It’s a beautiful day

beautifulday

After it’s all over, there’s still more.

We start an album haunted by itself, and haunted by its most prominent feature.

As always, it’s Freddie.

It’s a beautiful day.

At core, it’s exactly how you’d want to remember Freddie, simply singing at a piano and hammering out something light but huge and powerful and touching. That’s what he did.

It’s taken from a 1980 recording in Munich, just Freddie mucking about during recording for The Game. Anachronistically, for me it evokes much stronger the sense of those last days in Montreux, a place I feel familiar with just because of it’s place in Freddie’s final day mythology. It’s presence on the cover of this album makes this record feel like it has a very specific geography, for all its moves for heaven and the afterlife, it feels very specifically located.

Despite that being a lie, even from this early start.

Freddie’s piano and voice is draped in ghostly effects, and John Deacon (mostly, apparently) constructs a soundscape around it and tries to fill it out into something bigger, whilst also leaving it ethereal. To some extent, it’s unnecessary, but I guess that’s the way of this album. A sense of trying to claw for the hugeness of Queen, draped in an appropriate sentimentality, and a real affection.

It’s a strange record, but not as awful as I remembered.

It’s odd. When I was little everyone had this record. Except me. I spurned it, found it too creepy, too sad. Too obviously not Queen. I nearly didn’t include it in this project. But I think it makes a fitting end, as was intended. And actually, it’s still an incredibly emotionally effective piece of work.

Most of that is still Freddie, just hearing his voice is always magic, and by picking some more tender moments, it keeps an intimacy, even as the band try to overdo the tympani and drama.

Sometimes I feel so sad, so sad, so bad

But no-one’s gonna stop me now, no-one

It’s hopeless – so hopeless to even try

It’s odd, isn’t it.

A ghost telling you he’s sad but unstoppable.

It’s too hopeless to try and stop him.

It comes from an entirely different moment in the band’s career, but it’s impossible to not weigh up the words from when they were presented, when they were sung.

It’s actually a problem with the timeless immortality of music, it often gets tied to the wrong time, the wrong place, loses it’s author, becomes something else.

But that’s the dance we have to dance.

I love the Disney emotion of the strings at the end, John’s addition. I’m glad it was John, too, because as much as I wonder about the crassness of making someone sing their own eulogy, I’m reassured by my imagined picture of John and Freddie’s studio intimacy.

But that’s not the final image. The final image, entirely false, and detached from any reality of the production, is Freddie, at a piano, staring across the lake, smiling hopefully at the hopelessness.

It’s a beautiful day.

 

 

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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Made in heaven

madeinheaven

The title track, and you can imagine why they wanted to reconstruct it for the record, if just to maintain a reason for that sentimentalist title. It’s a strong conceit.

Made in heaven.

Of course, it’s also just a reworking of a track from one of Freddie’s solo albums. It’s a Queenification. The rest of the band stamping their hallmarks over one of Freddie’s own pieces. Which is something they did when he was alive too, so I think it might be fine.

It’s all guitar drama and stabs for the intro, then it mellows into a simple drum beat for a relatively straightforward piano ballad. The synth sounds soften the whole thing, possibly a little too much. But it keeps on returning to either those doom laden crunches, or just weird little brutalist segues.

It’s very successfully Queen, actually, even if it’s got an odd over-riding tone that feels a bit out of place.

But again, that’s indicative of this record, very decisively Queen, but also kind of not. A bit too late, a bit too refined, a bit too overworked.

It occupies a strange place, a labour of love and memorial, but still a new work. The leader is not there to make decisions, but is still thoroughly and utterly embedded in the album, his voice is still absolutely the core.

Some of this may be the presence of David Richards, producer for this record, and apparently a bit of a force. The record ends up with a sheen that sometimes blends with and other times opposes the weird combinations of bombast and melancholy that run through this record.

Anyway, the song it self is perfect Freddie, in many ways. His voice runs in every direction, with immense range and affection. It’s just a sweet little song, made very, very big. Which is what we’re here for, right.

It fits. It works. It makes sense. It feels right, even as it does seem like Queen from an era that never happened. The band never really figured out how they’d deal with the 90s, and mostly didn’t have to. But here we get an impression of what that sound might have been. I think it wouldn’t have worked spread thinner, but here, it harks to something. Something that does work.

