Thursday, September 26, 2013

Retro Review: Queen + Paul Rogers: Return of the Champions

I recently found a used copy of this 2-disk set, Return of the Champions, and picked it up. I'd always wanted a copy, but even digital it was fairly pricey. For five bucks, I couldn't pass it up.

Replacing band members is this sort of weird thing. Sometimes, it heralds a change in tone and direction that reinvigorates a band (look at the 2500 versions of Deep Purple that have existed). Sometimes, nobody notices (Anthrax gets a new lead guitarist quite regularly, in the grand scheme). Then there's the times when you really can't imagine how anybody could think that a band member could ever be replaced. When their personality is so central to the chemistry of the group, you just can't see how it can go on.

Such was Freddie Mercury and Queen.

Now, what really sucks about this is, often the remaining members would like to, y'know, continue their careers, and don't want to take the Joy Division-into-New Order route of starting a new band. I get that. Brian May and Roger Taylor wrote those songs, too. They played all those shows, and the thing that was "Queen" was just as much theirs as it was Freddie's.

It's just that Freddie was such a HUGE personality.

So, when I heard they were going to go on tour with Paul Rodgers, I was a little perplexed, but then I saw a bit of genius in it. Now, look, I personally think Paul Rodgers is, give or take, the best voice in rock and roll. His voice is pretty much what I love in a frontman, a full, powerful, bluesy kind of sound. When I sing, I wish I could sound like Paul Rodgers.

But that's nothing like the soaring, cabaret vibe of Freddie Mercury. Which is honestly why I dig this album, and, to an extent, the studio disk they put out in 2008. First, they don't pretend it's "Queen," it's "Queen + Paul Rodgers," and, while of course there's a musical connection, because it's the same guitarist and drummer, they let Paul be Paul.

Which is why I can accept this pairing, and yet I feel like the shows they did with Adam Lambert were just painful, sellout moves. Why? It's clear that May and Taylor drooled over Lambert because he was a flamboyant, gay rock singer...that whole escapade REEKED of desperation and lack of imagination. A desire to simply try to re-create what they had before.

Paul Rodgers, on the other hand, was established. They were peers deciding to try to work together. It was new and different, and, to my ears, exciting. It felt like moving on, and moving forward. Did Rodgers sing The Show Must Go On like Freddie? No, he sang it like Paul Rodgers, and taken as's pretty goddamn awesome.

I an say that about a number of tracks here, Tie Your Mother Down, I Want to Break Free, Fat Bottomed Girls. Yeah, they keep Rodgers to more of the rocking end of the Queen catalog, but that makes a lot of sense. May and Taylor also take lead vocals on a number of Freddie's songs. The bottom line is that it works because Rodgers simply isn't having anything to do with A) pretending to be Freddie, or B) worrying about not being Freddie. Frankly, with his career, he has every right to that.

My only real complaint is that, of all the numbers they do from Rodger's career, they don't pull out Radioactive by The Firm, which I think May and Taylor could've KILLED on.

Freddie Mercury was the only lead singer for Queen, but Queen + Paul Rodgers was it's own animal, and it worked pretty damn well.

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