Innuendo

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I’m struggling.

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.

Innuendo.

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.

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I’m going slightly mad

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Once again, I get shivers down my spine, and think ‘I’m too old for this shit’ or some kind of slightly less action film centric notion of weakenss.

This time, it’s mostly a particular synthesiser pick, eerie as all hell, kitsch as anything, but somehow still genuinely unsettling.

I’m going slightly mad.

It’s probably easiest to think of this track as about deterioration, whether physical or mental. Let it take you down a melancholy route, reminding you of mortality and inevitability of loss. It’s certainly easier than acknowledging it’s not entirely kind treatment of mental illness.

Apparently though, Freddie just wanted to make something Noel Cowardy (and you can here his vocal stylistics revel in it throughout the song), and so he stayed up late with a friend thinking up one liners.

That’s your whole story, right there.

I’m one card short of a full deck

I’m not quite the shilling

One wave short of a shipwreck

I’m not my usual top billing

I’m coming down with a fever

I’m really out to sea

This kettle is boiling over

I think I’m a banana tree

The thing that feels most familiar, though, is the inability to really express with clarity mental processes and mental state. The song is constantly reaching for absurdity and euphemism, because it can’t actually put a name on what it’s talking about. The idea of madness is always approached indirectly. We can’t tell at all what is actually going on. We can hear the cry for help, but not ever understand what’s behind it.

Speaking as someone with knives in my brain and claws around my gut and fears quivering quietly under every inch of my skin, I can speak to that, even if I couldn’t quite get it across.

Because that could just be the point.

It’s more than a little terrifying, to see yourself unravelling. To know that something’s wrong, but not be able to explain. To recoil and act in ways you don’t quite have a handle on.

But it’s only slightly, right. Only ever slightly mad. However inevitable. However huge and monstrous. Because to admit to being all the way, that would be unthinkable.

So yes, I don’t know if Freddie’s being silly and childish or desperately crying out for help, but you can’t see it for the smirk. Can’t see it through the innuendo.

Just very slightly mad !

And there you have it !

The videos of these last few songs are haunted by documentary footage we have of the filming. The awareness of just how ill Freddie was, and how much work was being done to try and hide it (and it all feels pretty plain, with hindsight). Black and white film and heavy make up and two layers of clothes. Anything to keep working and keep up the pretense. Trying to conceal the obvious, and making it more so.

The story we always get is that Freddie just wanted to keep working, keep being Freddie for as long as possible. It’s heartbreaking. But it makes me treasure these moments, these images, even as they conceal and carry so much pain.

And that synthesiser still freaks me out.

 

 

 

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.

Headlong

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I guess it was actually pretty tough for Brian.

Working on an upcoming solo album, and every now and then Freddie comes along and sings the vocal and he ends up having to give it to Queen because you would, wouldn’t you.

Headlong.

It’s basically a pretty solid rocker. In the surroundings of the Greatest Hits II collection, it sounds like a ripping yarn, oozing excitement out of simple but effective hard rock. Three tracks into this record, it sounds entirely out of place. Like someone’s switched a channel from an opera to Mtv. It’s not necessarily bad, it just fits oddly.

It’s hard to separate it from Breakthru. I expect both could’ve been filmed on a train. But this never has quite the verve of that one. This doesn’t exactly trudge along the tracks, but it does feel like it’s going by numbers.

It does however offer some new insights into Brian’s love life:

He used to be a man with a stick in his hand

Hoop diddy diddy – Hoop diddy do

She used to be a woman with a hot dog stand

Hoop diddy diddy – Hoop diddy do

Now you’ve got soup in your laundry bag.

It’s a tale as old as time. Man with stick meets restauranter, hoops are diddied, and now you’ve got soup in your laundry bag.

I’m just hoping it’s not a euphemism.

Silliness aside, I’m not exactly turned off by this track. I don’t think it’s bad. It just can’t really reach out and grab me the way I feel it wants to. The fast and hard guitar always feel a little too conrolled. The vocal a bit tame. The rhythm a bit too trad.

Where’s the ridiculous intro. Where’s the outrageously over blown solo. Where’s the swagger.

Adroit always seems like an insult. But there’s nothing wrong with solid rock, is there?

Well, maybe. Maybe in the midst of a legacy building record trying to engage with darkness, sadness, madness and lost it’s a shame to have a song which features the words ‘hoop diddy diddy’ so prominently. It lacks the bombastic rawness, or the emotional honesty that we’ve come to expect.