I also think Brian’s furious but slow paced guitar solo section is pleasingly destructive, and the rip back into the chorus after the bridge that follows is huge and weird and striking. Which is where Brian’s guitar always shines best.

I’m playing my role in history

Looking to find my goal

Taking in all this misery

But giving it all my soul

The thing that might be weird is that the album title is talking about Freddie looking down, when that’s not how Freddie seems to state himself in the record. Made in heaven is here about fate. It’s the star crossed lover. It’s doom and darkness, as much as Freddie tries to own it and find power in it. Or at least to be willing to suffer with a smile.

It’s bleak, is what I’m saying. There’s a painful core that the record rarely addresses, except obliquely. Something it’s not ready to talk about.

But as usual, the darkness hides behind a gloriously delicate but huge performance. It’s easy to fall for the spell, and not notice what it’s woven out of.

And maybe the key part is actually that even the doom is made in heaven, meant to be for the right reasons, rather than the wrong ones.

I don’t know what that means though, in context. And it’s a fear I’ll be returning to.

But for now, it’s written in the stars, and  remains it’s own kind of banger.

 

 

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.

Let me live

letmelive

This gloriously stodgy mass of heartfelt has been circling my brain for about a week now. It’s a mess, I like it.

Let me live.

It’s an entirely solid piece of rock gospel, it just suffers from the fact that as Queen’s other gospel track, it stands next to the majestically weird perfection of Somebody to love. However, the one thing you get is the knowledge that Freddie would’ve loved to be let loose with an actual gospel choir, and so there’s something overtly joyful in the existence of the production.

Initially a duet with Rod Stewart from 1983, it got into some weird legal problem (a backing vocal that’s since been removed sounded too much like ‘Piece of my heart’ which is unsurprising, given that the lyric is pretty firmly familiar) and didn’t make it to the Works.

So it got rehabilitated, extracted from Rod, and turned into the only time where all Queen’s singers (so no John, heartbreakingly) take a stint on lead vocals.

The result is an utterly plodding, but infuriatingly catchy gospel sing along. No longer attempting to keep pace with Freddie’s viruosity, it’s an easier (but less fun) track to play with. It’s hard not to play along at home, whether you’re a clapper or a singer or even just a swayer. I’ve said from the off that Queen’s strength has always been the same as all truly brilliant pop, the ability to bring anyone in, give anyone something to do, bodily, vocally or however.

This brings you in.

Why don’t you take another little piece of my soul

Why don’t you shape it and shake it

’til you’re really in control

The thing is, I’ve always loved a bit of music hall caberat or a belted out musical. There’s something to the warm, soothing mediocrity of a song that anyone can join in on, where everybody’s asked to. And I don’t think I can shake that. This track sounds like it’d suit the finale of a Gang Show, or any other feelgood music hall.

It starts with a count in, (I hope it’s Freddie), and the choir starts warming up. There’s claps and organs, but it switches to Freddie and a piano that sounds it’s being hammered by a primary school music teacher.

But everywhere, it’s that simplicity that invites.

It’s the fact that Roger sounds properly knackered when he sings, and Brian even more tired.

Queen are utterly unique, always have been, nobody’s managed to hark back to them, really. But they make everyone able to feel like Queen. Not just when they play a gospel track a bit too slowly, but even when they’re belting out an operatic mess.

But I can see why they’d want this too. Just something simple and uplifting and ridiculously charming. Slight and slow and lacking in depth (except that damn choir, who own the whole track with confident ease).

It’s got one of Brian’s most bland guitar solos, but it’s fine, because it also lets the choir do a proper breakdown.

It kicked in just as I wrote that, and I literally could not stop myself taking my hands of the keyboard, shoving them in the air and clapping like a twat. I sung along and did the bloody airdrums.

It’s that sort of song. It’s what we need sometimes. I’m happy to hear Freddie be part of it, even if it never feels like his song.

 

 

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.

Mother love

motherlove-01

I’m kinda torn here. On the one hand, this is Freddie’s last available recording (somewhat disputed) and a piece he co-wrote with Brian, their last work together. There’s a solemnity and sadness and reverence that this deserves.

On the other hand, it sounds quite a lot like Brian being a creepy perv about his mum.

Mother love.

I do really like the drum beat intro and the collage at the end.

