Added on 10-Mar-2006
Not as flamboyant as Freddie Mercury, but his voice fits in
BY STEVE KNOPPER
SPECIAL TO NEWSDAY
March 9, 2006If Paul Rodgers doesn't pan out as the new singer for Queen, there's always reality television. It worked for INXS. Queen guitarist Brian May and drummer Roger Taylor, who left the band mostly dormant after operatic front man Freddie Mercury's death from AIDS in 1991, could audition hunky young things on a major network and use the ratings to generate hype for their new album and tour. Only one problem - May hates the idea.
"Not for a million -- years," the 58-year-old May says by phone from his U.K. office. "I mean, I like the INXS boys, but I found the process very degrading, really. Reality television has eaten away at our standards of excellence. I don't like this whole culture, which has evolved, of TV being the king."
Besides, Rodgers, former singer for '70s rock-radio mainstays Bad Company and Free, is a comfortable fit as the first singer for Queen since Mercury's death. Rodgers lacks Mercury's theatrically effeminate vocal style, as well as his flamboyant, mustachioed, skintight-costumed stage presence. But, judging from last year's live CD "Return of the Champions," he adds a more straightforward (and straight) blues-rock sound.
May spoke with Rodgers after a Fender guitars tribute concert and they decided to merge as Paul Rodgers + Queen in late 2004 - minus retired original bassist John Deacon. After European shows last year, Queen began its first North American tour since 1982 a week ago - and performs Sunday at the Nassau Coliseum. "We didn't audition for Paul - he just turned up," May says. "He'd been a friend for many years, and suddenly there was a real chemistry there. Really, I don't think we could be out there with someone who hadn't trodden the same path as us."
Like Rodgers, whose hits "All Right Now" and "Can't Get Enough" are destined never to die on FM radio, Queen is best known for a handful of smash hits, but it was one of the premier album-rock bands in the '70s, churning out elaborate concept pieces such as 1975's "A Night at the Opera" and 1976's "A Day at the Races," both massively orchestrated, with string sections and layer upon layer of guitars.
When Queen formed in London in 1967 - May and Taylor were in the band Smile, Mercury was in Wreckage - they immediately conceived the dense, multitrack, hard-rock sound that would become their trademark. "It was really there in our heads from the beginning - to get the orchestration of the voices and guitars," May recalls. "It was just a question of being able to realize the dream, and getting the time and money and studio equipment to be able to do it. Actually, the 'Queen II' album [in 1974] had a lot of that in it - it tends to be slightly underrated, but a lot of the foundations for the sound were laid on that album."
Such orchestration set the stage for Mercury's high-water mark, "Bohemian Rhapsody," the disturbing yet campy 1976 hit about a killer begging for his mother's advice - which put the words "scaramouche, scaramouche, can you do the fandango?" into the Top 10. So after 30 years of airplay - not to mention the headbanging moment that defined 1992's "Wayne's World" - has "Bohemian Rhapsody" finally become comprehensible? "It was just the outsiders that took it too seriously," May says. "If he [Mercury] is looking down now, he's probably pretty pleased, because people do get it. I think he's pretty happy up there."