But perhaps this is the wrong perspective to take. Watching the video, we see a tired looking Freddie and an old looking rest of the band, strutting and dancing and mucking about. There’s a grinning energy to it, a childish joy in messing about for the cameras. A lot of it is weirdly janky, too fast edits and odd camera spins. It’s an impersonation of Queen, performed by Queen.

I just can’t stop thinking about how much work this must have been, and how much Freddie obviously wants to keep on going and never fucking stop being Queen.

And on that basis, I can’t begrudge that gift. Freddie wanted to keep on, and Brian wanted to keep being with Freddie, and so they rushed headlong into it.

And now maybe I’m the one with soup in my laundry bag.

So to speak.

 

 

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.

I can’t live with you

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Another one poached from Brian’s solo album.

I can’t live with you.

There’s a sass here. And those who know me, know I am vulnerable to sass. Brian’s guitar is jankier than usual. The drums are a bit too heavy on the crash, but remarkably taut underneath. It makes the whole thing feel messy and wobbly and loose. But it falls together just right, mostly on account of a certain type of swagger. Even when the vocal opens out for the bridge, and it all gets a bit earnest, it still has a jerky bounce that pulls it forward.

Lover turns to hater

On this escalator

I can’t live with you

It’s the tritest sentiment ever, to acknowledge that it’s hard to live with the people you love. That it’s all to easy for human relationships to devolve into a simultaneous push and pull. It’s cliche of the most cliched type.

But it doesn’t matter, because Freddie’s here lending weight, and the whole structure is such a bouncy mess that it’s kind of irresistible.

I honestly have no idea how Queen manage to make this trash sound so honest. But they manage it.

Towards the end it starts sounding like a Christmas carol, but it’s still got that oddly brusque drum beat pounding away, pushing you out into the cold.

This is one of those records I never engaged with before this. I really do only know the hits. Apart from one very stoned evening listening to it on tape over a dear friend’s cheese board, I don’t think I ever really listened to this album all the way through. The song titles don’t really grab me, apart from the singles, which are all (possibly headlong excluded) absolute showstoppers.

There’s some real heartbreakers on here, at least two still to come. Two of the most important emotional beats of this part of the band’s life are pending. But it’s easy to forget that this isn’t just a heartrending final full album, it was also just an album. The beginning of the 90s for a band that knew it might not see much of the 90s.

And this track makes sense on that album. It’s a particular kind of goodbye to the way the band have danced through the eighties. It’s that poppier rock sound performed pretty immaculately. It’s too bright, too sharp, too vivid, for the doom laden album’s the bookends might lead you to expect, but it’s very much a Queen track, and you’d expect that, on a Queen album.

I was harsh on Headlong for not fitting with what preceded it, but I guess something had to take that bullet, so the album could move on.

And so the album does move on, and turns into just as messy a hodgepodge as Queen albums always have been.

As much as I’ve dedicated so much time to this band, and this project, I’m still aware that Queen are quite often a bit shit.

But I’m stil here, and still finding new treasures, because sometimes their shit is just so damn charming.

We’ve still got each other

For a million years

 

 

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.

Don’t try so hard

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A flavour of that other, darker album returns, as Freddie offers a set of falsetto, howling pieces of sentimental advice. Then pretends you’re a pretentious soldier. Then it goes a bit horror movie.

Don’t try so hard.

It’s weird.

I like it.

Trapped in some icy chasm, Freddie wants us to not try to hard, sit back and not worry too much about the problems. Procrastination is a shield. It’s fine.

This is jarring against my present deadline, but I’m going to carry on, but perhaps not try too hard, just in case Freddie notices.

To be fair, Freddie belts and falsettos and sings with such an enormous fury, that he’s clearly not taking his own advice.

Or, possibly more likely, it’s all just too easy for him.

If you’re searching out for something –

Don’t try so hard

If you’re feeling kinda nothing –

Don’t try so hard

Honestly, it’s useful to hear Freddie this effortlessly fragile and so strong at the same time. It’s clearly a genuine message he wanted to get across, a genuine feeling. It doesn’t quite line up with most prior Queen tracks, but the vulnerability is clear and real, and not sounding like anything else is exactly what Queen have always done.

Of course, it goes a bid weird in the middle too.