Let me get it out of my system.

The first verse sounds like Brian at his worst. It’s like he wasn’t content with his familial awkwardness after Sail away sweet sister, so he wanted to find another female family member to lech at. My only assumption is that there’s a recording somewhere of him singing something filthy about an auntie or two.

I don’t want to sleep with you

Let’s be honest, nobody has ever said ‘I don’t want to sleep with you’ to anyone they haven’t wanted to sleep with. It’s classic protest too much territory. So there’s that. Even the warmer reading of the first verse, borne out by the final line, implies that he’s comparing his partner to his mother, which is at best unfeminist, and at worst fully oedipal.

Just to know that my woman gives me sweet –

Mother Love

Not that I want to spent any more of this blog kinkshaming Brian May, really.

We should move on though, because once you get past that first verse, the whole thing becomes more metaphorical, and shifts from Freud’s oedipus complex to his death drive. Death as return to womb is the overwhelming motif here, and when you know one of the co-writers is facing death in the face, that becomes some amount less funny than Brian May being a creep.

I’ve had enough of this same old game

I’m a man of the world and they say that I’m strong

But my heart is heavy and my hope is gone.

It’s heartbreakingly vulnerable. Freddie’s voice feels exposed and raw, he gets the notes, he gets the power, but it’s so alone, so hurt.

And of course, Brian sings the final verse, because Freddie said he’d had enough, and would try to finish it when he got back.

And didn’t get back.

I can’t take it if you see me cry

I long for peace before I die

All I want is to know that you’re there

Normally I’d take the piss out of rhyming cry with die, but fucking hell.

It’s a sad, weird and creepy song. It doesn’t fit with anything else Queen have done. It’s an awkward note to finish on, but so painfully honest and vulnerable (in some sections). If you accept the match between pre-life after-life and the symbolism that that carries, it’s also desperately hopeful.

Got such a feeling as the sun goes down

I’m coming home to my sweet –

Mother Love

I think it could actually be a prayer to goddess. A hopeful wish for a warm welcome in whatever happens next. It’s dark, brooding and scary, but it’s definitely trying to hope for something. Mother Love as an embodiment of a divine feminine.

It makes that first verse even creepier, but it also means the rest can get it’s roots into you.

However, apart from that drum beat, and that finale, and that vulnerability, I absolutely hate it. It feels like turgid prog nonsense, smeared too slowly.

If it didn’t end with a medley of classic Queen and Freddie and crowd moments (and actually, it includes instants snipped from the entire back catalogue snipped and run through a tape player on fast…the perfect sonic life flashing before your eyes), I’d be tempted to just leave it alone. But it is striking. It is a powerful moment.

So I’m still glad it’s hear. And I’m glad Freddie got to express what he needed to express, even if it gets blurred out of shape by May (and hell, I don’t know, maybe I’m reading it the wrong way round).

But I’ll not be putting it on any mixtapes any time soon.

It’ll never be my ‘goodbye Freddie’ even if it arguably should be.

Perhaps the key element of the studio story is that Freddie never meant to finish where it finished. He always hoped there’d be a next time.

So it may not quite be his one either.

 

 

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.

My life has been saved

lifesaved-01

Oh god. Oh god. I can’t handle this right now.

We’re going to get schmaltzed to death, with this reworking of a Miracle era B-Side.

And it’s worse than that, apparently it’s my beloved John’s fault. The master of oddly appealing trash has let me down.

My life has been saved.

The tritest sentiment. Even Freddie doesn’t sound convinced. The drums are flattened, the pads are shy, the vocal is half hearted, the piano is bland.

I literally can’t find a redeeming feature.

I read it in the papers

There’s death on every page

Oh Lord, I thank the Lord above

My life has been saved

Life is shit, but I’m lucky. That’s what we’re getting at here. It’s not the most nuanced discussion of privilege or inequality I’ve ever seen, and nor is it trying to be. It’s not wanted to engaged, it’s taking the easy route, and just being grateful to some divine figure.

I have little time for this.

