One year ago from right now was the first time I delved into the Queen catalog and became a fan. In one year’s time, Queen has changed the way I look at music, introduced me to the rock genre (alongside Journey), and became my favorite band of all time. In a way, they’ve changed my life.
Two days ago marked the 25th anniversary of Queen’s thirteenth album, Innuendo. Released on February 5, 1991, Innuendo was the first time the world heard classics like “Innuendo”, “Headlong” and ‘The Show Must Go On”. It wasn’t the most successful of Queen’s offerings nor did it produce many hits, but we celebrate it for having significance; not just for the band’s history, but for music history.
This will be different from my other reviews. I’ve never reviewed an album before nor have I ever reviewed something older than a few months old. What I’ll do is go through the track listing and give you my thoughts on each song on the album. I’ll provide writer’s credits and fun facts for each and end it with a score as usual.
If you want to follow along, here is the the full album.
To fully appreciate the album, there are things you should know going in. This is common knowledge for Queen fans, but for those who don’t know here you are.
Queen at this time consisted of four members: Freddie Mercury (vocals), Brian May (guitarist), Roger Taylor (drummer) and John Deacon (bassist). Together they created countless #1 hits worldwide, toured the world several times, and created 14 studio albums including two movie soundtracks. They had no signs of slowing down until the latter half of the 1980’s.
By 1987, Freddie Mercury had been diagnosed with AIDS- a death sentence for that time. The only people who knew this information were Freddie’s family, close friends, associates and band mates. Freddie chose to not go public with this information, even though the rest of the world caught on quick. The band and Freddie did their best to cover up Freddie’s illness as Freddie slowly retracted from public sight.
Freddie was determined to create music with Queen for as long as he could. Against all odds, he lived to see the release of two studio albums: The Miracle (1989) and Innuendo (1991). He also recorded tracks which ended up in Made In Heaven (1995). On November 24, 1991, he became one of the first celebrities to die of AIDS. He was 45 years old.
Try to keep that in mind when going through this album. Mortality is a major theme in Innuendo, and that plays a part in some of these songs (namely the last one).
Innuendo comprises of 12 songs and clocks in at about 54 minutes. All four members of Queen wrote songs for this album, though each song is credited to the entire band. Five of these songs have music videos for them.
The title track is an excellent start to this album, establishing tone and theme immediately. “Innuendo” utilizes a militaristic beat and strangely a flameco section featuring Steve Howe from the band Yes. The song is about humanity’s inability to live harmoniously. It highlights the general atrocities of mankind and invokes a plea to the creator (whoever he may be) to do something about it.
I love this song. The way it’s orchestrated is flawless to say the least, even when the song goes from prog rock to flamenco. It’s creative, deep, complex, pleasant to the ears and makes for a great video. In a word, this song is epic.
Fun Fact: This is Queen’s longest single released, dethroning “Bohemian Rhapsody” by 35 seconds.
“I’m Going Slightly Mad” (Mercury)
Off the bat, this music video is great! It looks like it came straight out of Tim Burton’s nightmares. So unrestrained and weird, but in a fun way.
The song is about madness, with the lyrics describing different ways of saying “I’m crazy” without flat-out saying that phrase. It’s a song that grows on me every time I hear it. However, I do think this song is best enjoyed with the music video. Though, I can appreciate Freddie’s use of his lower octaves here.
Fun Fact: The make-up, costume and coloring in the video was no accident. It was used to cover up Mercury’s sickly appearance.
Such a happy and exhilarating song that’s just my kind of song. Once I get my license, this is the song I want playing when I get on a highway for the first time. I don’t think this song is supposed to mean much lyrically, but it doesn’t have to. It’s just an upbeat hard rock song that has one of Brian May’s best guitar riffs.
Fun Fact: This song was supposed to be part of May’s solo album Back To Light, but he liked the way Freddie sang it.
“I Can’t Live With You” (May)
Like “Headlong”, this is another upbeat Brian May piece. The lyrics are pretty straightforward in terms of meaning, describing a love-hate relationship. This song makes excellent use of the guitar and has somewhat of a mamba kick to it. Something you can nod your head to.
While this song is good, I feel it’s inferior to “’97 Rocks Retake” that the band released later. As it is now, it’s a decent little song.
Fun Fact: This was also supposed to be on May’s solo album.
“Don’t Try So Hard” (Mercury)
If you want a testament to how broad Freddie’s vocal range was, play “I’m Going Slightly Mad” and then play this. Both songs highlight Freddie’s baritone and falsetto.
I consider this song a hidden gem among the rest of the album. It’s a very pretty and inspiring tune about never letting discouragement bring you down. Don’t try to impress people with what you’re doing- just do it. It’s a very understated and slow song, which works well for both this album and on its own.
Fun Fact: The first five notes of the song are the same ones that play when you turn a Korg M1 synthesizer on.
“Ride the Wild Wind” (Taylor)
As the name suggests, this song has an emphasis on speed. The song is pretty much about “[Living] life on the razor’s edge”. Risk and speed are big themes of this song, making it an awesome car tune. (Though, am I the only one who also thinks about cowboys riding horses when hearing this song?)