One day you’ll be a sergeant major

Oh you’ll be so proud

Screaming out your bloody orders

Hey but not too loud

Polish all your shiny buttons

Dressed as lamb instead of mutton

But you never had to try

To stand out from the crowd

It’s surprisingly venomous, in the midst of something so caring and thoughtful. There’s a brittle anger, a fragile hate. Someone Freddie still has to rail against. Possibly just conformity. Possibly something more personal.

I don’t know.

I do know that as the song rips into it’s final third, the guitars swell and swoop and rip shreds through that ice, while still keeping their cool.

As Freddie proclaims how beautiful the world is, we hear that beauty, but also something colder and more dangerous. It’s one of the finest and most subtle of Brian May’s sonic suggestions, just three rising chords pulling upwards. I love it.

Then the ominous horror stabs, and an actual guitar solo that’s fairly mundane. But Freddie tears back in, belting in about not trying too hard with all the energy he begs you to save. It works.

It’s a strange piece. Calling for inaction. Raging at conformity. Celebrating beauty. All in one, it’s a heartfelt but confusing message. Freddie wants to show us his heart, but he doesn’t want us to understand it.

That’s fine though, clarity is not what we look for when we want to be close to something, we just need them to hold us, be with us, be themselves, maybe lift each other up.

Or just fall into a ball, curve around each other. Quietly being lonely together.

I feel close to Freddie here.

Oh don’t take it all to heart

It’s only fools – they make these rules

I promise.

 

 

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.

Ride the wild wind

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The disappointing thing here, is that apparently it’s just about driving. Roger Taylor following up on I’m in love with my car with a song about going really fast.

It’s disappointing because I assumed it was about dragons.

Let’s assume it’s about dragons.

Ride the wild wind.

However you read it, it’s pure and ridiculous escapism. Just a ludicrously fast paced song, with a Bangles drum and bass line driving ever forward, and guitars just providing a landscape to pass beneath you.

It takes me back to those fantasy visions of the first few albums, but approached with a more eighties aesthetic. Or, more specifically, The Never Ending Story, only with less Limahl.

It’s borderline tedious, but kitsch enough to carry it on.

Also, every time I hear Roger saying ‘don’t sit on the fence’ in the backing vocal, I can only hear him saying ‘don’t sit on my face’.

We got freaks on the left – we got jerks to the right

Sometimes I get so low – I just have to ride

It’s sheer, gleeful nonsense, throughout. With little to mark it out but an emphatic vocals, a driving energy, and some samples of a crowd going ‘hey, hey, hey’, that feels very of the time, and slightly gamey.

It was actually a long time later that someone made a computer game out of Queen’s back catalogue, but I can genuinely picture a high budget fast paced platform game coming out on the Amiga that used this as the predominant soundtrack. A tiny 256 colour sprite of Freddie bounding from bird to bird as landscape paralaxed behind him.

An of it’s time memory, for an of it’s time song.

Weirdly, it makes me feel very warm about the track even having never heard it at the time. I can imagine latching onto it as a child, swirling it around my head as I swooped around playgrounds with my arms in the pockets of my coat to turn it into wings.

There’s a vividness there, for all it’s simplicity.

I still can’t work out where to place the tone of this record. It’s moodier moments jar with it’s uplifting bursts of energy. I guess it makes sense to escape the darkness sometimes, and if you don’t have darkness you have nothing to escape. It’s no coincidence that headlong is about being out of control. It’s no coincidence that this song still pursues danger.

It ain’t dangerous – enough for me

Ride the wild wind

The truth is that Queen always contained multitudes, always bounced around, and rarely felt truly cohesive. There was always going to be a contrast between the simplicities of John, the bombast of Freddie, the creepiness of Brian and the over-excitedness of Roger. And even that’s not doing any of them credit for their range. Obviously.

The need to run away does feel right here. The band was holed up in Montreaux, to escape the invasions of the press and public, to have a quieter life.

Because however bright and sunny the ride might be, if you’re trying to escape, you’ve got something to run from.

Up on the back of this dragon, you just can’t hear it.

 

 

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.

All god’s people

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It’s Freddie’s turn to donate a gift from a solo project. An offcut from Barcelona that accidentally pulled in the whole band, we have something huge and strange and kind of wonderful.

All god’s people.

It’s preachy as anything, and I’m really glad it lost the previous title ‘Africa by night’. But the end result is overwhelming, and just what the album needed at this point. A big blast of something striking and powerful and with Freddie going absolutely full tilt (and then some).

