The first thing that strikes the listener on returning to Brian May’s first fully fledged solo album (following his three-track Star Fleet Project of ’83) is that you don’t strut the boards stage-right of Freddie Mercury for 20 years without learning how to make a home-made guitar sound like the Big Bang on steroids.
The second is a feeling of amazement that people were still making records that sounded so quintessentially 80s as late as ‘92. The awe-inspiring enormity May’s co-production accords Cozy Powell’s drums would be considered over-the-top in any other context but, well, Queen fans have certain expectations. They want an audible excess of bang for their buck, and with Back To The Light, May certainly delivers.
Whether selling cars (pedal to the metal, petrol-head anthem Driven By You), feeding the Small Faces through a pomp filter (Rollin’ Over) or road-testing compositions clearly tailor-made for Mercury (Too Much Love Will Kill You), this is May stepping away from the privileges and shackles of the day job to establish beyond doubt that, if it were necessary, he could do Queen in isolation. But of course he couldn’t. No one could. Queen were just too perfect an unlikely, inconceivable whole.
Back To The Light, now handsomely bolstered with excellent, if obvious, extras (a live We Will Rock You and Tie Your Mother Down – with Slash! Of course! – the TV-ad mix of Driven By You) is well worth revisiting. Clearly it’s no Sheer Heart Attack, but what else is?