(Admittedly, this may be less the principle, and more the fact that I’ve spent most of this month moving house, and have only just been able to set up a record deck to carry on the review process, which leaves me with about seven hours to review nine tracks, and I’m supposed to go to the cinema soon. Oh god. Oh god. Oh god.*)

This is exactly the sort of reason why I wanted to dismiss this album outright. I think this is also close to the reason why people dismiss late era Queen completely. It’s fair, this is awful, and the switch from weird but precise progressive boistrousness to an affected, synthesised pop mentality was always going to make enemies. Normally I’m full apologist, but there’s some things I just can’t defend.

Because it’s okay to be shit sometimes.

Or even if it’s not okay, it’s inevitable, and to be dealt with appropriately.

Right now I’m permanently on the verge of breakdown, trying to remember why I uprooted my life for something new and strange and dangerous and wishful. It’ll pass, as I dig in, but right now there’s too much in the air for me to settle back and think ‘it’ll be okay’.

Here we go, telling lies

Here we go

Maybe the reading is subtler than I expect. Maybe if I dig deeper I can see how it is narrative, an attempt to convince one’s self. And at the centre, an admission. It’s all lies.

Recognising when your story is a lie (it’ll be okay) or just might be (it’ll pass) is important. We wrap our lives in tales and notions to protect us from the world. Whether that’s a prayer to the lord, or a song about the world being a bit shitty, or just me, constantly trying to explain to people how I might be able to survive, or that I might know how to make friends, or that I might know how to get by, or just that I know what I’m doing.

And it’s all as much schmaltzy, self defeating nonsense as this track here.

So it’s good to have a reminder, at least.

*There’s a pretty clear irony in complaining about Freddie’s light touch exploration of privilege whilst complaining about having too many Queen reviews to write. Just thought I’d make you clear I was aware.

 

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 was born to love you

borntoloveyou-01

I’m not letting myself listen to the original because it’s got Fred Mandel and Mack and a Fairlight CMI and it’s blatantly going to be more up my street than this one will be.

I was born to love you.

I was really tempted to just belt straight into this review going du dah du du dah du dah du du dah for a full five hundred words, but I’m ever so slightly more professional than that, apparently.

Because this is another one where the rest of the band have sprawled themselves over one of Freddie’s Mr Bad Guy tracks, switching disco to rock in a way that would make a bundle of 70s folks pretty irate, especially when they realised there was basically no difference, and this works as well either way.

Disco doesn’t suck.

Except when it does.

But that’s fine.

It’s so hard to believe

This is happening to me

An amazing feeling

Comin’ through

Sure, yeah, it’s as schmaltzy as the last one. It gives in to every cheesy desire it can, including a bit where the band say ‘Born’ and  Freddie responsds with ‘to love you’ about four times in a row and it’s simultaneously the best and worst thing ever.

But I was born to love it. It’s a fist throwing pounder of a track, tearing at a pace that thrills and excites. It’s got those creepy sound effects from A Kind of Magic in the intro, and it keeps inserting snippets of Freddie’s ad lib from the same. Ah ha ha ha, it’s magic.

I’ve had that little ad lib in my head all week. Just Freddie laughing, and saying something’s magic, in the most distinctive and vivid way imaginable. It’s shockingly good. Just that little vocal detail is enough to tear me apart.

But it’s not even from this song, I shouldn’t be sitting on that hear. It’s not what we’re about.

There’s some weird little effect tickles, little echos and fades and delays that bump Freddie’s vocal into weird spaces for brief moments. You probably wouldn’t notice if the rest of the song wasn’t so simple and trite, but they stand out here. There’s an ‘every single day’ where the last word is repeated and possibly detuned just a touch. It’s surprisingly alienating and a huge jolt, (and would’ve been a much fiercer ending to the track if it had cut) but everything cuts back in and it just rips along without further consideration.

Obviously, it’s not actually that good. But fuck that, I like it.

Queen have always been about letting me bounce excitedly and dance like a prick. This sort of disco rock is the perfect energy for that. You just might not want to do it in front of anyone.

And that’s fine. You know what. Normally I’m pretty opposed to the term guilty pleasures, but sometimes the guilt is part of the fun. Knowing it’s naff and childish and simple and silly and happy to be fun.

Because this is all of those things, but it revels in it. And it lets you revel in it to.

Ah, ha haha haha, it’s magic.

 

 

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.

Heaven for everyone

heavenforeveryone

Time for Roger Taylor to come class it up.

Heaven for everyone.