Freddie exults in his own voice, and being supported by multi tracks and his band mates throughout. For the bulk of it he is just belting out huge and glorious statements of hope and love. It’s a whole other scale to so much of this record. It belongs in a huge theatrical production, not a record.

But it’s captured here. Orchestration and rhythm providing a bed for a huge pile of voice and boistrousness.

Rule with your heart, live with your conscience

Love, love

Love, love and be free

And then, after a elegaic but hurried guitar solo, it just turns into this weird piano led bluesy swagger for a lump. It doesn’t shrink down to it though, it lets this incongruous mood fill up the whole breadth of the previous opera. It’s beautiful and ridiculous, in the way that only Queen could really pull off. Freddie carries it, but the band drive it outwards.

It’s interesting, because you can almost here where the song would’ve stopped if it had just been it’s original intention, and you hear it get distracted by bringing Brian in for a guitar part, and then get ridiculous as everyone else gets more involved.

But it just makes it even more concretely huge when it returns to the main theme.

Freddie is as loud as you’ve heard him here. As big as houses. As large as countries. Singing with a voice like continents. There is no subtlety here. No quietness. No sensitivity. Barely any understanding.

But that’s not what it’s here for. This is a celebration of voice and humanity. It’s a joyful burst of union. Or an attempt to reach out to that.

The scale of Freddie here is immense and perfect, and it provides a golden core to the record, something huge and heart warming to hang everything else around.

It’s a necessary outpouring.

Open your eyes look, touch and feel

There’s a hopefulness here.

All Freddie’s moments on this record seem so full and heartfelt. He was still absolutely trying to put everything he felt and thought out into the world. It takes a lot to be this optimistic this loudly, but that’s not all he does on this record, I feel like we’ve seen him more vulnerable than ever before, more contented, more scared and more misunderstood, and we’ve not even finished yet.

Again, I am so glad he was able to keep doing this. Even on a patchy album, it’s wonderful to have such vivid statements of humanity from such an incredible human.

Cheers, Freddie.

 

 

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.

These are the days of our lives

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There’s a moment in every single Queen documentary that runs to the end of the story. I’ve seen enough to know it’s coming, and how it will be framed. Everyone does it, nobody can resist. It still makes me cry.

Basically, this was the last video that Freddie shot. And Freddie’s part in it is just standing at the camera, looking kind, moving his hands and head, and singing the lines. He’s heavily made up, but he shines with life, despite everything. His eyes tell so many stories.

Anyway, the point is, this was the last video, and the last words he says to the camera, his last official words to the public, are there, at the end of the song.

I still love you.

The second whispered repeat gets me every time. It’s too much.

These are the days of our lives.

It’s an awfully cheesy song. Simplest piece of songwriting ever. Simplest structure. Those congas. Just a gentle quiet song, looking back.

And it’s perfect for it. The perfect quiet goodbye. The perfect gift to be left with. The one you need.

Sometimes I get to feelin’

I was back in the old days – long ago

When we were kids, when we were young

Things seemed so perfect – you know?

I know.

Nostalgia made so supremely honest and heartfelt by the emotion and moment it’s situated in. Freddie looking back with the band at childhood, and the life they spent, crazy and young.

It’s Roger’s song, of course, but that doesn’t matter. It’s the band’s goodbye, in many ways. It’s just that it’s Freddie that makes you believe it. It’s Freddie you want to be sharing those memories with, looking back with. It’s Freddie who you need to hear say he loves you, one last time.

Those days are all gone now but one thing’s still true

When I look and I find, I still love you,

I still love you.

The Freddie Mercury Tribute concert remains one of my earliest memories. I can’t actually remember finding out that Freddie had died, but I remember being huddled round a television watching a parade of people I didn’t really understand singing his songs. It was a powerful coming together, and I assumed the whole world was in mourning. But it was also joyful. Partly as a fuck you to an illness that was destroying so many beautiful people. Partly as resistance to a homophobia still rife and powerful. All of that was so important, if likely over my head at the time.

But I don’t think I realised how personally I took the loss until I started connecting to this song, years later. Looking back and realising how huge Freddie had been in my childhood. How much I needed to hear that he loved me too. Shedding tears for a friend I never met, a loved one I’d never held. They can pour out of me, my heart bursting as I think of this huge, powerful entity in my life. This beautiful, expressive beacon of light. Taken from me before I could realise his importance, but not taken at all, because I still had everything laid out in front of me.

