Thursday, 18 September 2008

Queen and Paul Rodgers: The Cosmos Rocks

So here’s the thing: some are wanting it exactly as it used to be, with Freddie and Brian and Roger and John. Others are pretty realistic about the fact that there can never, ever, be a Queen album ever again. Not a real one. That much should be obvious.

So why have so many people cast scorn on the new album that two of the original line-up (still using the Queen band name, granted) have recently released? Aren’t they allowed to re-invent the group with what’s left, should they want? After all, Madonna and George Michael have done it enough times. Can’t one half of Queen do it too?

I’ll admit, I was sceptical when I saw this album was coming. Seeing the band name in big letters was a little unnerving - how can it be Queen without the flamboyant, loveable front man? And then came the heart-stopper: nestled under the band banner was a simple name. Paul Rodgers. For those unfamiliar with his voice or name, you may not ‘get it’. But for me it was enough to make me run straight to iTunes and try the samples of each track. And I was sold - or rather, the album was. UK£7.99 later and I’m downloading the choons and getting excited at the mere fact that pretty soon new strains of Paul Rodgers will be echoing round me new ‘study’ in me flat. Could I wait? Could I bloody hell as like. There aren’t many people for whom I’ll get childishly excited, but Paul Rodgers is one of them. Why? Cos he was the lead singer of Free and more importantly to me, Bad Company. And there’s just something about his mmm - mmm bits that make me wibble. I can’t help it.

So anyway - the inevitable album write-up: what did I think of The Cosmos Rocks?

It opens fantastically enough with Cosmos Rockin’. A good opening, with typical loud guitars and bashing of drums - and even a synth’d out voice setting the scene. And then Paul’s voice crashes in and you realise this isn’t Queen and it was never supposed to be. It’s a hybrid of people who just want to make music. While this track is not one of my favourites (I tend to press ‘next’ when it comes on), it does what it should do: reminds you that there’s a whole mix of stuff going on here, folks. And it can only get better.

The next track, Time To Shine, starts with a semi-Bad Company, semi-Queen piano, and then some trademark Paul sounds; how long have we waited for his voice on a new track? There are some very Queenesque lyrics, something you could imagine King Freddie singing. A fab bit of vocals on the chorus that, for me, pretty much makes the album all worthwhile. You know that the two Queen boys are still the gods of drums and guitar, and it’s so good to know that Paul still has his familiar tones. Does it get better than this?

Yes it does, because then we get Still Burnin’, and it’s all good. Solid lyrics this time, excellent backing, bloody fab ensembles. We get vintage Queen sounds and Paul at his rockity-rock-rock best. And then there’s a cheeky little We Will Rock You riff mid-song that will probably give everyone a little giggle. Oh, ain’t rock grand?

It’s not all loud stuff; Small is an excellently gentle yet meaningful reminder of what everyone needs. It has some wonderful imagery in the lyrics and some well-placed accompaniment from The Boys. A beautiful guitar solo from The Wild Haired One and a rousing group effort towards the end, and this is the track I’m whistling long after I’ve pulled off me ear-plugs to start work.

Then it’s back to harder stuff and we get Warboys. Lyrics not too harsh but managing to make a few points about soldiers around the world - let’s face it, this isn’t a political album at all, but a couple of well-chosen phrases are enough to acknowledge what the world’s about these days. Some fab loud guitars and both the Mayster and wee Roger give it some long-awaited wellie.

Then we get it toned down again with We Believe. A little reminiscent of One Vision in the pure optimism of its lyrics, but this is a different approach. Paul does a marvellous job of going through these lines without sounding like he’s preaching. He doesn’t come over as some patronising rich bastard, and that’s due in no small part to the melody and build-up given by the very Queenesque chorus. The synchronised voices, the bold lead vocal, the guitar sound, the solo, it’s all there. It’s not harsh or troubling, it’s just Queen with someone else borrowing the microphone to create a new sound instead of trying to recreate something that can never be brought back. It’s solemnly ace.

