At the BBC

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Between 1973 and 1977, Queen recorded six sessions for the BBC, the first five during the initial flood of excitement that led up to the release of the stately Sheer Heart Attack, the last in 1977, when their pomp and circumstance ought to have sounded grossly misplaced amid the churning seas of punk rock -- but didn't. Each and any of these is a revelation, topping the regular albums for excitement and alive with all the improvisational quirks and oddities that the band delighted in distributing through their live set. All but two, however, remain deep in the vault, leaving At the BBC to stand among the most disappointing of all the albums in this venerable series -- at the same time as sounding as good as any of them. Drawing from Queen's first and third BBC sessions, in February and December 1973, the eight tracks are divided between the band's first two albums -- seven from Queen, one (a passionate "Ogre Battle") from what was then the still-gestating Queen II. And they are what you'd expect, vast and bombastic, widescreen epics that make no distinction between the hard rock that was the early Queen's most visible calling card, and the fey, quirky balladry that was the trick up their sleeves. And, while none of the performances here can touch the familiar LP takes in terms of production values and musical excellence, again the emphasis is on visceral verve and spontaneous combustion, qualities that Queen possessed in abundance. For many years the best-selling of all BBC sessions albums, At the BBC is not an album for the casual listener; nor will it satisfy the completist collector. Nevertheless, anybody who knows the band only for the operatic grandiosity of their regular albums would do well to check it out. It might well change your opinion forever.

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