Queen: Forever (take 2)

Yes, this is another Queen compilation, but it's not hard to make a good case for Forever.
Hollywood/Virgin EMI

Queen has been compiled many times over; in fact, the amount of these compilation discs is a little ridiculous. For every Deep Cuts release, a series that tries to shine a light on Queen’s criminally forgotten album tracks, there have been maybe another half-dozen greatest hits/singles collections waiting to pounce and steal the attention. But guitarist Brian May and drummer Roger Taylor, the two members currently keeping the glam juggernaut somewhat alive, have found a way to bring these non-hits some greater attention. The answer was simple: feature three unreleased songs. Normally, when other bands release bait songs like these, they are accompanying a standard hits release. Forever, on the other hand, offers “things that we have collected together that are representative of our growth rather than the big hits”, according to May. Yes, 85% of Forever has already been released. But if you’ve been fed nothing but a steady diet of Queen’s Greatest Hits and Classic Queen up until now, Forever will almost be like hearing a whole new album. Besides, with Queen, musical growth is always a very interesting subject.

The three “new” tracks kick off the album, which is fine since Forever doesn’t run chronologically. They come from the mid-’80s, a time that May affectionately recalls as “quite emotional. It is the big, big ballads and the big, big epic sound”. “Let Me In Your Heart Again” and “Love Kills” are outtakes from the sessions that would lead to the The Works, Queen’s 1984 album that acted as a big-budget bid to win back the disenfranchised fans who thought they had gone astray on the disco-esque Hot Space. “There Must Be More to Life Than This”, the third new track, originated from the Hot Space sessions. Considering that the track features a 23-year-old Michael Jackson, its inclusion onto Hot Space might have helped sales back then. Alas, it ended up being included on Mercury’s solo album Mr. Bad Guy.

The important thing to keep in mind is that these three tracks are pretty strong. Dated? Oh, sure. They are siphoned from the time when everyone’s hair was too big and their shorts were too short. But these aren’t throwaways. “Let Me In Your Heart Again”, in particular, is a perfect little opener. It kicks the door open with purpose, with Mercury’s plea to enter your heart conveniently doubling as a request to give his music another shot. And the refrain is terribly sticky too: “Your heart again / Your heart again”. Simple, yes, but it’s no less euphoric that “I Want To Break Free”. “Love Kills: The Ballad” is the full name of the second track, and it’s a real monster ballad. May and Taylor most likely doctored this version very recently; its mid-section has too much stereo pinging and rapidly arpeggiated keyboards to suggest 1984. And even though “There Must Be More to Life Than This” ended up on Mercury’s solo album, this version is a William Orbit mix of the original backing tracks from 1981 with all four Queen members and Jackson. And if the basic theme of “Love Kills” foreshadowed “Too Much Love Will Kill You” (also on Forever), the mad world laments of “Is This The World We Created…?”, “All God’s People” and “Under Pressure” are in good company with “There Must Be More to Life Than This”. “Why is this world so full of hate / People dying everywhere”, Mercury sings in his ten-ton voice while Jackson’s microscopic coo hopes “for a world filled with love”.

The rest of Forever doesn’t steer clear of the hits all of the time. After all, you still have yet more remastered versions of “You’re My Best Friend”, “Play the Game”, “Save Me”, “Somebody to Love” and “Crazy Little Thing Called Love”. But if “musical growth” is what we’re after, then Queen’s take on rockabilly remains noteworthy, considering it landed just four years after the polyphonic schizophrenia that was “Bohemian Rhapsody”. I just find it odd that May and Taylor use it to close out Forever. Freddie Mercury’s ’70s piano balladeering, which seemed to fully realized at the time, is represented by A Night at the Opera‘s “Love of My Life” and Sheer Heart Attack‘s “Lily of the Valley”. Queen’s other sets of pipes get a small turn with two from A Day at the Races, Roger Taylor’s “Drowse” and Brian May’s “Long Away” — two songs that I had completely forgotten about but was pleased to rediscover. It’s a reminder that, although they tend to get overshadowed by their older and younger brother respectively, Sheer Heart Attack and A Day at the Races were pretty terrific.

Later in Queen’s career their sound would hone but somehow get bigger. “It’s A Hard Life”, which reminds me way too much of “Play the Game” musically, is one of those huge ballad moments that May looks back in with favor (he even admitted that the song’s campy video was somewhat fun to do). “Who Wants to Live Forever”, “Don’t Try So Hard” are howls of a mortal short on time, and I’ve always been impressed that Mercury could it the high notes of the latter during a time of such poor health. And “Bijou” has always struck me as a delightfully odd nugget, since Brian May announces Innuendo‘s most plaintive moment with some ’70s-era Red Special shredding. Bridging the gap between the old and the new are songs like “Las Palabras de Amor (The Words of Love)”, a song May wrote because he felt that the Spanish language seemed to always capture romance just perfectly.

Yes, Forever is mostly redundant. But if that’s the only thing you have to say about it, then that’s a little unfortunate. All of the greatest hits collections released over and over again paint Queen into the corner of being a singles band, but fans have known all along that they were serious about their albums. If there was any filler to be found, it had to be filler on a grand scale. The non-single killer Queen was just as susceptible to flying under the proverbial radar. Let Forever help recalibrate your radar and go from there; it’s only 75 minutes of your time.

RATING 6 / 10