It’s time for the tear jerker, just in case the general principle of the thing wasn’t enough for you.
It bugs me on some layers, but gets me on others. There’s a trite reading that upsets me, and a simpler reading that seems more honest. The one that annoys me is unintended, but it remains all too vivid to ignore.
It opens with a set of keyboard tones that says ‘this is important and from a very particular time’. It makes it feel like a short serious film from Comic Relief when I was wee. I keep expecting Bob Geldof to get serious at me.
But instead we just have Freddie, singing a simple and plaintive love song. It’s a sadness with a theme we’ve heard before, that of love broken down, and the desperation and pain that surrounds that.
In the context I first heard it, I always felt it was a pretty judgemental song about AIDS and HIV. Blaming Freddie’s death on his love. I think even as an ignorant child I winced, and I’ve not managed to escape that feeling with this song. That it’s an attempt to simplify something into the sort of sympathy that doesn’t include empathy. That pretends to include, whilst wagging a finger.
I used to bring you sunshine
Now all I ever do is bring you down
Of course. It’s actually a song by Brian (and Frank Musker and Elizabeth Lamers), originally recorded for The Miracle, but not one he was willing to give to the band, when they’d agreed to share credit. It’s entirely about his own relationship breakdown, and the more literal reading of the lyrics is plain and clear. Brian’s a dick, and he wants to blame that on love (because Brian’s a dick, and love’s a dick, so that seems to be fair).
Yes, too much love will kill you
And you won’t understand why
It’s still a heart burster though. Just for the performance that Freddie gives it. Each line drips with sincerity and agony. Roger’s heartbeat of a drum underneath is just as powerful, particularly in those final moments, as the song dies. It’s hard not to go with it.
It’s perfectly structured too, just slowly building and hurting and scraping you raw. It’s a strong and purposeful ballad, not just a way to avoid responsibility.
And honestly, if I had Freddie to sing out my emotional labour for me, I’d be doing it too.
Because everything cuts deep with Freddie, every word carries weight. Every detail is vivid and real.
This isn’t exactly one of this most belting performances. The chorus is huge, but the verse is quiet and gentle. But that’s enough, and Freddie sells it.
I feel like no-one ever told the truth to me
About growing up and what a struggle it would be
For all the self pity, it feels honest, or at least sounds it. It’s an attempt at finding fault, an attempt at self discovery.
And it’s hard to argue with the heart when it feels like this.
And it’s hard to not want anything hurting Freddie to stop.
So it hurts.
And that’s what it’s meant to.
A tear jerker, whatever the reason, that serves a purpose.
Tears for jerks.
And maybe the rest of us too.
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.