Here, Roger wrote a track with his other band, and Freddie came in while they were recording (my headcanon is definitely that he was VERY drunk) and made some ‘suggestions’. These suggestions (remember he’s drunk) eventually resolved in him recording a version of the lyrics (‘just let me do it’), and guest starring on some versions of the track.

And so it got chucked on, because this was a place for those weird collaborations.

What you get is something very out of keeping, but in all the right ways. A delicate and heartfelt song, tender and slow, but surprisingly catchy and deep. There’s a tenderness in the instrumentation that really softens the occasionally bombastic vocals. I love the way it picks up and releases energy throughout. It just seeps through itself, roars upwards and cuddles down as it wants, like an unfamiliar kitten.

And of course, it’s accompanied by an intensely memorable video, a fairly unsubtle remix of Melies’ trip to the moon, which occasionally features Freddie projected onto the sun.

Because of course.

In these days of cool reflection

You come to me and everything seems alright

In these days of cold affections

You sit by me – and everything’s fine

It’s rare, among Queen tracks, and almost unique among Queen singles, to find something so perfectly wistful, reassuring and kind. There’s a good few slow jams out there, but few of them have the tender generosity of this. The thoughtfulness.

That lyric is so sweet and simple, recognising that sometimes it’s the mere proximity or thought of a loved one that brings peace and calm. It’s one of the tenderest details of friendship and people that you’ll ever see sung about. A beautiful and quiet image.

But it doesn’t settle for that. It has a simple goal, wanting to extend that simple kindness and recognition to everyone.

This could be heaven for everyone.

I’d normally like to take the piss out of this simple idealism, but I share too much of it. Extending quiet, simple love to those around you should be all we need. Taking notice of those small quiet moments of affection, should be all it takes.

It’s a nonsense, but by god is a pretty one.

And everything in the tone of this song reflects that immaculately, from the first note, shatteringly calm. The details all build to that core idea. Soothingly quiet simple verses, and bigger, broader, more ambitious choruses. The angel is in the details, and they are everywhere.

I love the little vocal moments, the slightly distorted backing vocals, the tiny repetitions. More snippets of Freddie’s ad libs, just those little bursts of life, because he wasn’t in the studio to respond to the band’s little flourishes.

It fills me with calm. Just as I need it. It’s a reassuring song. And that’s enough. More than enough. It’s just right.

It ends with an endlessly looping delay of Freddie saying the word love, quietly scattered in the background of the fade. And then he says ‘for everyone’ in defiant tone.

It’s so damn tidy.

I’m very, very glad it’s 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.

Too much love will kill you

toomuchlove-01

It’s time for the tear jerker, just in case the general principle of the thing wasn’t enough for you.

Too much love will kill 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.

*shudders*

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.

You don’t fool me

dontfoolme-01

One of those rare post Innuendo tracks, this album has the slightly odd feature of not really existing.

You don’t fool me.

Apparently producer David Richards just kept on cutting and pasting and copying and mixing until he’d made the core of the song. Various fragments of recordings of Freddie, cut together to create something like a Queen song.

It’s almost frustrating that it’s so alluring.

Lyrically it’s a mess of cliche and repetition, but that’s to be expected. It somehow still manages to be a legitimate variant on Queen’s slightly disco Hot Space incarnation. It’s a more impressively 90s track than anything else here, harking back to the dawn of the 80s, but sounding much closer to the 90s club scene. It’s such a strange addition to Queen’s hit canon, this tautly funky lump of clubbery.

And yes, it’s just a construct of vocal samples and backing vocals and a simple as anything song structure.

Once again, Freddie’s ability to sell every word give it an authenticity and heart it might not deserve.

Yup bup ba ba ba ba da da da dah!

You don’t fool me

It’s sultry and sexy and smooth in a way that doesn’t quite sit with the melancholy tone of so much (but definitely not all) of this record, but it feels right. It feels like a next step that Freddie would’ve loved to have made. It mirrors some of his solo material, in fact.

But of course, it adds to the weirdness of this project. Freddie expressed clear wishes to record as much as possible, and for the band to do what they could with it. It’s not clear he would’ve agreed to the back catalogue plumbing from elsewhere on the record, but this feels very in keeping.

But I always imagine Freddie having such a clear vision, such a clear idea of what the end result should be, and to not let him see the finished piece. To know that his voice is there without him?

