Queen – “Flash Gordon” (1980)

queenQueen signed on to record the soundtrack for the sci-fi film Flash Gordon.  The album and movie were both released in 1980.

I saw Flash Gordon when I was really young — maybe eight or nine.  Needless to say, it blew my f*cking mind!  I was already a Star Wars nut at the time, and Flash Gordon was probably the closest thing to Star Wars I had ever seen.  Years later, I re-watched the film and realized it wasn’t exactly the cinematic masterpiece I remembered, but it is still a cool movie.  When I was young, I took Flash Gordon at face value.  Now, I see it differently.  I see the humor in it, as well as the cheese and the camp.  I also appreciate how much Queen’s soundtrack enhances the viewing experience.  Queen’s music was an integral part of Flash Gordon.

As a stand alone album, Flash Gordon doesn’t always captivate.  You really need the visual to go along with it.  That is because most of the album is comprised of instrumentals with snippets of movie dialog interspersed throughout.  There are only two full-fledged songs with lyrics — Flash’s Theme and The Hero.  These are the first and last songs on the album, respectively.  Flash’s Theme is a great Queen song.  It captures the campy essence of the movie while also delivering it with the patented pageantry and bombast of Queen.  The Hero is just as good.  It closes the album (and movie) in exhilarating fashion.  The song revisits a few motifs that are repeated throughout the soundtrack and works them into a rousing finale.  If there is a reason to own Flash Gordon, it’s because Flash’s Theme and The Hero are quintessential Queen.  As mentioned above, these two tracks are bookends of the Flash Gordon album.  What lies between them consists entirely of instrumental pieces — predominantly synth-based.  The use of synths makes sense.  This was a sci-fi movie in the year 1980, and synthesizers were synonymous with a “futuristic” sound at the time.  It is a bit ironic that some thirty-six years later, synthesizers have the exact opposite effect.  They sound positively dated in 2016.  Much of the instrumentals are very atmospheric in nature.  Lots of noodling about.  Again, without the visual context, this can make for a somewhat lackluster listening experience.  There are a couple of tunes that are more rocking in nature — Football Fight and Battle Theme.  But without the voice of Freddie Mercury to go with them, they lack the flair of essential Queen.

All in all, Queen did a fine job with their soundtrack to Flash Gordon.  It seems that they took the task seriously.  Conceptually and thematically speaking, Flash Gordon is the most uniform album of Queen’s career.  All their other albums are very eclectic — due, in part, to the different writing styles of the four members.  But on Flash Gordon, each member of Queen bought in to the same central idea of what the soundtrack should be.  The result is Queen’s most cohesive album — though far from their best.  Flash’s Theme and The Hero are must have for Queen fans.  The rest, I could take or leave.  The best way to experience this music would be by just watching the movie.  If you’re just listening to the album all by itself, it can be a little boring.  My score: C+

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