Wednesday, March 18, 2009

22./23. Queen - We Will Rock You/We Are The Champions (1977)
(File under: The Theory Of Alternating Decades: The '70s & '90s)

I've always had a soft spot for Queen - by which I mean a literal physical soft spot, right on my brain, because what else could explain it? Still, I make no apologies (though I will admit I pretty much abandoned ship about the same time the rest of America did, around '82 and Hot Space), because unlike pretty much every other band of the era who dealt in bombast and overweening pomposity (Led Zeppelin, the dreaded Styx, pretty much every prog rock act ever), Queen always seemed to do it with a sly wink, as if they were smart enough to realize what a joke it was and also smart enough to enjoy it strictly as camp. Until 1977 and News of the World.

There's no sly wink in these songs (grouped together since they were always played back-to-back on the radio upon initial release), which leaves merely bombast and overweening pomposity, a fact that no doubt accounts for their huge success (especially in America, where cleverness and wit have always been qualities viewed with extreme suspicion). If, as some critic whose name I can't recall claimed, "We Are The Champions" was written as a gay anthem, it would indeed add a layer to the song; but if that was the intention it utterly failed, since everything about it sounds like exactly what it's been taken for these past 3+ decades: something to blast over the P.A. at the end of sporting events. And when that's the function of a piece of music, it's not just a case of lowest common denominator - it means you're actually aiming for the outliers on the wrong side of the bell curve. If there is anything more brutally stupid and antithetical to art than an enormous drunken mob shouting inanities and waving homemade banners at a stadium sporting event, it's the same bunch of dipshits singing a victory song in unison. And that is what "We Are The Champions" (as well as "We Will Rock You") is really "about", especially at this remove. Hell, I'm not even necessarily against football chants - plenty of '77 punk could qualify, and New Order's World Cup anthem is pretty damned good - but this stuff seems to have been market researched to fit the bill a little too neatly.

"We Will Rock You" barely qualifies as a song at all - except for Brian May's patented dime-as-a-guitar-pick bit at the end, the whole thing is yobbish bellowing over foot stomps and handclaps, kind of a distant cousin to The Mekons's "The Building", except 90 times more stupid. Besides, everybody with half the brains God gave a donkey knows you don't tell people you're going to rock them, you just do it - otherwise you come off looking like either a smug asshole or a delusional fucking fool (in other words: Jeremy Piven). Also, the verses have nothing to do with the chorus. In its way, as lazy as any Eric Clapton solo album.

"We Are The Champions", for those who just returned from a long vacation on Saturn, is the queen mother (no pun intended) of power ballads, and I bet Bono's pissed that somebody beat him to it. The verses are basically "I Am Woman" for lunkheaded soccer fans, and the chorus is the kind of doggerel that's supposed to be rousing and empowering, and might even succeed if it had any connection to reality as most people live it. But then, we don't value our rock stars for being in touch with the concerns of normal human beings, do we? No, we prefer them elevated to God-like status, which mitigates the sense of shame and despair we feel after sucking their cocks backstage and being summarily tossed out into the alley afterwards. Believe me, I understand this. I just resent being told what Gods they are by the performers themselves. Especially in song. Especially especially when that song tops the charts. It's usually a mistake to believe a song somehow speaks to your particular circumstances; in this case, the ego is so much a part of the music it should get a composing credit. The epitome of why it was known as the "Me Decade".

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