A quick one for International AIDS Day then…
In November 1991, ten days before he died, Freddie Mercury met his manager Jim ‘Miami’ Beach at the singer’s Kensington home to discuss how best to reveal to the world that he had Aids. Once they had agreed the wording of an announcement, the 45-year-old frontman began to wonder how he would be remembered. “You can do what you want with my music,” he said, “but don’t make me boring.”
He got his wish. Freddie may have died three long decades ago, but he’s still the rock star’s rock star, bigger than ever in fact, exerting enough magnetism to reel in new fans who are too young to remember him firsthand.
Mercury’s music lives on… as does his trademark ‘tache. And what a porno ‘tache it was. There’s even a Facebook fan page devoted to discussion of the great man’s lip furniture.
Behold, the mighty moustache! Gunpowder, gelatine, dynamite with a laser beam, et cetera, et cetera.
Now, you might think Freddie is channeling the policeman from the Village People in the featured image, but stick with us.
As long as you steer clear of a so-bad-it’s-good handlebar moustache, ditch the aviators and avoid wrapping yourself in silver chains, a dictator’s jacket worn with a military-style hat can put you on the high road to badassery. Just ask Neil Tennant.
In addition to being the frontman of one of the biggest selling bands in the world, Fred was also mastermind of Queen’s over-the-top stage costumes, designer the awesome foursome’s iconic crest logo and many of their record sleeves.
In the mid 1980s he also managed to dash off an album without his bandmates. “I had a lot of ideas bursting to get out,” Mercury said of his brief solo career. “And there were a lot of musical territories I wanted to explore, which I really couldn’t do within Queen.”
With his time on earth cut short in 1991, Mr Bad Guy would occupy a unique place in the Queen catalogue as Mercury’s only bona fide solo LP, and would be followed in 1988 by Barcelona, a collaborative studio album recorded with the Spanish operatic soprano Montserrat Caballé.
Even when you include Barcelona and a small handful of non-album 45s, Fred left behind a pretty minuscule solo catalogue. Though that’s hardly prevented his estate from repackaging it on a regular basis.
And so to the latest remake, remodel. Released via Virgin, the Never Boring campaign of 2019 is as follows:
* Never Boring – New compilation on CD, vinyl, digital and deluxe 5-disc box set
* Mr Bad Guy – Special edition on CD, vinyl, digital
* Barcelona – Reissue of 2012 Orchestral version on CD, vinyl, digital
Never Boring was released last month. Aside from the typically but terribly arrogant title, the deluxe edition contains three CDs, a Blu-ray, a DVD and a 120-page 10”x10” hardback book of photos, many of them rare and unpublished, as well as what a press release describes as “thoughts and choice quotes” from Mercury.
There’s also an introduction by Rami Malek, who portrayed the singer in last year’s hit film Bohemian Rhapsody.
Now, okay, so far so standard, but…
The entirety of Mr Bad Guy, plus non-album tracks Love Kills, The Great Pretender and She Blows Hot And Cold have been completely remixed. The result for the former, at least, is more in line with what Freddie might have done if he hadn’t half-abandoned the album mixing sessions, and brings a new polish to a rough-n-ready record. The dodgy vocal reverb is missing, the instruments sound cleaner (the acoustic drums now sound powerful and ‘fat’), and the whole process brings it closer to the present day.
No one, least of all me, is going to claim Mr Bad Guy is a good album. It may gave entered the UK charts in sixth place, but by the time of Fred and co’s show-stealing set at Live Aid nine weeks later it was languishing at a lowly No.70.
So you may well believe you can’t polish a turd, brother, but somehow the new mixes have done wonders for this collection of sub-standard, lightweight pap and overwrought torch songs. At least there wasn’t a trilogy, ho ho ho.
Don’t just take my word for it though, you can hear the difference for yourselves in the brand new video for Love Me Like There’s No Tomorrow, which uses the new mix. This warm slice of romantic ballideering now sounds like the long-lost twin of Queen’s It’s A Hard Life, while simultaneously pointing to the grand Broadway style productions that Fred would fully realise on Barcelona and his contributions to Dave Clark’s Time.
Although I’ve always liked the one-off singles Love Kills and The Great Pretender, and, later, the chart-topping No More Brothers mix of Living On My Own from 1993 (“gayer than gay” was how my housemate described that one, pretty accurately), Mr Bad Guy always sounded like a wafer-thin collection of glorified demos to me. Hi-NRG Europop at its far from finest.
The new ‘special’ edition retains the sparseness of the original album but gets rid of the demoish feel a bit, even if they just added some bottom to the tracks.
Overall I like what they did, but my biggest gripe is with Made In Heaven, which is just smothered in reverb. Perhaps they were trying to make it sound ethereal, but it really sits at odds with the drier, more spacious sound of the other tracks. That being said, the rest of the songs are handled pretty well, but the album still doesn’t move me very much. I doubt it ever will.
Come on, Mr Bad Guy, Let’s Turn It On, Foolin’ Around, Man Made Paradise, My Love Is Dangerous, the potty poppers rush of I Was Born To Love You, these are criminally cringy cornfests that sound like they were recorded on a budget of threepenny bits. No matter which way they remix them, they’re absolute clunkers.
Conversely, There Must Be More to Life Than This has grown on me over the years, especially after the original demo duet with Michael Jackson was Queenized and made available on the Queen Forever compilation in 2014, as was a new stripped back ballad version of Love Kills.
It was hinted at on 2014’s softly softly set Queen Forever, but the release of Never Boring also clears up something that was never previously confirmed – namely that Love Kills is officially a Queen song in all but name.
The track – released credited to Freddie Mercury with production (and co-writing credits) for Giorgio Moroder – was Freddie’s first proper solo single and, in a bid to promote Moroder’s soundtrack to his rejigged film of Fritz Lang’s Metropolis, was released by CBS Records the same day EMI released the Queen single Hammer To Fall. In the UK, it actually outsold the Queen track and charted one place higher.
Queen fans long suspected the rest of the band were on the track, but were contractually unable to be credited at the time. In 2000, the lavish Solo Collection box set confirmed Brian May and Roger Taylor were on there, but nobody could remember if John Deacon was.
Now, finally, some 35 years later… the entire band is credited for their contributions to the track. It’s still a ‘Freddie Mercury’ solo song (and probably his best, too), but Deacy did play guitar on it, as well.
BONUS: Here’s the Dame himself, David Bowie on Dutch television in 1990, talking about the moment he learnt from Moroder himself that Queen were to feature on the Metropolis soundtrack. Perhaps there was some truth in the rumour Love Kills was earmarked for inclusion on the band’s Works album of 1984 after all.