How Queen Tried to Stage a Comeback Album With a New Singer
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The 2005-06 tour featuring former Bad Company frontman Paul Rodgers fronting Queen had been, at best, a head-scratcher. At worst, it was an embarrassing mismatch, since Rodgers’ street-wise R&B-laced style was miles away from Queen’s super-sized pomp.
But 2008’s collaboration album The Cosmos Rocks — the group’s first album since 1995’s Made in Heaven, which was released four years after Freddie Mercury died — wasn’t a complete disaster … as long as you didn’t come into it expecting remaining Queen members Brian May and Roger Taylor to sound much like they had in their glory days.
The album represents a shift toward grittier and less glamorous grooves. Free from the classics he sang on the road, Rodgers sounds more comfortable here, while May proves, once again, to be an utterly malleable presence on the guitar. He unleashes a torrent of spirited asides, layering them into the stratosphere as Rodgers does his best bump and growl — creating a tough new amalgam that might be described as “Bohemian Rhapsody” meets Bad Company.
But that assessment couldn’t be further from expectations, and Mercury floats over ‘The Cosmos Rocks’ like an apparition. You wonder what he would have done with Taylor’s “C-Lebrity,” the type of silly indictment of the paparazzi that the late singer lived for, or with tired lines like, “School’s out / I’ve got a criminal urge to twist and shout,” or even with the over-earnest charity single “Say It’s Not True.” A knowing wink would have gone a long way here.
But those looking for tangible reminders of what once made Queen great will find them in miniature: in the crashing cadence of “Still Burnin’,”‘ something right out of “We Will Rock You,” and in the accessible “Call Me,” which would have fit on one of the band’s glossier ’80s albums.
More often, it’s something different entirely, a more blues-focused synthesis that should be evaluated — in as much as it can be — apart from the group’s classic catalog. The Cosmos Rocks doesn’t take enough outrageous chances, and the soulful, more direct Rodgers is an utterly different performer than Mercury. That’s why the album was credited to “Queen + Paul Rodgers.” Taken on its own, its tough little charms are more easily received.
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