Queen had been together for nearly 15 years by the time The Works arrived in 1984, and whatever lingering impression the band members might’ve given as four young guys having fun was more or less gone. They’d taken about a year and a half off from each other—a huge amount of time, considering how quickly Queen had released albums in the 1970s—and all four had worked on non-Queen projects. Before the release of The Works, it was only natural to wonder how much longer Queen would reign. (Fielding a question about whether the band was taking a break, or actually breaking up, Freddie Mercury said it’d be silly to start a new band at 40.) But The Works proved Queen hadn’t lost any of their creative or commercial momentum. The album is a compromise between the tight, synth-heavy sound of Hot Space and the grand classic rock that came before. The funk and R&B influences are pretty much gone on The Works, but electronics are more prevalent than ever—a decisive turn for a band that had printed “no synthesisers” on their album credits just a handful of years earlier. Yet while an artist like David Bowie had used electronics to alter his sound at a genetic level, Queen’s usage was mostly on the surface, whether it was the way the soft synth pads of “Radio Ga Ga” added a little space, or the way Fred Mandel’s rubbery solo on John Deacon’s “I Want to Break Free” captured, in sound, the physical sensation of something wriggling out of its chains. Yet there are still elements of traditional Queen to be found here. “Hammer to Fall” is the proud, simple rock song the band hadn’t written in years, while “It’s a Hard Life” is probably one of Mercury’s most underrated ballads—a perfect encapsulation of the sad-but-triumphant sound that Queen did so well. More than anything, The Works demonstrated that, even as they approached middle age, the members of Queen could make music that was truly singular. By the mid-1980s, other acts had found ways to embrace Queen’s sense of uplift (Bruce Springsteen), or the band’s penchant for flamboyance (Prince). But in a lot of ways, Queen was off in their own cultural world—an admittedly huge one, but still. Of course, that Olympian sense of being both an underdog and an unstoppable force of nature is part of what had made the band appealing from the beginning: In a Queen song, the individual competes, but the victory is always collective.