He could still talk to me. I could still talk to him. Sure, I’d never know him, but that was true no matter how things had turned out.

I’m writing this at the end of 2016, as so many beautiful celebrities appear to be dying. A cynic in me is reminding people that this is just demographics. We made more people famous for longer over the 60s, 70s and 80s than ever before and life expectancy is a bell curve. The permanence of our media and the impermanence of our bodies make this inevitable.

But that’s not the end of the story, because the truth is, my heart is breaking, again and again as we hear this news. As I find out what these beautiful strangers meant to the people I know, the people I love, I am reminded of how amazing people actually are. These creative figures we idolise are legitimately wonderful, making huge powerful art that stands bigger than they could ever be alone. They bring us closer together, and closer to them, through their expression. They touch us.

It’s okay, too, because they always will. We can still hear them at the press of a button. We can still be close to them, hear those stories and songs again.

Even without that, the marks they make are real too.

That’s the other thing to remember. It’s really concrete with the musicians, you can put on the record and cry and be close. You can hear the sounds they left behind, wrap yourself up in them. But we’re all records, etched with the details of years, and years of infinite detail.

Freddie wasn’t the only childhood loved one I lost. He’s just the one you’re most likely to have heard of. But everyone makes marks, everyone etches records, everyone touches everyone else.

With that, the impermanent becomes eternal. Message burning from person to person forever. Every action, every person, we are all leaving marks and memories, and they add up to this huge monstrous and occasionally beautiful thing we call life.

In the song, it’s always ‘those were the days of our lives’, but the title says otherwise.

These are the days of our lives. They still are. They always will be. Even once we’re gone.

The ‘our’ is also critical. We live out lives together, shared and sharing. Everybody’s lives, wrapped in everybody else’s.

Never forget the impact we have on each other, and never forget how powerful that is.

Whether you’re writing a song that can make someone cry, or putting a hand on a shoulder to so you care. Whether you’re hammering at that piano at Wembley in front of thousands of people or in a house with a friend, you’re still making beautiful music that lasts and matters and counts.

People dying will always be sad, but it isn’t actually the thing we have to worry about. It’s the way we’re living that counts.

These are the days of our lives.

I don’t care how trite or obvious it is. It makes me cry. And that matters.

I still love you.

 

 

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.

Delilah

delilah

I boldly claimed recently that the main outcome of this project would be that I could identify a Queen song for literally any occasion. A dear friend tried to trap me, sayining ‘okay, what do you play when your cat’s died’.

Of course, they didn’t realise that there’s not just one, but two precisely perfect songs for that occasion. This is the second.

Delilah.

If we assume my previously stated theory is true, and Freddie’s songs on this album are all attempts to get final messages out, make a few last important statements, then we can make some assesssments about just how important Freddie’s cat was to him.

Frankly, it’s sweet as all hell, even if the song is kind of awful. Freddie put up quite a fight for it’s inclusion in the record though, so it stays, which means we get to hear Freddie talk about how much he loves kissing his cat, and the band doing cat impressions.

Meeow, Meeow, Meeow, Meeow,

You’re irresistable – I love you Delilah

It’s obviously as sweet as all hell. An honest telling of the simple joys of an animal companion alongside a litany of eminently forgivable crimes. I love hearing Freddie putting all this verve into talking about sleeping next to a cat, and then having furniture pissed on.

I imagine it’s supposed to be a bit of a troll, not being clear it’s not about a person on the first run through, but slowly getting cattier. Except the tone throughout is so different to what you’d expect from a love song.

I think it is trying to express that fairly specifically. There’s a different kind of love here, so the music is more gentle, smaller. Freddie’s tone is the same. Even May’s guitar meows are relatively restrained. Like everything’s trying to fit into a scale a cat could appreciate.

I would love to see how Delilah responded to this song.

And obviously, I love that two Queen songs are about actual specific cats.

I feel really weird about animal companionship. As a vegan, I’m uncomfortable with domesticating animals full stop. It strikes me as a weirdly invasive and entitled process that just assume it’s okay to subsume the needs of other species to meet our own desires. Training something else to be happy fulfilling our emotional needs seems cruel.

On the other hand, I adore every animal I’ve ever met. I’ve spent a lot of time looking after Stompy and May, my friend’s gorgeous dogs. I’ve cuddled, played and slept with them. I know how powerful that relationship can be, and how much trust and respect you can share with an animal. How much love.