It’s not one of my favorite Queen songs, but listening to it again has made me like it a bit more than I did the first time.
Fun Fact: This is meant to channel another Taylor written song from A Night at the Opera, “I’m In Love With My Car”. He sings vocals in both songs.
“All God’s People” (Mercury/Mike Moran)
Though Queen isn’t a Christian band, they’ve dabbled in Gospel music and religious themes before (e.g. “Somebody To Love”). This, however, is the closets song to lyrically resemble Christian music. It’s mainly a song about peace and harmony among mankind. (A direct reciprocal to “Innuendo”).
Listening to this song again reminds me how good it actually was. If this song was played in my church I’d approve. Hell, it would be my favorite song there.
Fun Fact: This song was originally meant for Mercury and Montserrat Cabellé’s album Barcelona.
“These Are The Days of Our Lives” (Taylor)
My favorite song from Roger Taylor. This song discusses the fondness we all have for our youthful years and how while “those days are all gone now”, that youthful spirit lives on through your children. It’s actually quite beautiful.
The song is made perfect with a very simple wholesome feel brought about through congas instead of Taylor’s usual drum kit. In fact, all four members provide very reserved roles here. It’s wholesome overall.
Fun Fact: The music video for this song is Mercury’s final on-camera appearance. This video was in black-and-white to minimize his deteriorating appearance.
Keeping in theme with all of these deep subjects (atrocities of mankind, youthfulness, determination, peace, etc.) here’s a song about Freddie’s cat… No joke. It starts off like a regular love song, then you hear weird things like “you pee all over my Chippendale Suite”. You officially realize what’s going on when Mercury starts meowing.
To me, this is the weakest track on the album, but it’s by no means bad. It’s a harmless song that I can see people getting into. If this is truly the worst the album has to offer, we’re in good hands.
Fun Fact: Taylor admitted to not liking this song, but approved of it because Mercury liked it so much.
“The Hitman” (Mercury/May/Deacon)
This is the album’s most hardcore offering. I believe “The Hitman” is comparing the act of finding love with a hitman searching for his target. This song has heavy use of guitar and some of Mercury’s higher octave singing.
I used to not like this song, and I don’t know why. It’s right in my lane of hard rock when I hear it again. Though it is a bit similar to another popular song I can’t name (hear it and you’ll know what I mean), it’s still an excellent headbanging rock song.
Fun Fact: This song went through several changes before eventually becoming what it is. The first version was from Mercury on piano. The second was a much heavier version by May in a different key. Then that version was rearranged by John Deacon.
A very interesting concept for a song (though nothing new). The idea was to create a song “inside out” with guitars acting as the vocals and vocals acting as the guitars. This puts Brian May’s guitar front and center for this song and creates one of the most beautiful electric guitar songs ever.
Fun Fact: This is one of the few songs that required no input from Taylor or Deacon.
“The Show Must Go On” (May/Mercury)
The album ends with a bang. A bang that just so happens to be my favorite song of all-time.
This song, inspired by Freddie’s struggles and determination, is a testament to Freddie’s attitude despite his fate. Freddie stands up to death, knowing he will lose, and proceeds to give it the middle finger. He shows death, the world, and himself that nothing will stop him from doing the thing he loves while he’s still breathing. “I face it with a grin. I’m never giving in. On with the show!”
This track returns to the opera rock format that Queen made famous in the 70’s. The entire band puts their heart and soul into this track and it just works. Freddie in particular gives an impressively flawless four-octave performance which few can emulate.
I can go on and on about this song (one day I will), but for brevity I’ll just say that “The Show Must Go On” is one of the best Queen songs, best rock songs, best songs ever made. It’s beautiful, triumphant, deep and epic all in one.
Fun Fact: Freddie was in terrible condition when recording this song. He could barely stand without assistance and had to cover the pain with vodka. Brain May told Freddie that he may not be physically able to sing this song. He responds, “I’ll fucking do it, darling!” And to everyone’s surprise, he finished the song in one take.
Innuendo is a superb piece worthy of its status as one of Queen’s finest. It features a fine variety of songs, spanning many sub-genres of rock from progressive to psychedelic to operatic. Not all of the songs work, but none of them are truly bad songs. It serves as a summary of all Queen was back in the day and is a fitting end to the career of Freddie Mercury. It’s an album worth celebrating 25 years later.
If you’re a Queen fan who hasn’t heard this album, you’re doing yourself a disservice. In fact, most rock fans will probably love this album. Chances are you’ve heard two or three of Innuendo’s songs, but there’s plenty more hidden gems here. Even if you’re not that into rock, you’ll find songs like “Delilah” and “I Can’t Live With You” to enjoy. However, if you were to listen to just one song from here, listen to “The Show Must Go On”. It’s too good not to listen to.
This review was inspired by the site 12 Perfect Tracks. For album reviews a bit like these (though a lot less wordy than mine), check out his/her site.
Hopefully you guys enjoyed my first album review. If you like it, I’ll probably do more in the future. I just wanted to pay homage to one of my favorite albums.
I’m SBox180. Thanks for reading!