It always feels weird.

And knowing this is just a construct makes this track a deeper than usual example of that.

When I die, bury my heart somewhere a tree can grow out of it, and give the rest to science, but for god’s sake, don’t glue it together and use it as a cardboard cutout in promotional material for my life’s work.

(As if I’ll have a life’s work worth promoting! Ha!)

It doesn’t really feel like that though. It just feels like a Queen song. Freddie sounds honest. ‘It’s what he would’ve wanted’ is the blandest of platitudes, a running joke for me, but maybe here it’s valid.

If only because it would put him into clubs, and that was so much of what his solo career was about.

There’s a clarity of intention. I think.

And I think it works.

It’s a testament to the skill of the producer, and the weirdnesses of modern production and aesthetics that it does.

But it does. And I think that matters.

I quite like it.

I’m glad we can keep 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.

A winter’s tale

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Actually one of the first pieces of new music I owned. I’d saved up my money and saw I could afford a few tape singles. This was one of maybe five tapes.

A winter’s tale.

Freddie’s last song, in many ways. The last thing he performed and composed himself in full. And it’s just this quiet, beautiful and kind winter landscape.

There was no time, so all Freddie’s part, the keys and vocals is just one take. Everything else (there’s not much). Apparently Freddie usually insisted that the whole instrumental part be done before he would start laying down final vocals (this possibly helps explain just how vital and perfect his vocals are, always ready to respond to every little detail). Here we just get one clear and intimate moment.

What a super feeling

Am I dreaming…

Am I dreaming…?

It’s one of those perfect pastoral pieces, mostly a description of simple nature, immediate and whole. Like It’s a beautiful day, the song feels lodged in a very particular place, this idealised vision of Montreaux I still cling to. Mostly from the cover of the album, but also from fragments of film and the images in this song.

And here it’s real. This was written in Freddie’s Montreaux apartment, and you can here the cosiness of home through it.

A cosy fireside chat

A little this, a little that

Sound of merry laughter skipping by

Gentle rain beatin’ on my face

I feel like Freddie normally writes about people rather than places. And when it’s places, he becomes a character. I’m not going to claim to know we’re hearing authentic actual Freddie here, but it’s very clear that this is located in a simple and honest place. It’s about tiny warmths, simple sounds and not being entirely certain that anything this perfect can be real.

It’s a song about every day magic, I think.

Backed with Thank God it’s Christmas, recorded during the Works sessions, it becomes a little Christmas diptych, but this track never mentions the C word. It’s easy to tie it in, with the fireside and the children, but it’s not there. It feels so much simpler than that. Just a simple song about a moment, a brief snapshot of a season, and the feeling of being in it.

It’s called a tale, but there’s no movement in it, no development, just that simple image, etched in ever increasing detail. With ever more emotional heft behind it. Seagulls become children become magnificence becomes laughter becomes spinning and spinning and spinning and…

It’s impossible not to get wrapped up in the sheer physical wonder of it. The backing vocals end up feeling overwrought at times, but so much of it is just in that simple lyric, sung simply (but powerfully) by dear departing Freddie.

If so much of Queen was about beckoning you into a world and asking you to sing and dance and take pleasure in it, this is like a more wholesome development of that. Here Freddie shows us what it’s like to step into a moment and glory in it. Not in the fame or the applause, but in the simple delight of being.

And frankly, it’s yet another thing I desperately need reminding of. That just staring out the window and feeling the air, and the motion and the people around me is legitimately unbelievable.

Which it is.

Always.

Oooh – it’s bliss

 

 

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.

Its a beautiful day (reprise)

beautifuldayreprise

Oh god, this isn’t fair, I’ve already done this one.

It’s a beautiful day (reprise).

This delicate and moving number repeats, Freddie’s incredible and sparse performance again.

And no-one’s gonna stop me now

But once we hit the second verse, things start changing. The band start powering in with every increasing amounts of guitar and verve. It’s a brutalist reinterpretation and repetition and disturbance and development, until that weirdly off beat yeah (apparently from Don’t try suicide, of all things) and then it all returns, all looping swirls of Freddie’s promise not to stop (the callback there is fairly obvious).

And then Seven seas of Rhye catapults in, just that rollicking piano line, and those opening chords. Little fragments bursting in, and taking control of the track briefly.