I also know how many rescue animals out there who need homes, and people who are willing and able to treat animals with respect and love and honesty.

I hope Freddie gets it right though,showing no bitterness as Delilah takes over house and home. Unlike so many love songs, there’s no expression of ownership here, there’s just an affection and an understanding of the balancing act of living together. That’s promising. That’s important.

And god, this song makes me love Delilah.

Meeow.

 

 

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.

The hitman

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Any attempt to try and give this record a tonal or thematic connectivity shift when you just get a stomping rocker about killing people and showing off about it.

I guess it could be a metaphor for oh god I’m so tired do I really have to try and justify more posturing macho attitude with some obviously irrelevant analogy?

The hitman.

To be fair, it could just about be HIV. There’s enough about killing for love, enough about inescapability to just about stretch to it, and it would be relevant. But I find it hard to figure out just what Freddie would want to get out of presenting the life wrecking virus as a slightly sassy murderer.

Apparently Freddie started it as a piano led number, but passed it on to the band, which shifted it into the pulsing rock monster you can hear today. It has that sound, to some extent, melodically interesting and structured in a pretty Freddielike way, but shifted into a riff led stomper. I feel like we’ve seen this before.

Yeah – trouble in the East, troubled in the West

Struggle with the beast – what a thief, what a pest

Come back mother / Nuke that sucker

If I really wanted to tug at that thread, I could probably manage some kind of tenuous cold war metaphor, although I think it’s more likely he’s thinking of villain from a spy film than actually going for political analogy.

Maybe sometimes Freddie just wants to sing about a hitman because it’s fun.

I think the inconsistency of this album really is just about Freddie wanting to do as much as possible. This becomes more clear later on, but here I think we just see Freddie saying ‘let’s do a rocker’ and so they did. Hammer something out, yell some stuff. If you want the music to be aggressive, you may as well make the lyrics match.

I don’t think Queen cared much for album consistency. Perhaps resistant to concept albums and huge epic prog experiments, they just wanted to get int he studio and bang out some things that would make them happy.

This sounds very much like them doing that. Even once they switched to collective song writing officially, they stuck with the idea of just giving everyone permission to muck about, do the thing they wanted to do, make it big enough for a record, and then let rip.

This is a song about letting rip.

The guitar pulls it forward, throughout, hyperventilating in the intro along with the drums, and then setting in place a swagger that will be constantly contrasted with the faster pace. It’s almost by the numbers, lolloping forward, then slowing to build up, and providing just enough space for Freddie’s welly.

It’s hard to make it stand out, but it’s pretty damn solid. Could easily have been part of the canon if it had made it to single. Just not one of those perfect ones.

It harks back the amount it needs to, though. It feels like Queen, when it needs to.

Love me love me baby

I’ve been to the hitman school

It also manages to spear the ego of every action hero ever with the worst martial pick up attempt ever.

So it’s got that.

 

 

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.

Bijou

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The inside out song, with guitar taking the verse and chorus, and vocal doing a solo in the midsection.

Bijou.

It’s a quiet moment, when that idea could have been something huge and ridiculous, given May’s penchant for never using one guitar when a hundred could have done it louder. But actually, despite the above, this is very much a Mercury led thing, and it kind of shows. Apparently Freddie did sing the main melody part, or at least it’s beginnings, and May built from and on top of that.

So we get this melancholic art piece as the penultimate track. A sad, lonely guitar, with nothing put synth chords for company, and that tiny burst of lyrical detail

You and me are destined

You’ll agree

To spend the rest of our lives with each other

The rest of our days like two lovers

For ever – yeah – for ever

My bijou…

I’ve seen it guessed that Bijou is the name of another of Freddie’s cats. In which case, fuck yeah. But apparently there’s no evidence Freddie had a cat named Bijou, apart form the fact that Bijou is a great name for a cat.

Picturing Freddie and Brian in the studio, I can’t help thinking that it’s actually just about them. Imagine the time they spent together over the years, pouring over instruments and engineering sounds together. Locked in tiny rooms, working hard and patiently on creative emotions. I can picture them recording this together in a deeply intimate way, but I have no idea if I’m just shipping unnecessarily (and obvs Freddie and John are the OTP here).

