It's been over 30 years since "Innuendo" - "Queen's" last studio album released in the life of Freddie Mercury, and the longing for one of the greatest vocals in music is only intensifying.
This is our first coverage in a series of reviews of the marvelous albums released in 1991. Click on the tag "Class Of 91" and enter the wondrous world of masterpiece albums released that year.
Time Heals? At least that's how we were taught to think. Nonsense! As time goes by you only realize how much you have lost and in this case, we have all lost BIG TIME!
Think differently? So think again! If "Innuendo" is what Freddie Mercury and friends managed to produce when the band is injured, bleeding and hurting their good friend's condition, just think what they could have accomplished in the 30 years and more since, and how much we fans have lost.
"Innuendo" which was released on February 4, 1991, is Queen's 14th studio album and is also the one whose creative process was the most painful and excruciating for the band members.
Exactly today in 1977 another huge album was born from pain. We are talking about "Rumours" by "Fleetwood Mac", created while each of the band member's relationships was falling apart.
There are many similarities between the creative process of these two great albums. In both cases, the dynamics were the same, although the situations were different, and we will explain: in the case of "Fleetwood Mac" all the songs on the album were written out of the great pain experienced by the band members as a result of the breakup of each of their relationships. The band members could not even look at each other, so the communication between them was done through the songs they wrote. In Queen's case too, most of the album's songs were written out of the pain of Freddie Mercury's condition, and again this time the band members switched the direct communication channel between them into the songs, only in this case the lack of direct communication was due to embarrassment and sadness, not anger or hate.
The story of "Innuendo" begins exactly at the end of the recording of the band's 13th album "The Miracle", released in 1989. Freddie Mercury has already been diagnosed with AIDS. He gathered his bandmates at his home, informed them of his illness, and tell them he doesn't want this to be discovered by the media and that he don't want to talk about this anymore. Mercury indicated that all he wants to do is make music until the moment he could no longer do so physically and that he wanted them to support him. This was actually the only open conversation of the band members on the subject.
Following Mercury's announcement, plans for a tour to promote the album "The Miracle" were immediately replaced by plans to record a new album. But, by this time rumors of Freddie Mercury's medical condition had begun to spread and they were inflamed due to Mercury's lack of public appearances. In an attempt to dispel the rumors, Mercury gave an interview with BBC Radio and noted that the band is interested in breaking the sequence of an album and a tour and making an album.
Needless to say, that the entire band stood like a brick wall around Freddie Mercury, throughout that period and until his death. They dismissed any rumor and refuted any claim as to his condition. They kept the big secret about Mercury's condition very devout, sometimes even having to lie to their relatives and family members, as long as nothing leaked out. Mercury told his friends that he did not want the fans to purchase his music out of pity, so it was important for him to keep the subject of his disease a secret. This was Mercury's wish and they fiercely defended it.
Indeed, at Freddie Mercury's request, recordings for the album began in mid-1989, close to the release of "The Miracle", just as a "War Against Time".
But the troubles did not stop, as the media did not give the band a rest and various reporters were flocking outside Freddie Mercury's home and the recording studio in London, in a way that disturbed Mercury's rest and prevented the band from concentrating on recordings. More than that, Mercury's medical condition did not always allow him to record. There were days when he did not come to the studio, on other days he came but was in great pain that did not allow him the record and there were some days when he got tired too quickly or could not even stand.
To change the atmosphere and escape the British media, the band moved to a new recording studio in Montreux Switzerland, thinking this will allow them to concentrate on the creative process and the recordings. The band members got very close during the recordings and even though the atmosphere was hard and painful, they managed to enjoy the time together and the fact that they were fulfilling their best friend's last wish by doing what he loves the most.
This atmosphere is well reflected in the songs on this album.
The first track and the theme song "Innuendo" started as a jam session of the band members in a studio in Switzerland. Freddie Mercury co-wrote the lyrics with Roger Taylor and also created the melody. The song was written as a tribute to "Led Zeppelin" and especially to the song "Kashmir". The flamenco part in the middle of the song, is played by Steve Howe guitarist of "Yes", who just passed by the studio before Mercury asked him to play the classical guitar part. This song is reminiscent of the epic, complex, and classic things the band did somewhere in the 1970s, with many rhythm changes and musical styles that start with Bolero, go through Flamenco, and switch to Hard Rock and Progressive. When this song was released we were just filled with sheer bliss. It was a kind of a closer, since we didn't hear such a grandiose and epic song from "Queen" since "Bohemian Rhapsody". The operatic bridge part definitely corresponds with "Bohemian Rhapsody" and the first seconds in the intro of the classical guitar part correspond with "Love of My Life" from "Live Killers!". The closer is undoubtedly not only ours but mostly the band's.
And if we mentioned the band members' communication through the songs, then even though Taylor was an essential part in writing the lyrics to the song, you can actually hear Freddie's voice speaking from the page. He sang of parting ways and liberation: "You can be anything you want to be ... Just turn yourself into anything you think that you could ever be". And he sings of his disappointment from God the creator: "If there's a God or any kind of justice under the sky, ...if there's a reason to live or die...". Such powerful words that come from Mercury coming to terms with his death.