Call Me is an instant winner! It’s been on iPhone Dax all of twenty-four hours, but already it’s climbing to my new favourite song of the week. It might even end up as my ringtone this week. The song starts off with the classic Queen chorus voice, but suddenly Paul jumps in to remind us all what he does best. Gawd, I’ve waited for that voice, and he doesn’t disappoint. The shifts, the melodious up-and-downy thing he does so well, it’s all there. It’s only lacking his sultry mmm-mmm and then I’d die happy! Very catchy, very ace, and a perfect hybrid of Queen and the mighty Paul.

And then it feels like we’ve slipped back into a Bad Company album as Voodoo goes through its paces. Smooth backing and honeyed vocals are very very familiar and very very welcome. Brian May’s mid-way showcase shines brightly here, not with his usual weapon of choice but one definitely very well executed. It’s all very reminiscent but strangely new, too.

And there it is! The patent-pending mmm-mmm from Paul, and yay, I can die content in the knowledge he still sounds the same - like hot chocolate with the occasional marshmallow in it - as more slower, genuinely fine stuff comes in the form of Some Things That Glitter. A nice story told with patience and all the sounds we like - Roger Taylor backing sync’d with Brian May’s tones, the plethora of guitar tracks used, the sound of Paul Rodgers. Bliss. Some things that glitter may be gold indeed - and this track is one of them.

But hold on, what’s this? A loud Queen-style intro, Paul’s voice over the top stridently kicking off the next track? It’s C-lebrity! It’s a little sarcastic, a little naughty, a little witty, and certainly something with which Sir Freddie of Mercury would be greatly amused. A jibe against the long list of wannabe famous people, every kind of cling-on, media-sponge or camera-hog comes under fire here, and it’s just ace to listen to and giggle along with. It’s my second favourite track. It’s genius. Thanks, Roger Taylor, for penning it.

Then we’re back on a go-slow with Through The Night. A little more soulful and a little more vintage Bad Company than vintage Queen, but that’s not a bad thing by any stretch of the imagination. It’s a nice package that will shine more as instant likeable hits such as C-lebrity drift into the background. A nice bit of gratuitous guitar to break up the bleaker feel to the lyrics also makes sure Paul’s delightfully ‘woe-is-me’ take on it never gets monotonous. Another worthy track.

Then a surprise: the next track, Say It’s Not True, is brought to us by Roger Taylor to begin with, and then The Mighty Hairy one himself as we go on. The poignant lyrics are a little obvious at first, the subject matter still a sore point after so many years without Freddie. But it picks up halfway as Paul takes over, and full Post-Freddie Queen Ballad Effort goes into full swing.

Not a big fan of Surf’s Up… School’s Out, but again it’s loud and brash, and I'm sure before too long it’ll grow on me. For the moment it gets skipped when it comes on.

But then we get a beautiful little reprise from the closing bars of Small, Oasis-like, and it’s all over. Still, that’s thirteen brand spanking new tracks, plus a cover of Runaway (on the iTunes version) and a weeny reprise. Not bad for an album that most Queen fans didn’t want in the first place. While I would argue that perhaps using the Queen name when they were only 50% of their original line-up and then teaming with a completely different supergroup’s lead singer is a little unnecessary, there is still enough of the Queen sound in here to let them just about get away with it. However, had I been one of The Boys, I probably would have gone with a new name, as 90% of the music world would have heard who was in it anyway. That aside, it’s been a fantastic foray into collaboration, and I for one am really hoping they do another one.

It’s not really Queen, and it’s not really Bad Company - but then, it was never meant to be. It’s some kind of weird bastard somewhere in between, and it’s new, and for that alone it deserves a listen. Chuck it out straight after, or just pick the tracks you like and bin the rest - either way, it’s a fab addition to my bookcase and it’s going at the top.

I’m knackered now. Just about… ooh… twelve hours to go till the first episode of season four of ‘Supernatural’ hits the CW channel in the US, and then spreads out in ever increasing ripples over a thousand torrent sites and similar file-sharing networks. And then I shall be rewarded for having waited all summer without reading any spoilers at all (save the episode title - ta very much, Big Sis!). All good things come to those who wait… But if the episode or in fact arc of season four in any way mirrors what I’ve already written and posted as fan-fiction, I’ll be the one on the floor of my front room, in need of brandy and/or smelling salts. Hello, Mr Kripke sir, can I have a job now please?

That shallot. Onion. Thing. I’m off to sort my front room for the Delivering Of The Hyowj TV tomorrow morning (touch wood).


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