Review Summary: Queen - Freddie Mercury + Paul Rodgers =/= rockin' good time.
We all knew it was coming.
Anyone with a functioning brain could easily tell you that Queen died with Freddie Mercury’s tragic passing in 1991. This has not stopped guitarist Brian May and drummer Roger Taylor, however, from cashing in on Queen. It started with the posthumous Made in Heaven
- pushing the envelope a little, certainly, but a nice enough send-off to the classic line-up. From here, however, May and Taylor (without bassist John Deacon, who wisely retired in 1997) didn’t so much push the envelope as rip it open, turn the paper into confetti and throw it over Mercury’s grave. From soulless reworkings of Queen hits with commercial pop stars to a superfluous (yet admittedly enjoyable) musical entitled We Will Rock You
, the remaining half of Queen were willing to put their name to anything.
Enter Paul Rodgers. Up until this point, Rodgers had been best known as the vocalist in bands like Free and Bad Company, his masculine roars miles away from Freddie’s layered falsetto and eccentricities. Regardless, May asked Rodgers to sing lead vocals in a new collaboration, and Queen + Paul Rodgers was born. After a few years of greatest hits tours, the trio finally did what we feared all along- releasing new material under the Queen name without the man that made the band who they were.
With this little history lesson in tact, you would certainly be forgiven for going into The Cosmos Rocks
a sceptic. The million dollar question, however- if one removes the subjectivity and bias towards Mercury, is this album really worth the effort" For the most part, the answer is unfortunately a no.
Despite Brian May’s claims of a real chemistry between himself and Rodgers, this is certainly not present for the bulk of the album. A lot of the time, it really does not sound as if Rodgers is connected with his musical surroundings at all- a separate entity entirely, almost competing with May’s big rock licks and Taylor’s big rock drums. There is no real qualm to be had with Paul Rodgers as a singer- he was nicknamed “The Voice” in his prime for a reason. However, it is almost immediately noticeable how out of place Rodgers sounds at times on the album.
The horrendous lyrics that haunt the record’s entirety don’t help this much further. The subject matter boils down to two hugely ludicrous themes. The first is having a rockin’ (always without the g) good time- see all of “Cosmos Rockin” or the affirmation in “Still Burnin” that “rock’n’roll will never die!”, complete with a sample from “We Will Rock You”. The second is realising your dreams/having them come true- “Surf’s Up…School’s Out!” boasts “For a perfect life, find a perfect girl/You gotta follow that dream to a perfect world”, whilst “Time To Shine” gets sickeningly pseudo-inspirational with the chorus of “Raise up your voice!/It’s time to shine!”. None of these men are above average lyricists, this is a given- Taylor, after all, is responsible for a song entitled “I’m In Love with My Car”. However, the preposterous drivel that is spouted here is certainly not a demonstration of what these men are capable of.
When the cheese is layered on in The Cosmos Rocks
, the boys don’t do it by half measure- it comes in thick masses without a trace of irony or humour. The six-minute travesty that is “We Believe” is quite possibly the worst song to be written this century- and given its stiff competition, this is a bold statement to make. But just to think the band created this ghastly power ballad with a straight face- packed with space synth, marching rhythm and why-can’t-we-all-just-get-along lyrics- comes close to making one feel physically ill. Not to be outdone, “Say It’s Not True” will have fans screaming the same thing. Whilst its intentions are sweet (AIDS is bad, it could happen to anyone, etc), the song is so ridiculously overproduced that any sentiment is lost the second Taylor’s horribly multi-tracked higher-octave whine kicks in.
The Cosmos Rocks
, thankfully, isn’t entirely without merit. Some saving grace emerges in the form of a fantastic single, “C-lebrity”- a song that is certainly generic and cliché in subject matter, yet rocks far too hard to care. The song’s main structure sees Rodgers confidently parade his voice over Brian May’s snarling, dense guitar that sounds like it could have even been pinched from Mick Mars’ arsenal. Even better is when the song glazes over and transforms into a vivacious U2-esque chorus, heralded by a synth-laden mantra from Taylor and an unfortunately hardly recognisable Taylor Hawkins of Foo Fighters fame. This is the one case where Queen + Paul Rodgers actually sound united and working off one another.
Musically, the target is pretty much nailed as well. May and Taylor may have become money-hungry pigs in the midst of a mid-life crisis, but by God they can still play. Brian’s fiery electric guitar is as bluesy and versatile as it was thirty years ago, and his self-accompanying bass tessellates surprisingly well. John’s drums, whilst tweaked beyond perfection, are rhythmically tight and fitting to the kind of songs the band is attempting.
Having said that, one outstanding track and veteran musicianship simply is not enough to save Queen + Paul Rodgers. All three of these men saw the dollar signs after the success of the first tour, and things have just gotten sour from this point.
One of the main criticisms The Cosmos Rocks
is certain to receive is the fact that it’s not Queen. Tragically, there’s more to it than that- it’s just not very good.