Back in 1989 -- or 1995, if you're an American -- Queen
released a collection called At the Beeb
, which featured two BBC sessions recorded in February and December, 1973. The 2016 compilation Queen on Air
trumps this by adding a July 1973 session along with two sessions from 1974 and one from 1977, all adding up to the band's complete appearances on the BBC. Comprehensiveness is a feather in the cap for Queen on Air
for collectors, but the additional material reveals that Queen got better as they stuck around. Those early 1973 performances have a couple of classic songs -- namely, two different versions of "Keep Yourself Alive," and maybe "Great King Rat" -- but these sound thin and tentative compared to the recordings from 1974 and 1977 on disc two, where the band feels bigger and bolder, recognizing the value in space. Queen can still wander into amorphous territory -- "It's Late" descends into echoing mush -- but their muscle seems defined, as does their camp: by ending the set with "My Melancholy Blues," there's no question that Queen is arch, delivering each of their tunes with a wink. Such revelations are interesting, but the relatively limpness of Queen on Air
does mean it's an archival release designed only for fans.