Score one for Astounding Science Fiction magazine. Its editors beat Brit rockers Queen to the punch by snagging American sci-fi artist Frank Kelly Freas’ work for its October 1953 cover. But the Brits took artistic control by hiring Freas this year, nearly a quarter of a century later, to adapt his painting for their new album cover when band mate Roger Taylor noticed it in a shop in Wessex.
In what is no doubt destined to become an iconic rock album cover, the front features a silver-gray robot with eerily human eyes holding the corpses of the band members; the lifeless body of Brian May, recognizable by his dark flowing locks, and Freddie Mercury dangling head-down and bloodied, chest exposed, his hair pulled by gravity. So perfect in its detail, one could imagine Mercury in such a pose for the Royal Ballet. Who knows? With Mercury’s flair for the dramatic in his stage performances, the ballet might not be a far cry.
Hijacked from a science fiction scene, the robot has ripped open a dome, glowing red from within, which is at first invisible until one opens the bi-fold cover to reveal John Deacon and Roger Taylor falling lifelessly through the air, dropped from the robot’s hand. The gaping hole from which the band is plucked exposes the violence, with broken rebar and cracked concrete. Flip to the inside and one finds a brand new painting from the stage point of view. It reveals the terrified close-up faces of fleeing concert-goers as a metallic, blood-stained hand, large enough to hold an adult reaches through the concert hall roof to snag audience members—its eyes looking cold and determined.
Impressive in its creativity, Queen’s News of the World album cover is as original as it is shocking. The complementary reds and greens create dissonance as the green reflects from the robot’s humanoid face accentuating its unnerving nose, lips, chin and ears. Chilling in its effect, one would expect Queen to deliver equally chilling musical performances on this album, but we will leave that to the fans to decide when they hit Philly November 23 and 24 as a part of their current News of the World tour.
Even if you have been living under a rock and missed all of five of Queen’s previous albums, consider yourself challenged to walk into any Hi-Fi House or Tower Records and not be at least intrigued when most of the other album covers you will see feature haute couture photos of the artists as in Fleetwood Mac’s Rumours or Billy Joel’s The Stranger. For the artistic departure alone, this album is a must have; destined to become a classic.