Innuendo, released in February of 1991, was Queen’s final studio album to be released in Freddie Mercury’s lifetime and was the last the traditional foursome would have composed entirely of new material. It reached #1 on the UK album charts (two weeks) as well as in the Netherlands (four weeks), Germany (six weeks), Switzerland (eight weeks), and Italy (three weeks). It was released in the US one day after its UK release where it achieved Gold record status. It would be the first Queen album to go Gold in the US upon its release since The Works album in 1984.
As a die-hard Queen fan but also one who appreciates quality music and fresh musical ideas and variety, I often go back to Queen’s music simply because the music stands out and stands apart from most music I hear today. I wanted to look back upon Innuendo with a fresh perspective though, many years after the passing of Freddie Mercury to AIDS and the retirement of bassist John Deacon from the music business in 1997. I wanted to have another deep analytical look at this album and provide a review that wasn’t going to be clouded with sympathy or clouded emotions. Knowing that Freddie was suffering from the advanced stages of HIV and AIDS does tend to influence and change the way most would listen to and receive this album and these songs. So after about 12 years, it may be time to give “Innuendo” a look with a clear and fresh perspective that isn’t weighed down with the awareness of tragedy.
First off, as an album, Innuendo, is very modern and very mature. It is also a very diverse album kind of reminiscent of their early album offerings like 1974’s Sheer Heart Attack or their classic A Night at the Opera. By 1991, however, their sounds are far more refined and they have shed any prohibitions to synthesizers and programming and technology. They embrace technology at least in so far as it enables them, to polish the sound they wish to produce and record. I think they use every means possible to enhance the quality of their natural voices and natural guitar sounds and strive to use the studios as an instrument in itself as much as Brian May uses his Red Special or John Deacon his Fender Precision bass or Roger Taylor’s Ludwig drums.
In contrast to the techno-funk and synth-bass days of their 1982 Hot Space album, Queen in 1991 have a much more clear sense musically of what their messages are and what it is that this album wants to try and say. This album has much more cohesion and thematic harmony.
The first track, the title track of the album, “Innuendo” is a grand lyrical magnum opus. It is a strong nod to Led Zeppelin’s “Kashmir” from their album Physical Graffitti. “Innuendo” has a solid beat, solid, mantra-like rhythm and a very edgy, almost ethereal melody flowing over John Deacon’s thrumming bassline and chord progression. It’s the closest Queen has come to being overtly political or opinionated about the state of affairs in the world–and their music video for this track borrows a bit from the film adaptation of George Orwell’s dystopian novel 1984″. More so than “One Vision” from A Kind of Magic, “Innudendo” speaks to disillusionment and to teh deceptions that are thrust before us and challenges us to question authority that is based on falsehoods. The song becomes something of a cry for action instead of complacency. Musically, it is reminisent of their classic “Bohemian Rhapsody” in that there layers of vocals, stylistic, dramatic changes, tempo changes, and complex musical overtones–but it is nothing like “Bohemian Rhapsody” in that lyrically, there is meaning and clarity and understanding of real questions and issues we need to consider. It is not so tongue-in-cheek or flippant or whimsical. Now some may say the song is moody and angsty and a bit heavy-handed in its tones and overtones, but I think they confuse themselves between what is music for atmosphere and context and what is sound for the sake of coming off as larger than life. Queen has nothing to prove to its listeners and does not need to show off–they know that and most fans and even casual listeners should know that. This track, is one of the best tracks Queen ever wrote, in my opinion.
Next comes “I’m Going Slightly Mad”, a clever song that reminds me of “Killer Queen” in the sense that the lyrics are sophisticated, catchy and imaginative and provocative. The song speaks of madness and insanity and the tone of the song ranges from comical to sinnister to suggestive. “I’m Going Slightly Mad” was begun in Freddie Mercury’s London house, after he’d got the idea of writing a song about madness, inspired by Noel Coward’s campy one-liners and metaphors and allusions and innuendoes.
