space. Disco was done and dead by then anyway. In the mainstream sense. But I think people have loved using it as a derogatory term over the years. The disco influence on this record is perhaps that this was Freddie’s real coming out album; his gay clubs album, his lifestyle-really-becomes-of-interest-to-the-press album. And disco became shorthand for camp. It’s also one of the albums where Freddie had the least amount of songwriting credits. Lol.
And none of this is me suggesting that Hot Space is a lost classic – at all. Just something I enjoy spending time with because I’m clearly nearly traumatised by Queen and their role in my life. And I love trying to understand the anomaly or the dud or the one that slips through the cracks, or should have just disappeared in an artist’s catalogue.
Tom Waits is always so good with a line – in a song or an interview – and when asked about where he grew up he said “our house was the bad tooth on the smile of the street”. How very Waits-ian, can’t you just picture that, erm, picture. Can’t you just see it as he says it and hear him saying it.
Well, nothing so profound here but maybe, just maybe, and to my ears at least, Hot Space is the bad tooth on the smile of a band…that used to be called Smile.
And the musical truth of that bad tooth is that it ain’t so bad at all. It just saw the end of a run of big hits. And it was always the big hits that bugged me most about Queen.