This song was released as the first single from the album, it is the band's longest song released as a single (even longer than "Bohemian Rhapsody") and it became the band's third hit to reach number one on the UK charts (after "Bohemian Rhapsody" and "Under Pressure").
The second track "I'm Going Slightly Mad" was written by Freddie Mercury at his home in London, with the help of his friend Peter Straker, who contributed a bit to the lyrics. The music just matches the main idea with weird chords and an unconventional melody that sounds almost psychedelic. John Deacon's bass work in this track is simply ingenious !!! And it is impossible to write about this song without recalling the crazy video that was shot to promote it and simply completes the craziness through Mercury’s theatricality.
Next comes "Headlong" originally written by Brian May for his solo album, "Back To The Light", which was released in 1992. But when Mercury sang it May was enthusiastic and agreed that it would be recorded as a Queen's song. It was the third single from the album (worldwide) and the first to be released in the US where it was a huge success, thanks in no small part to its catchy riff.
Similarly, "I Can't Live with You" was also written by Brian May for his solo album, following his separation from his wife. This time too, May agreed to contribute the song to the band's album after the three members got excited about it.
We return to interpersonal communication through the songs with "Don't Try So Hard" written by Freddie Mercury. The words speak of overcoming obstacles in life, about courage and self-conviction, and the fact that sometimes you need to let go and make no effort. As if Mercury convinces himself that he can be released. This is a song in a very melancholy atmosphere with Mercury's scream "Don't try so hard" that just pierces the heart and with May's solo that just melts every drop of ice at the poles.
"Ride the Wild Wind" was composed by Roger Taylor, who even recorded a demo with his own vocals. In the final version, it was Freddie Mercury who sang lead alongside Roger Taylor on background vocals. It's kind of a sequel to the song "I'm in Love with My Car" from the album "A Night At The Opera", which focused on Taylor's passion for race cars, only this time it's on high octane with a faster RPM on the drums and a pounding bass line that ads to the feeling of speed, with the sounds of engine roars in the background. Brian May's solo only emphasizes the sense of speed and gives the song a heavier sound.
"Days of our Life" was originally written by Roger Taylor about his childhood. It's a song of longing for days that will not return, but it has already taken on a completely different meaning when the band members learned that Freddie was ill. This time too we are witnessing the communication between the band members through words. You can really feel Taylor's emotion shouting from the words he wrote about himself, but there is no doubt that he thought of his good friend Freddie when he wrote them. "You can't turn back the clock ..." sings Freddie Mercury, and one can not remain indifferent to the words that emanate from a dying person's throat. The video clip taken for the song is the last in which Mercury is seen in front of a camera. It was photographed in color but was transferred to black and white to slightly obscure the fact that Mercury just looked bad. And at the end of the clip when Mercury looks at the camera and sings "I still love you" it's hard not to think about what went through his mind during the filming and coming to terms with the impending death.
"The Hitman" is May's Heavy Metal performance, but it was written by Freddie Mercury on piano. Mercury just puts on a killer persona here and May's riffs just fit the theme.
"Bijou" is simply a beautiful, different, and special song. It was written by Freddie Mercury and Brian May when the idea was to make an Inside-Out song just like in sushi. Upside down, with the guitar replacing the vocals in the verses, and Mercury's vocals set to replace what were supposed to be little Brian May's solos. May's guitar just cries, laments, and mourns the end of friendships and the end of the relationship between him and Mercury, there is simply no other way to describe it.
True, not all songs on the album are on the same level. There's the weird "Delilah" with Brian May's guitar sounds that mimic the howls of Freddie Mercury's favorite cat, about which the song was written. Yet again the communication through the songs this time brings us a farewell song from Freddie's favorite pet. And there is "All God's People" which was supposed to be part of Mercury's solo album - "Barcelona" - and was supposed to be called "Africa By Night", but for some reason does not feel part of this album.
This album ends with a great cry, a mighty scream, and a huge explosion !!! "The Show Must Go On" was written by Brian May as a farewell song from Freddie Mercury and Mercury takes the stage and gives us the show of his life. He cries out his soul. He sings his own requiem. "I Did It My Way" - "next generation version", improved and upgraded, full of power and emotion and he was not willing to give up until this song was recorded to his satisfaction. There were moments when May feared he would not be able to do this, he was already weak, sick, and exhausted, but when May asked if he wanted to stop recording and go rest, Mercury replied "I'll fucking do it, darling!", took a shot of vodka and went to record.
And what an amazing result, what an insane vocal performance. One can not hear or feel, even for a moment, then the true state of Freddie Mercury during the recording. And we are not talking only about the infinite vocal range, the powerful voice, the incredible control, but rather about the "small gestures" like the graded ascent in the middle of the second verse after the words "Does anybody know what we are living for?" Or the vocal harmony he sings with May's guitar. And when Freddie reaches the fracture cries at the end of the song, no eye can stay dry, not even at the one thousand listen. Freddie did it his way, just like in the lyrics, with a lot of makeup but with a big smile on his face, right down to the last note!