The third track on the “A” side to catch my most immediate attention was “headlong”. “Headlong” is just a straight-forward, no nonsense rocker. Brian May does what he does best and offers another powerful, crunchy rock-riffing tune with a very blistering sequence of solos. The drums pound nice and loud and this is definitely a driving track to listen to in the car– it almost screams sequel to “Tie Your Mother Down” or “I’m in Love with My Car”. I think “Headlong” as a contribution to this album, is Queen’s way of reminding us the fans that they are still a rock band at their core and can still be attuned to their roots. I think we as fans forget that bands have the right and obligation and sometimes need to evolve and develop beyond what they first established themselves on musically. Then the band forgets themselves in the process of making albums for mass consumption and for the appeasment of record companies and forget the fans’ tastes entirely. “Headlong” is sort of a welcome back message for themselves and for the fans.
My favorite song on the album, “Ride the Wild Wind” is pretty much a musical ride on the back of a speeding motorcycle under a starry night sky through the city streets. It sure feels like it. It’s pulsing drums and rhythm section invoke the speeding, blurring action of a heart-pounding ride through the city and the incredible guitar solo Brian May delivers just takes the ride to a whole new level–you feel suddenly airborne. Roger Taylor, the drummer, inspired this song and naturally its his love of speed and cars and otorcycles that comes through on this. But while the music is hot, Freddie’s delivery of the vocals is nice and cool… very low and smooth, like an alluring lover’s invitation. This song is an ultimate joyride in the car to listen to as well.
Queen’s “Innuendo” album offers up very thought-provoking songs, I noticed. Another song that seems to poke into my consciousness is their softer ballad, “Don’t Try So Hard”. Lyrically it seems to want to comfort the listener and encourage and uplift and sympathize but at the same time I think there is cynicial or critical tone or message– we are so hard on ourselves for all the wrong reasons. We strive to prove ourselves and to impress but in most cases, people will love us or hate us for reasons out of our control–and it seems pointless to try and change what people think or feel when these people are so consumed with their own egos and their own world. Freddie delivers a four octive vocal journey going into falsetto for most of the song but diving right into some very powerful choruses.
Another fantastic ballad and pop song that stands out, “These are the Days of Our Lives”, is a song about looking back at youth as our own youth seems to slip away. We look back on love and life and the choices we make as perhaps the kids and young folks around us enjoy life right under our noses. It is not so much a song about regret as it is about the parts of us that still endure–like the parts of relationships that never go away among two people that still care deeply about each other. It is an uplifting song if you really listen to it and the song has such a nice easy listening flow, you just want to settle back and close your eyes and visualize those days of your own life. Brian May offers another great, uplifting solo here as well. The song also features Roger Taylor on the congas as well for a nice little Carribean-like flavor.
Every Queen album has at least one really fun song to listen to just for the sake of humor or fun or light-heartedness. “Delilah” is that kind of song here on this album. “Delilah” was written by Freddie as a tribute to his cat, Delilah. While Brian or Roger would never play this song life in future outings, this song made the album and just serves as a light-hearted giggle. However, even for a light-hearted giggle this song features some nice solo and guitar work by May and more clever lyrics by Mercury. Even in joke, this song is rather more sophsticated than it probably needed to be.
Then it’s back to hard rock and heavy metal sounds with “Hitman”. This track is hard but not oppressive. It’s a perfect action film soundtrack tune if ever there was a need for a hard riffing ong to add some weight to a movie. This song has weight and it has somie seriously great guitar work in it that grabs attention. The energy in the song calls back to the heady days of “White Man” from the ’76 album A Day at the Races or something from the ’78 album “Jazz”. I think the point here is that as an album, “Innuendo” is pulling out all the stops and drawing from a rich arsenal of sounds and bring the past directly into the present with an eye focused on a potential future. This song is no last album gasp or band’s climactic final farewell– it’s a sign that there is plenty of fuel and fire still in this band’s tank.
I could go on about sophistication and Queen but the real track that brings things to ultimate climax and ultimate end for this album, is the monumental track, “The Show Must Go On”. In one part it is “We Are the Champions” in anthem quality and 1989’s closer for The Miracle album “Was it All Worth It” in retrospectiveness. This song was monumental enough to attract the attention of the Bejart Tribute at the National Ballet in Paris and the movie/musical “Moulin Rouge” — both prominantly featured this song in both productions. If Queen knew the end was coming, they didn’t want to take the end sitting down or in silence. I think “The Show Must Go On” was their defiant rally cry to each other and to fans that the music will play on.