Hot Space - Queen's most divisive album?
Released on 21st of May 1982. Hot Space was Queen's tenth studio album and by far their most controversial release, dividing opinions of fans and critics alike to this day. Coming off the worldwide success of their previous album “The Game," an album which had given the band their first number one in the USA and a massive hit with the song "Another One Bites the Dust".
Where did Queen make Hot Space?
Queen elected to record the album entirely in Munich, working again with producer Mack.
Marking a notable shift in direction from their earlier work, they employed many elements of disco, funk, rhythm and blues, dance and pop music on the album. This made the album less popular with fans who preferred the traditional rock style they had come to associate with the band.
How well did Hot Space perform in the charts?
"Under Pressure", Queen's collaboration with David Bowie, was released in 1981 and became the band's second number-one hit in the UK. Although included on Hot Space, the song was a separate project and was recorded ahead of the album, before the controversy over Queen's new disco-influenced rock sound. The album's second single "Body Language" peaked at number 11 on the US charts. The album stalled at number 22 in the Billboard chart, although charted much higher in Europe and the UK (Number 4). Estimated sales of the album stand at 3.5 million copies. In July 2004, Q Magazine listed Hot Space as one of the top fifteen albums "where great rock acts lost the plot".
Review of Queen's Hot Space
By Peter Southern
Hot Space is an album that I hadn't actually listened to in its entirety. So here's some of my thoughts.
I feel opening track "Staying Power " deserves two reviews. As an opening song on a Queen album, it rather baffles listeners with drum machine, bass synth, horrible synth brass and minimal guitar. However, the version performed on tour as seen on the "Live at the Bowl " video transforms the song into powerful funk-rock, propelled by Roger Taylor's powerful drum groove and importantly, lots of guitar. Nuno Bettencourt, guitarist of the band Extreme has cited Hot Space as a big influence on the sound of his band.
"Dancer" starts with a heavy synth bassline and Brian May's guitars finally make their presence felt with heavy chords and some of his trademark harmony work. The lyrics to the song contain the only reference to the title of the album.
"Backchat" was written solely by John Deacon who plays all instruments, including rhythm guitar, although Brian does perform a solo. Sounds like John was listening to a lot of Chic and Nile Rodgers at the time. The song was performed occasionally on the Hot Space tour.
"Body Language" features no guitar ( so minus points from me!) and the promo video has the distinction of being banned from MTV.
The guitar is back for "Action this Day", a Roger Taylor song that also benefited from a more energetic live version, although the sax solo was replaced by a truly horrible synth solo.
Side 2 (if you're listening on vinyl) brings us back to some more recognisable Queen stylistic traits. "Put out the Fire" is a Brian May song that brings us back into rock territory. Real drums. plenty of guitars and harmony vocals. Trivia fans note, apparently Brian was rather drunk when he did the solo late one night in the studio.
"Life is Real" is a tribute to John Lennon. It is also one of the few Mercury songs whose lyrics were written before the music. Nice mellow, melodic solo parts from Brian and Beatles stylistic references in the song, including the short echo on Freddie's vocals.
The second of Roger Taylor's songs, "Calling all Girls" is a pop-rock song that was issued as a single in some territories, although not the UK. It failed to set the charts alight, although it was played live on the US tour and at some of the Japanese shows towards the end of the tour in November 1982.
"Las Palabras de Amor"(The Words of Love.) is a song dedicated to the band's fans in Latin America with partial lyrics in Spanish. After the band's groundbreaking shows in South America in 1981. The song was a top 20 hit in the UK and the band made only their fourth-ever appearance live on Top of the Pops to promote the song. Sounds much more like a typical Queen ballad.
"Cool Cat" has more in common with songs on side one being laid back pop with soul influences, especially in the vocals. Brian is again sidelined as all guitars are played by John Deacon. The original version also features vocal parts by David Bowie, but they were removed before the album release as Bowie was reportedly unhappy with the performance.
A quick search on YouTube will find the Bowie version. I don't think David's bits really work though.
The album closes with "Under Pressure", the massive hit collaboration with David Bowie. The song was not a part of the Hot Space recording sessions, having been written and recorded in Switzerland the previous year. Maybe record company decisions prompted the song's inclusion. It at least ends the album on a high note as it's a bona fide classic.
Final thoughts on Hot Space
So there you have it. Hot Space, A bold experiment, or a total artistic and commercial failure? The jury is still out. For me when it's good, its good but the production and lack of guitar on some tracks are not really my "cup of tea."
Full marks however for the transformed live versions of some of the songs played on tour. The band themselves seemed a little unsure of the album as they did press following its release and during the subsequent world tour. Years later it appears Brian and Roger largely dislike it, having not fully embraced the musical direction as much as John and Freddie did. Roger even cited interference by Paul Prenter, Freddie's personal manager as a reason for discord at the time. In 2011 recalling the recording process, Taylor openly criticized the direction in which Prenter was taking Mercury (and thus the rest of the band), stating that "[Prenter] wanted our music to sound like you'd just walked in a gay bar...and I didn't"
The rather fragmented nature of the recording sessions also didn't help as the band rarely worked on songs together as they had done in the past. However, being back on tour seemed to re-energize the band and the Hot Space tour featured some fantastic performances, particularly on the initial European and UK legs.
The US tour was shorter than the previous tour and had slower ticket sales in some regions, although attendances were generally strong. The show at Inglewood on September 15th was to be the last show in the USA with Freddie. The recording of the show at Milton Keynes Bowl in June 1982 is also one of their finest.
Interestingly the Tokorozawa show in November, also recorded and released as Live in Japan was the last date of the Hot Space tour and showed the band still giving their all, despite tour fatigue. The ensuing break was time for well-earned rest and a rethink about the next album.