Ruminations on TV Shows, Comics, And Music
This is it. The final Queen album in their discography. A long treatise on a slow and painful death. Kind of a bummer, but beautiful sounding. Like Bjork in Black Swan.
You'd think more Queen albums (especially if I'm organizing them) would start with an orchestral intro. But, here we are at the final album, and we're just getting to it. Beautiful Day is not the original version of the U2 song. It's a soft, lyrically straight-forward (because Freddy Mercury) song about the futility of trying to stop him from feeling great, but the music behind it makes you think that this is the ruse of someone extremely depressed.
Brian May wrote Too Much Love Will Kill You about the end of his first marriage, and the beginning of his first post-marriage relationship. But, during the lead ups to the release of the Bohemian Rhapsody movie, he talked about the band's concern about Freddy's "lifestyle" (and I don't read anything homophobic into his use of the word "lifestyle", I think he was was referring to the quantity of dangerous sex practices, which is a rock and roll "lifestyle" issue, and not a homosexual "lifestyle" issue). So I'm choosing to see this song through that lens, that May wrote it about Mercury.
Innuendo provides the first familiar sounding Queen song. With echoing vocals, fairly basic lyrics, driving guitars, this is pure 70s prog rock. But with flamenco guitars in the middle. You read that right, Steve Howe from Yes and Brian May perform a flamenco breakdown, followed by their usual more metal guitars hitting the same flamenco rhythm before laughing us back into the melody.
Were you waiting for a sequel to "I'm In Love With My Car" from A Night At The Opera / A Day At The Races? Well, it's your lucky lifetime. Ride The Wild Wind is another car song, but this time with a touch of "I'm nearing death, so fuck it, I'm going to live dangerously." And car effects, of course. This is a particularly New Wave sounding Roger Taylor song. There is occasional laughter near the end of the song, and along with the repeated lines and the intense drum ending, it's a perfect lead-in to
I'm Going Slightly Mad. A song about ... well ... deteriorating mental states in the face of death. It's a catchy song that has a Spread Your Wings feel before ascending into the prog rock epic of
One Vision. This is a symphonic prog rock track with the anthemic lyrics of Spread Your Wings, but also a bit of playfulness (the last line is not, in fact one vision but fried chicken. See? Slightly Mad!
The outro of "One Vision" probably gave The Christian Whackjobs Of America a conniption fit with its slowed out tape relay sounding vaguely satanic (even though it's actually just saying God works in mysterious ways). But it's a great lead-in to Queen's Highlander theme song, Princes Of The Universe. A song about immortality might seem a strange fit for this album about slowly dying, but there's always that hope, right? That we're somehow going to be the one who makes it out alive.
We slow things down for the summer ballady These Are The Days Of Our Lives, where Mercury remembers that the positive things in his life outweighed the negatives, while May's guitars wail in the background, and Taylor's drums have an 80s Phil Collins sound.
Taylor wrote Heaven For Everyone for a side project (but Mercury did the lead vocals for one version), and it was rerecorded with May's guitars and Deacon's bass for the first posthumous Queen album. It works really well with "One Vision" as it's a pro-tolerance song with a touch of death. It also has echoed Mercury vocals as the song winds down. But it lacks fried chicken.
The effects transition us into another song with echoed vocals, I Was Born To Love You. This is also a posthumously reworked Queen song. It was originally a Freddy Mercury solo track with a disco beat, but it's all Queened up here. The lyrics are about as trite as possible but Mercury sings them like he means every word.
The gospel portions of Let Me Live are both wonderful and very unQueen. It's a prayer to be left alone by death for a little while and make a brand new start. It also has the rare feature of having Mercury, May, and Rogers all on lead vocals for different portions of the song. It definitely has a lot of "Take Another Little Piece Of My Heart" vibes (and lyrics!). The Meatloafy piano outro blends into the drum / bass beat of
Made In Heaven. The title song from the first Queen album released after Mercury's death, has an interesting guitar/bass break from the melody. Like "I Was Born To Love You", it was originally a solo track by Mercury, which the band rerecorded. This is good because the keyboards and synths solo version lacks the wonderfully hellish grind of the Queen version.
"One Vision" gets a callback as we launch into A Kind Of Magic, the title song from Queen's Highlander soundtrack. This is a Roger Taylor song based on a line from the movie, and it's ostensibly about being an immortal, but it also works, for this project, as a look at mortality.
The synths announce a rare cover song in the discography, as Queen delivers a version of The Platters's The Great Pretender, the classic theme song for people pretending to be happy when they're depressed and / or miserable. Of course, Mercury absolutely destroys this song. In precisely the opposite way that Axl Rose destroyed Queen's "Sail On Sweet Sister".
The thing about "The Great Pretender", though, is that they're rarely believed. So a series of echoes rolls over the end of this song, and sweeps into You Don't Fool Me. This song was created by Queen's producer, David Richards, who had some left over vocal track from the band's Innuendo album, and pieced them together into this song. May, Deacon, and Taylor then produced new music around it. So this is kind of the band and the producer's response to "The Great Pretender" but with Mercury on reconfigured vocals.
So The Great Pretender didn't fool you? C'est la vie. The Show Must Go On. So much of Queen's late 80s / 1991 tracks can be seen as songs about Mercury's death (even though most of them weren't). On this discography, this plays as Mercury's entreaty that Queen continue after his death. Or, it can be viewed as him acknowledging his awareness that everyone sees through his Great Pretender ruse, but he's going to keep it up because it's all that's keeping him going.
The penultimate track, and the final one to feature Mercury's vocals is Who Wants To Live Forever? A low hum ballad where Mercury's vocals are pushed further back in the mix than usual. And while this was actually recorded when he was still healthy, I choose to present it in this discography as a way to disguise how his voice is slightly faltering as he gets closer to death.
The final song is Track 13 from Made In Heaven, an almost completely instrumental track that sounds like the songs from the rest of the album trying to keep going. It's a buzzing, bright, symphonic dirge that's over twenty minutes long with very, very occasional clips of Mercury speaking. It does sound very haunting when his voice appears.
And that's it. We go out on an instrumental dirge.