Music

Queen: Forever (take 1)

Queen's Forever, ostensibly a greatest hits album, feels more like an album made up of its greatest misses.


Queen

Forever

Label: Hollywood
US Release Date: 2014-11-10
UK Release Date: 2014-11-10
Amazon
iTunes

Queen operates within a very odd and unique space in rock history, as it is simultaneously incredibly overrated and grossly underrated. The group is music’s equivalent to the '90s Atlanta Braves: amazing talents and accomplishments, but not quite in the pantheon of the all-time greats. Even though Queen had transcendent moments, like its performance at Live Aid, it was never a band that got the attention that Led Zeppelin or The Who did, despite the fact that every positive comment ever spoken about the band has been in the most extreme superlative. Freddie Mercury is consistently ranked as the greatest frontman of all time, while Brian May is considered to be one of the patron saints of shredders everywhere. There’s a certain disconnect between their subjective worth and their objective value that doesn’t exist with any other band.

Queen has sold over 300 million albums worldwide, but it only went to number one on the charts once in the United States. The band was one of the first musical acts to tour South America, thereby opening up the oyster that was the Latin American markets, but it also didn’t sell out shows as often as the other big bands of the time. Despite Mercury’s undeniable charisma, the band never inspired radical fandom that bands like Metallica, Zeppelin, and KISS did. They had a brief window where they should have been bigger in America than they were (1975-1980), but after that they bottomed out very quickly, as every subsequent album after The Game failed to crack the top ten in the States. Because of these facts, and because the group didn’t get the commercial love that it probably should have, reviewers and musical historians grant Queen an unlimited amount of praise in order to retroactively validate everything that Queen did. The question remains, “If Queen was as great a band as they are remembered to be, why weren’t they bigger than they were?”.

With its newest compilation album Forever, Queen finally answers this question. The Queen that is the most recognizable and iconic, isn’t the real Queen. The Queen that is the most fun is the bombastic Queen that you can rock out to à la Wayne’s World. It’s the Queen that exclaims with a confident vitriol, “So you think you can love me and leave me to die?”. In terms of commercial appeal, the most successful Queen is the Queen that shouted out “Another One Bites the Dust”. The Queen that initially got themselves noticed was the Queen that sang about tommy guns and prostitutes.

Unfortunately, that was only a fraction of what Queen really was. Being made up of technically proficient and classically trained musicians, Queen infused into rock music a sense of operatic theatrics that didn’t exist before them. The problem is that this classical approach can only last for so long before it becomes stale and laborious to listen to. The Queen that is ultimately forgotten and ignored in favor of other hits like “Another One Bites the Dust”, and “Fat Bottomed Girls”, is the band that sang about astrophysics and soapy love ballads, the latter of which apparently made up half the bands’ catalogue.

If that’s not true, however, that is the portrait that Forever ultimately illustrates. Being a compilation of re-mastered and overlooked songs taken from across the band’s 20 years together, Forever gives a portrayal of Queen that isn’t indicative of the bands’ flamboyance and charisma. The problem with releasing a greatest hits album comprised entirely of forgotten songs is that it’ll only appeal to diehard fans of the band, many of whom would probably already own the albums that these deep cuts were originally recorded on, thus negating any need to listen to Forever. At the risk of sounding superficial, any compilation that contains just as many songs from Innuendo as it does from A Night at the Opera probably won’t attract any new fans.

Forever comes in two editions: a standard single disc version and a two disc, 36-track chore that takes almost two and a half hours to get through. Because of the length and the track listing, Forever is a bloated album of greatest misses that never at any point comes together as an album, focusing too much on the classical side of Queen. The result of this lopsided focus is that too many songs sounding astonishingly indistinguishable from each other. There are no traces of the frenetic mania and arena-filling intrigue that has become the stereotypical Queen; instead, such mania and intrigue are replaced by a very by-the-numbers, boring overview of the group at its most forgettable. As an example of these bad choices, one need only look to the replacement of songs like “Bohemian Rhapsody” and “Another One Bites the Dust” with “Las Palabras de Amor” and “Who Wants to Live Forever”, the latter of which was written for the movie Highlander.

The album is not forged entirely of unknown songs from obscure albums, such as “One Year of Love” and “Is This the World We Created?” Beloved classics “Somebody to Love” and “Crazy Little Thing Called Love” do make appearances, but because they are adjacent tracks, Forever immediately goes back to being a laborious chore to listen to. Certain tracks do bring a familiar aura of zest and zeal to them that make them stand out amongst a sloppy collection of uninspired and subdued lullabies. “Let Me in Your Heart Again” and “Sail Away Sweet Sister” bring a brief reminder of a more dynamic and charismatic Queen, the kind of band that should have been represented on this album.

It appears that on this compilation, the surviving members of the band sought to cultivate this newest compilation around a certain sound, one that broke away from the stereotypical image of Queen as a hard rocking band that threw everything it had into every performance. However, that is the most beloved and incandescent portrait of Queen, one that combines its patented vaudevillian approach to music with hard rock. Incidentally, the more Queen moved away from that sound, beginning with 1980’s The Game, the worse their output became.

However, the remastering effort here is superb, fully accentuating Mercury’s vocal range and breathing new life into his voice. Despite this, the album is left without much of a soul, as it’s filled with impersonal and unknown songs that seek to introduce us to a version of Queen that, quite frankly, isn’t all that exciting. Overall, Forever is an album with no real ambition, and design. More importantly, it’s one that lacks heart, an irony that contradicts the claim that Forever is an ode to Freddie Mercury, a performer who bore his heart on stage and left nothing behind.