It’s odd, a cut and paste mash up of their own greatest moments, that bit of Freddie from the cutting room floor, the later additions of the band, and those bursts and drifts of older pieces. It wants to gather and hold, to overpower with nostalgia, but cut out and stop, leave it just to small recordings, old moments of Freddie.

It’s a dizzying swirl to end a record on (ignoring, briefly, all those secrets), and I think the intention was to overwhelm. To not just let Freddie sail off into Lake Geneva, but to set him on fire and sing his name.

It encapsulates the strangeness of this record, honouring Freddie, but haunted by him, and haunted by the band’s past too. It feels full of ghosts, even as it animates and creates life from nothingness.

Here Freddie’s quiet contemplation is enormous, and needs a full galloping rage of guitar slams, drum crashes and sample upon sample and loop upon loop to try and match it or take it down.

Or maybe it’s not a conflict, just an uplifting moment, an ascension.

I think that’s the goal, and it’s simultaneously right and creepy. Adding an exultation seems necessary but uncomfortable.

But, we’re talking about Queen here, talking about Freddie. The theatre, the drama, the bombast, that’s all just as important. And it’s a valid finale.

Admittedly, it isn’t the finale, once we go off the track list, we end up in another realm entirely. But that’s not for right now, right now I’m stuck with this reprise.

It lacks the delicate sensitive loveliness of the album opener, or the subtle darkness, but that was never its goal. It has a fierceness; an anger, almost. A desire to express something it can’t quite manage.

Because the loss was huge. Too much for us, and obviously too much for them. What else is there to do but make a racket.

Mourning is weird as hell. I can only begin to imagine how I’d approach sharing that with a million people, trying to do it publicly, trying to help those people do it for themselves.

It’s an odd goal for a record. An odd idea for an album, or a track.

So it’s an odd album. And I find it’s success or failure impossible to measure.

Here and now though, I think there is something fitting in this torrent of noise and rage, as straightforward as that is.

It hits a note. It feels something.

And something is all you need, sometimes.

 

 

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.

Yeah

yeah-01

It’s literally just Freddie saying the word ‘yeah’.

Yeah.

Yeah

I think this is just a weird bit of trolling as much as anything. The CD ends with a hidden track, but in fact, it’s two. This is quite clearly the end of the last one, but it gets its own track marker, making this four second mostly (not quite) silence the shortest Queen track in existence. I’ve got the vinyl here, and it doesn’t show up as a separate track, but I’m going with a combination of different interpretations of the finale here.

Why, would I want to review a single word?

Well.

Because it’s Freddie, isn’t it.

This isn’t the best example of Freddie’s vocal work. It’s a recording from the middle of the band’s career, and it’s already at least the second time we’ve heard it on this record. It’s just the word yeah, ever so slightly distorted. It’s not like one of his distinctive ad libs, or those great caterwauling moments or one of those weird little scatty details or anything, it’s just the word yeah.

But it matters, because Freddie is everything. He had to get the last word, and it might as well be yeah.

Freddie’s voice is this magnificent and immediately recognisable thing. It’s this perfectly welcoming tone, begging you to sing and play and dance along. He builds words with that voice, and takes you into them. It was so obvious from the very start of the very first record, here was someone who could sing to entrance. It’s still apparent in these last fragments too. The last recordings that do make it on to this record remain powerful, honest and wonderful.

It’s that voice. So familiar, so immediate.

So Freddie.

While all talented, and all bringing their own wonderful things to the band, without Freddie, and his voice, Queen could never have been.

It’s a simple thing, and I think that’s why this record contains this, and why this track is all on it’s own.

Partly it’s for the segue, from the ascending power of the reprise, to the blissful and otherworldly landscape of the actual ending, something needs to bookend and begin, and given this ritualistic set of music is all about Freddie, it had to be Freddie.

And actually, for all the relative blandness of this Yeah compared to so many others, or so many other possible moments, this was just a simple Freddie. This wasn’t something with baggage. It was just a yes, a simple statement.

Yeah.

I’m going to mention one thing about this version, even though I don’t think it’s in anyway canon.

I’ve got the vinyl remaster of this record, and it’s what I’m listening to now. But there’s a weird feature here, and one that is weirdly, personally for me, inextricably linked up with death.

