For some bands the death of an iconic lead singer could be seen as an inconvenient career setback. But not Queen, who defiantly continue to exploit their audience’s brand loyalty 17 years after Freddie Mercury’s demise. Building on their phenomenally successful stage musical We Will Rock You, they recently reformed for two world tours and an all-new album, The Cosmos Rocks.
Now down to two original members, the guitarist Brian May and the drummer Roger Taylor, a reconstituted Queen played to an impressively large crowd in Nottingham. A hit-packed marathon stretching to two and a half hours, this show could have been billed as “An Evening Without Freddie”. Except that the singer was there in spirit and, more importantly, on video.
Mercury’s mother was also in the audience, and May raised loud cheers with fond anecdotes about his absent friend. Later he slathered his trademark baroque’n’roll guitar squiggles over recorded excerpts of the singer’s voice, most effectively on the inevitable roof-raising finale of Bohemian Rhapsody.
May and Taylor took turns on vocals but their new frontman Paul Rodgers had the lion’s share. As many have observed, the former Free and Bad Company singer is a bizarrely inappropriate replacement for Mercury. The throaty 58-year-old blues-rock veteran made a kind of sense belting out tumescent anthems such as The Show Must Go on and We Are the Champions, but clearly lacked the poise and precision to carry off more artfully nuanced Freddie-isms. Power and grace, darling, power and grace.
However, the problems with Rodgers run deeper than vocal differences. His stage persona seemed at odds with the original spirit of the band, firmly rooted as he is in the heterosexual caveman heavy-rock hinterland that Queen once subverted. In contrast to Mercury’s peacock narcissism and camp self-mockery, Rodgers is a competent but pedestrian pub-rocker.
Mercury’s absence was most keenly felt during the new songs. After Rodgers huffed and puffed through a comically po-faced ballad called Seagull, he and May traded jarringly trite love-and-peace platitudes on We Believe. Such blustery deadweights were doubly annoying as their inclusion in the set apparently left no room for such classics as Somebody to Love and Killer Queen.
Of course, it would be churlish to criticise May and Taylor for still wanting to play their mighty back catalogue, but there is something depressingly low-rent and prosaic about this latest life-after-death resurrection. With Mercury, they were stupendously overblown and operatic. Without him, they just look like the presenters of Top Gear playing in a Queen tribute band. However, as long as demand for the brand exists, it seems that the show must go on, and on, and on.
Monday night: O2 Arena, London SE10 http://entertainment.timesonline.co.uk/tol/arts_and_entertainment/music/live_reviews/article4931633.ece
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