In music business terms, we’re in what they call “the fourth quarter”: the last three months of the year, when record companies unleash their big guns. This year it should be renamed the Classic Rock quarter: on top of more Zep reissues, there’s a box set from Genesis, a “new” album from Pink Floyd and this, a collection of Queen classics featuring the motherlode: three unreleased songs, the first since 1995’s Made In Heaven.
It isn’t really a Greatest Hits affair, nor is it a showcase for new material. It’s both; a sort of Queen: The Untold Story. So on the 20-track single CD (there is also a 36-track Deluxe Edition over two CDs), alongside staples such as You’re My Best Friend, Somebody To Love and Crazy Little Thing Called Love, there are a dozen or so lesser-known cuts from albums ranging from Sheer Heart Attack to Made In Heaven (the Deluxe version reaches back to Queen II).
The intention, according to Messrs May and Taylor, is to demonstrate the band’s development and to highlight their wistful side. It’s A Hard Life, Love Of My Life, These Are The Days Of Our Life, Who Wants To Live Forever: these, as May points out, feature “the big, big epic sound. It is quite emotional.” In other words, don’t expect any triumphalism or Fat Bottomed Girls.
The newies fit nicely in this context. The first is the long-mooted Michael Jackson team-up There Must Be More To Life Than This, whose evolution has been circuitous. It began as a Freddie Mercury composition from the Hot Space sessions but was never completed. Mercury visited Jackson in LA, where he recorded him singing another incomplete version. Queen revisited the track circa The Works, and an iteration of the tune appeared on Mercury’s debut solo album. Here, you get Queen’s original backing track, plus Mercury and Jackson’s soaring performances, with extra studio trickery courtesy of Madonna knob-twiddler William Orbit. If they’re smart, they’ll make it a Christmas single.
Then there’s Let Me In Your Heart Again, also of The Works vintage, now with newly minted May squeals and May and Taylor giving it plenty of choral majesty. By Queen’s standards, it’s hardly a neo-operatic folly majeure, but there are enough symphonic histrionics to satisfy diehards. Finally, there’s Love Kills, a rock ballad rendition of the Giorgio Moroder-ised hi-NRG gallop from 1985, with fresh lustre from May and Taylor.
Queen Forever finds them in relatively low-key mode, but even at their most restrained they are OTT. Don’t Try So Hard? No chance./o:p