Unlike Led Zeppelin’s Mothership or any of the Kissology sets, Forever isn’t a particularly well organized compilation album, nor does it inspire listeners to go out and explore the band’s full catalogue the way the former two did. At best, the album serves as a microcosm of this overrated/underrated duality that defines Queen. When we examine bands like Led Zeppelin, the Rolling Stones, or even KISS, we look back and marvel over their entire careers. With Queen, there are only certain moments here and there that stick out: “Bohemian Rhapsody”, its performance at Live Aid, and the interspersed moments of spectacular grandeur laden within an otherwise static lattice. The Queen that is easy to fall in love with isn’t the Queen that existed; the Queen that existed is more in line with the Queen that’s portrayed on Forever, a band that is skilled technically, but one that will ultimately leave you wanting much more than what the group delivered.

3
Music


Books


Film


Recent
Music

Run the Jewels - "Ooh LA LA" (Singles Going Steady)

Run the Jewels' "Ooh LA LA" may hit with old-school hip-hop swagger, but it also frustratingly affirms misogynistic bro-culture.

Books

New Translation of Balzac's 'Lost Illusions' Captivates

More than just a tale of one man's fall, Balzac's Lost Illusions charts how literature becomes another commodity in a system that demands backroom deals, moral compromise, and connections.

Music

Protomartyr - "Processed by the Boys" (Singles Going Steady)

Protomartyr's "Processed By the Boys" is a gripping spin on reality as we know it, and here, the revolution is being televised.

Music

Go-Go's Bassist Kathy Valentine Is on the "Write" Track After a Rock-Hard Life

The '80s were a wild and crazy time also filled with troubles, heartbreak and disappointment for Go-Go's bass player-guitarist Kathy Valentine, who covers many of those moments in her intriguing dual project that she discusses in this freewheeling interview.

Music

New Brain Trajectory: An Interview With Lee Ranaldo and Raül Refree

Two guitarists, Lee Ranaldo and Raül Refree make an album largely absent of guitar playing and enter into a bold new phase of their careers. "We want to take this wherever we can and be free of genre restraints," says Lee Ranaldo.

Books

'Trans Power' Is a Celebration of Radical Power and Beauty

Juno Roche's Trans Power discusses trans identity not as a passageway between one of two linear destinations, but as a destination of its own.

Music

Yves Tumor Soars With 'Heaven to a Tortured Mind'

On Heaven to a Tortured Mind, Yves Tumor relishes his shift to microphone caressing rock star. Here he steps out of his sonic chrysalis, dons some shiny black wings and soars.

Music

Mike Patton and Anthony Pateras' tētēma Don't Hit the Mark on 'Necroscape'

tētēma's Necroscape has some highlights and some interesting ambiance, but ultimately it's a catalog of misses for Mike Patton and Anthony Pateras.

Music

M. Ward Offers Comforting Escapism on 'Migration Stories'

Although M. Ward didn't plan the songs on Migration Stories for this pandemic, they're still capable of acting as a balm in these dark hours.

Music

Parsonsfield Add Indie Pop to Their Folk on 'Happy Hour on the Floor'

Happy Hour on the Floor is a considerable departure from Parsonsfield's acclaimed rustic folk sound signaling their indie-pop orientation. Parsonsfield remind their audience to bestow gratitude and practice happiness: a truly welcomed exaltation.

Music

JARV IS... - "House Music All Night Long" (Singles Going Steady)

"House Music All Night Long" is a song our inner, self-isolated freaks can jive to. JARV IS... cleverly captures how dazed and confused some of us may feel over the current pandemic, trapped in our homes.

Music

All Kinds of Time: Adam Schlesinger's Pursuit of Pure, Peerless Pop

Adam Schlesinger was a poet laureate of pure pop music. There was never a melody too bright, a lyrical conceit too playfully dumb, or a vibe full of radiation that he would shy away from. His sudden passing from COVID-19 means one of the brightest stars in the power-pop universe has suddenly dimmed.

Music

Folkie Eliza Gilkyson Turns Up the Heat on '2020'

Eliza Gilkyson aims to inspire the troops of resistance on her superb new album, 2020. The ten songs serve as a rallying cry for the long haul.

Music

Human Impact Hit Home with a Seismic First Album From a Veteran Lineup

On their self-titled debut, Human Impact provide a soundtrack for this dislocated moment where both humanity and nature are crying out for relief.

Music

Monophonics Are an Ardent Blast of True Rock 'n' Soul on 'It's Only Us'

The third time's the charm as Bay Area soul sextet Monophonics release their shiniest record yet in It's Only Us.

Film

'Slay the Dragon' Is a Road Map of the GOP's Methods for Dividing and Conquering American Democracy

If a time traveler from the past wanted to learn how to subvert democracy for a few million bucks, gerrymandering documentary Slay the Dragon would be a superb guide.

Music

Bobby Previte / Jamie Saft / Nels Cline: Music from the Early 21st Century

A power-trio of electric guitar, keyboards, and drums takes on the challenge of free improvisation—but using primarily elements of rock and electronica as strongly as the usual creative music or jazz. The result is focused.

Books

Does Inclusivity Mean That Everyone Does the Same Thing?

What is the meaning of diversity in today's world? Russell Jacoby raises and addresses some pertinent questions in his latest work, On Diversity.

Reviews
Collapse Expand Reviews
Features
Collapse Expand Features
PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 PopMatters.com. All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.