Looking at those tiny words though, it’s not entirely untrue. Freddie did spend his last days trying to get in the studio to be with the band whenever he was well enough. Brian still carries around Queen wherever he goes, I imagine he feels the itch of a phantom Freddie more often than not.

But of course, Freddie also spent his last days with Jim Hutton, whose wedding ring he wore as he died. And realistically, this has to be a sweet little piece of emotional labour for the man he shared his last years with. It’s a sweet tiny love song, as bijou as love really is. A tiny, but immensely valuable thing. A tiny feeling that swells to fill lives, to tie them together.

It’s sad, but it’s kind. The kind of gift you need, in those times.

I’m never much of a fan of quiet and sad guitar noodles, but this feels spacious and warm in a way that feels necessary. Small and sweet, with every attention paid to the quieter moments, the slide of hands on the strings delicate and careful as anything more explicit.

And Freddie just owns his brief moment. Keeping it simple and full of heart.

It’s the saddest moment on an often heartbreaking record. And May almost keeps a lid on his most baroque tendencies.

But it isn’t just sad. It’s filled with hope. It’s still calling for eternities. For forevers. Because love.

Unless it’s just about being trapped in a tiny flat, a tiny room, alone.

In which case I’m so desperately sad.

Let’s not.

 

 

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.

The show must go on

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Sometimes Brian can give you the immense gothic, tragic glory you actually need. And here we have a perfect ending, that tries everything it can to not be.

The show must go on.

A legitimately desperate cry for help, haunted by huge unsettling synths, there’s a scale here that just rips right into you. It pulls out all the stops and begs you to be as overdramatic as possible. It beckons you into a comforting fear, and asks you to cling on for dear life. It’s outrageous fun to sing and strut to, if just for the perfectly sustained emotional melodrama.

If the theory goes that Queen are the ultimate dramatic band. The band most able to fill a stage with immense performative storytelling, then this is the most important final statement. This is the key moment. The show is everything, and it will always be there, echoing into eternity.

Outside the dawn is breaking

But inside the dark I’m aching to be free

It’s so desperate. So melancholy. So lonely.

If this is the last goodbye, it’s the way to do it. Insisting that the show will continue, that Freddie will still be there. Knowing it’s a lie, but also true.

Every ounce of the song tells you that the song will not go on. Every desperate scream to the contrary reminds you that it’s ending, it’s over, it’s lost.

But it hangs on for eternity.

Inside my heart is breaking

My make-up may be flaking

But my smile still stays on.

And then it twists the knife. Maybe the show is not the point, maybe we’re tearing at our idols to keep the show intact. Ripping someone to pieces to keep the show together.

Its clearly the intention, lyrically. To pitch the struggle between humanity and the shredding of souls of the entertainment industry.

But situated here, at the end of the final ‘proper’ Queen record, within months of Freddie’s death, it feels like a different kind of desperation takes over. Freddie clawing to keep on performing, keep whole and sane and working. Being torn to shreds by those haunting, brutalist synths.

It’s so easy to project. It’s the dark side of feeling so close to these legendary figures. We want to tidy up the story, make it about something. Make it feel like it’s about us.

It’s not fair. And I’m aware I’ve been complicit throughout this record, and throughout this project. I don’t know the truth of the band, the reality of their world, I’m just piecing together stories around the stories they sing. I promised subjectivity, and I delivered.

Queen promised drama. A show, an entertainment. And they never appeared to stop.

I can’t tell you what it cost them. I can’t tell you where the obvious pain in this song comes from. All I can do is hear the same noises you hear, process them, and make wild and bold claims.

To me this song is about desperation. Trying to continue, as everything falls apart. As such, it is so much about living. It’s the most alive song in the canon. Not treating life as a lark, but a struggle, one that is, for some unknowable reason, desperately important.

The show must go on.

It’s never explained why. It’s never for a second pondered why it has to go on. But the must is as clear as day.

Life is so damn hard, a struggle with madness, illness, expectation, and loneliness. But, without reason, and maybe for lack of an alternative, we each decide, every day, that the show must go on.

I’ll top the bill, I’ll overkill

I have to find the will to carry on

The song appeals to the performer inside so hard. It makes you strut with the melodrama of a silent film star. It begs you to yell it, through tears and shakes.

And it begs you take the world that seriously. To put up the fight, and carry on, no matter how hard it feels.

It’s overwhelmingly powerful.

It’s one hell of a pop song.

And one hell of a goodbye.

 

 

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.