I always stuck up for Queen. I first got into them when I was in school a few years back. Everyone else I knew pretty much hated them, viewing them as a dorky, outdated pop band for old people, but I knew better than them. I owned every single album and DVD I could get my hands on; I spent my evenings researching the band, finding out everything I could about their history; I’d watch the live shows again and again – I even watched Queen Rock Montreal with Brian May and Roger Taylor’s commentary multiple times.
I was a Queen nut; and through everything they went through – the Paul Rodgers era, the compilation albums, The X Factor performances, every little appearance they made to plug whatever product it was they were shifting at any given time – I always stood up for them. The critics might have seen the band in their current state as little more than a cash cow pulled along by two old men who couldn’t let the past die, but I always believed in them and I always thought they were doing the right thing.
Now I’m starting to wonder if the critics had a point.
If you haven’t heard already, Queen (i.e. the aforementioned May and Taylor) announced a while back that they were working on a new album of material that would feature unused vocals from Freddie Mercury, tentatively titled Queen Forever. Great, I thought. This should be cool. Finally, all those demos and rare tracks I caught on YouTube years ago might finally get reworked and put out as an official release: “Dog with a Bone”, “Self Made Man”, “I Guess We’re Falling Out”, “A New Life is Born”, “Face It Alone”, “State of Shock” with Michael Jackson, et al. This was going to be great: a final clearing of the vaults as a send-off to the career of one of the greatest bands of all time. I was excited. I was intrigued.
Then there were reports that it would actually contain some previously-released material. I was nervous, but I retained hope as long as we could get that unreleased stuff. Then May himself admitted that they probably didn’t have enough leftover material to work into a full album. That’s strange, I thought, thinking about all those widely-accessible demos on YouTube. There were problems with the Jackson estate holding back on the recordings he was featured on and, for a while, it seemed like the album might never come out.
Then I received an email from Queen Online: a press release announcing that Queen Forever would in fact be released on November 10th 2014. At once my excitement and intrigue rushed back to me. I skimmed through all the press guff about Queen’s legacy or whatever and hit the track listing. To say I was disappointed would be an understatement.
If you don’t twig from the track listing (read it here), Queen Forever is not a new studio album as originally promised. It’s another compilation of previously released material, just as Absolute Greatest was back in 2009, just as the Singles Collection box sets were and just as the Deep Cuts and re-released Greatest Hits I and II albums were back in 2011. Apart from the inclusion of “Crazy Little Thing Called Love” this new compilation is basically Best of the Ballads, like Aerosmith did with the Tough Love collection a few years back, while the number of new stuff has been reduced from what I initially assumed to be an album’s worth of material (my bad) to a meagre three songs.
Two of them are actually Freddie Mercury solo tracks that Queen have “reworked” – a ballad version of “Love Kills” (woo-hoo?) and the much-touted “There Must Be More to Life Than This” with Michael Jackson doing a duet with Mercury – which are interesting but not enough to push this collection; while the other is “Let Me In Your Heart Again” which I can’t say I’ve ever heard of but should be worth at least a listen… and that’s about it. There’s also a deluxe edition available if you want, er, more ballads. (Don’t be tricked into thinking “Forever” at the end of disc two is a new item, either: it’s just a piano instrumental of “Who Wants to Live Forever” that was first made available on the CD version of A Kind of Magic back in 1986.)
So why did this need to exist? Even now I don’t want to say “money”, so I’ll give May and Taylor the benefit of the doubt and posit that they did initially set out to create something closer to the idea I had in my head – a sort of rarities collection – but couldn’t come up with the material in time. So why did it have to be all ballads? Well, May describes the album in the press release as “things that we have collected together that are representative of our growth rather than the big hits“.
Even putting aside the fact that there are numerous big hits here, this quote bugs me. Look, Queen had some amazing ballads (“Somebody to Love”, “Play the Game”); they had some good-to-okay ones (“It’s a Hard Life”; “One Year of Love”); and they had some downright terrible ones (“Drowse”). But Queen were never just about the ballads: they covered a wide range of genres in their music, from progressive rock to funk to metal to blues to disco to… well, I could carry on, but regardless it’s their variety and their influences that made them compelling as a band and as individual musicians. This variety was only really felt, though, in their heavier, “rockier” (urgh) songs, while their ballads were often pretty generic and samey. What I’m saying is that lumping together all of Queen’s ballads does not do justice to the band they were. (Also, how does the album represent their growth if the tracks are out of chronological order?)
So yeah, I’m disappointed, maybe even a little angry, but if you’re in the highly-specific percentage of people who a) only like Queen’s ballads; b) don’t own any of their greatest hits albums; and c) fancy hearing something new, then this should appeal to you. If not, then just download the three new songs and be done with it. Frankly I’m not even sure if this will be their last compilation album – but how much longer can they keep releasing them?
Queen Forever: seems more like a cruel taunt now, doesn’t it?