It’s a struggle.
Death haunts the festive season, at a time when the world is crashing and falling apart. It’s impossible not to look back at a year of destruction and hate and see only fear.
In most personal senses, there is growth, and Christmas was actually gorgeous. But I’ve put off writing too long, and I’m stuck here, trying to look Queen’s darkest album, and the sadness and sickness it often deals with, in the eye.
And it starts with this magnificent monstrosity.
Starting from a jam, the main theme is partly in tribute to Led Zepellin. But that’s not the bit anyone remembers. The doom laden first section is immense and swollen and terrifying. But it quietly dances away, gives way to Freddie’s childishness, and then…
The first appearance of a non-Queen guitarist on a Queen record. Steve Howe brings a furious flamenco to the table. Played almost entirely straight.
Freddie uses it as an excuse to take over the song, and pour ludicrous orchestral messes out of a Korg M1. The solemnity gives way to exhilaration gives way to operatic reassurance.
You can be anything you want to be
Just turn yourself into anything you think that you could ever be
It’s one of the biggest, most ridiculous late era Queen tracks available. This frankenstein’s monster of a thing, stitched together parts and moods. Dirgelike and furious. Optimistic and terrifying. Lonely and roaring. Heartbreaking and boring.
It’s too much, right now. Thinking about George Michael singing for Freddie in the tribute concert. Thinking of the world as it was then, the press ripping into LGBTQ people with sneers and innuendo, as they poured love out into it.
I always found this song too much. Too scary. Actually scary. Like being yelled at by a demon. The sound of judgement. It’s more doom filled than Bohemian Rhapsody. The subtext as clear or mysterious as you want it to be.
Through the sorrow all through our splendour
Don’t take offence at my innuendo
I’ve said before that Queen were something of an emotional anchor for me. I could use them to reach for tears, or dance for joy, or more often just pelt my seven year old self around a room at top speed. But I always tried to skip over Innuendo. I just remember it as a long scary thing. Freddie having turned on me.
It doesn’t matter that the lyric is more hopeful than not.
Oh yes we’ll keep on tryin’
We’ll tread that fine line
Oh oh we’ll keep on tryin’
Till the end of time
Till the end of time
As visions of apocalypse go, it’s bright, and features that Elysian midsection. The Flamenco responded to with opera, and then Brian’s take on that melody, actually the closest to Iron Maiden that Queen ever got (true fact: Iron Maiden were the other great love of my childhood, but we don’t talk about that quite as much). Shredded guitar ripping around the centre of the song, taking the flamenco and tearing it apart gleefully.
Then the doom returns, and actually, it’s all fully uplifted. The reassuring backing vocals lift us up. The weirdness grows and builds and lifts.
Until it fades, and falls, and we’re put back to sleep by feedback.
I still never know quite how to feel about Innuendo, except to remember that it’s a bit too much. Kind of magnificent, kind of monstrous. Nothing to actually be scared of, but monumental enough to elicit awe.
It’s a tough place to start, but it’s the opening this record needed. A statement of some sort of intent, a towering edifice to welcome you into a palace with the correct amount of nerves.
I remain nervous, but only because I can’t quite separate out my own fears from those that can be induced by shouting men with loud guitars, when they want to etch their hearts on walls.
If there’s a God or any kind of justice under the sky
If there’s a point, if there’s a reason to live or die
If there’s an answer to the questions we feel bound to ask
Show yourself – destroy our fears – release your mask
There are no anchors here
Queen: An Exploded Diagram is me having big and little thoughts about every Queen song in chronological order. If you want to support me, making it more financially viable and easier to explain to people at parties, please back my patreon.
Illustration by Emma.