That Queen guitarist and avid astronomer Brian May looked to the stars for his first solo project was no surprise. That the resultant three-track mini-album was inspired by a Japanese kids’ sci-fi TV show starring Gerry Anderson-style puppets and featured fellow guitar hero Eddie Van Halen was more of a curve ball.
Released in 1983 and credited to Brian May + Friends, the original Star Fleet Project release is an overlooked curiosity in the extended Queen discography. The main song is a faithful, if elongated, eight-minute cover of the TV show’s closing theme, featuring vocals from May and some impressive guitar tag-teaming from the him and Van Halen. The two other tracks head off in a completely different direction: Let Me Out is a slow-burning blues-rock number that sails close to early Queen B-side See What A Fool I’ve Been, while Blues Breaker (Dedicated To E.C.) is an exhilarating 13-minute blues jam that sees these two world-famous musicians essentially prostrating themselves at the feet of Beano Album-era Eric Clapton, a mutual hero.
This lovingly curated, impressively packed box set elevates Star Fleet Project from charming oddity into a fascinating snapshot of a specific moment in time. It includes the original edited Star Fleet single on seven-inch, plus the full mini-album on 12-inch vinyl (and a Star Fleet pin badge for the full retro experience). But May has gone to town on the extra material, digging out a full CD’s worth of out-takes from the original two-day sessions. It’s the kind of candidness that Queen themselves would never sanction – it’s not only possible to hear these songs taking shape, mistakes and all, there’s also a tangible sense of the joy in the room that comes with two massively successful musicians stepping away from their high-pressure day jobs. There’s a poignancy to it as well, given that both Eddie Van Halen and session bassist Phil Chen passed away in the past few years.
May himself would soon return to the bosom of Queen. Their records, and the solo albums he released after that band ended, would be much more high-profile than his kids’ TV show theme tune cover. But as far as passion projects go, they don’t get much more passionate than this.