You see, this four second track, normally just the word yeah and the beginnings of the ambient soundtrack of the next and actually final track, is infinite in this medium. The quiet synthesised background hum, almost inaudible really, runs into the end groove of the record. It is looping forever, and will continue until the power runs out.

A few records do this, and it’s always kind of fascinating, but the one that springs to mind is personally just a little heartbreaking for me.

As a teenager, at the same time as I was ironically loving Scandal, I was also very fond of Warp electronica, and developing my taste for minimal techno. Two Lone Swordsmen’s Tiny Reminder was a favourite, including its short ambient pieces. In particular, that one time my friend told me that Constant Reminder, the final piece, was just a perfect thing that should go on forever.

He died later that year, and I also eventually got it on vinyl. Drunk one night, I put it on before falling unconscious, and woke in the middle of the night to find it still going. You can see where I’m going here, I’m sure. The end groove of the record was still playing that final constant reminder.

I drunkenly rolled over, and tapped my partner’s shoulder excitedly, ‘Oh my god, I have to tell Will about this, it actually does last forever.’ Only as I finished the thought did I remember. I could never tell him. He was gone.

I think I cried for an hour or more.

Eternity, even feigned at, is always wrapped up in death. Perhaps they are the same thing.

So yeah. I’m sitting here, listening to this track spin forever, and I’m haunted.

Which I guess is the point, but I just don’t know how they knew.

Bye Freddie.

Bye Will.

Let me know what forever looks like.

(Or maybe don’t. Forever scares me more than anything.)

Yeah.

 

 

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.

13

13-01

Like the last one, this was never officially titled, but it’s listed as thirteen on the fourth side of this record, a side which it occupies the entirety of.

I don’t think anyone expected Queen to do a twenty minute ambient track, but then, what else were they supposed to do.

13.

It’s just a looped and slowed drone, lifted from the start of It’s a beautiful day, and stretched into forever, with occasional details and fragments layered over the top. Rain and haunting voices, and little bursts of other instruments. It was the producer’s handiwork, mostly, with details from Roger and Brian.

Essentially, it’s schmaltz, some kind of abstract representation of heaven to keep the title relevant, and give somewhere for Freddie to rest. It is quite challenging schmaltz, though, as these things go. It shifts in volume, but rarely tempo, not quite entirely wordless, but most of the words sound alien and lost and forgotten.

Are you running?

It’s a haunting and weird thing, but I  can’t work out if it feels right. It’s not very Queen, but then Queen without Freddie was never going to be Queen, really. So stepping out, and just firmly pushing this strange little thing into the ears of those left listening to the CD (until this reissue, it wasn’t on vinyl or tape versions of the record, at least not in full). It’s an indulgence, in some ways, but not an unpleasant one. It feels a bit too aimless, for my ambient tastes, or rather, it lets itself get distracted.

But it feels about right.

And Freddie gets one more chance to get the last word in. With one final word, after everything’s gone quiet.

Fab.

It’s strange to think it’s over. That Queen finished here.

It’s not entirely true, of course, with some of the band forming a new variant with other singers, but I’m not going to go near that stuff with a barge pole.

For me it always ended here, if not before.

Endings are strange things, because they aren’t entirely real. They tend to be a simplification, or only make sense on certain levels of understanding. Mostly things just become other things, it’s almost a law of nature, as I understand it.

Freddie died, but he became many other things at that point. In practical terms, he stayed being a body, just one that started rotting and decaying. His matter remains, left behind and blurring back into everything else. More romantically, he lives in these records, and in our memories, and every time we sing along.

And I guess that’s what this track is trying to convey. It might be another simplification to call it heaven, but it’s saying there is something after the end. The record finish, but there’s something left to do, to say, to leave behind.

Fab.

I don’t think it’s a great piece of music, or even a great piece of production, but it is what it is, and that is okay.

Because it makes sense to remind people that nothing ever gets used up, only changed into something new.

Because we do keep on forgetting.

Or at least, I do.

Having said that, though, this is the end of this.

Thanks Freddie, Roger, Brian and John.

I still love you, after all you’ve put me through.

Because without you, I wouldn’t be here, and this wouldn’t be me.

You helped me change and become.

We’re not finished.

Even at the end.

 

 

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.

Thanks everyone. This was hard, weird and probably not what you were looking for. But I did try!