When there was news of a new Queen album based on some fresh, unheard material by Freddie Mercury, there was quite a buzz amongst fans. Once the further news filtered through that “Queen Forever” was yet another Queen compilation with the addition of these new tracks, the enthusiasm was dampened considerably. The fact that fans were hoping for something similar to the excellent “Made In Heaven”, released after Mercury’s passing and widely considered to be one of the band’s finest pieces of work, and then getting what was probably going to be a greatest hits plus a few new tracks was a bit of a let down. The faithful would buy it, of course, because of the new material, but what a disappointment. Hang on, though, what’s this? No “Bohemian Rhapsody”? No “We Will Rock You”? So many of their well known songs missing and tracks such as “Dear Friends”, “Long Away”, “Lily Of The Valley”, “Don’t Try So Hard”, “Nevermore”, “Jealousy” and “Sail Away Sweet Sister” included instead? There may just be hope for this compilation yet. Yes, instead of packaging together the big hits with the previously unheard songs, Queen have, instead, opted to introduce some of their excellent and often overlooked album tracks (which their most loyal fans already know and love) to the casual fan and, in doing so, have compiled a slightly less obvious overview of their work which the die-hards will also enjoy listening to as well. Sounds good? Well, yes and no.
It has to be said, “Queen Forever” has a curious track listing which lacks any real coherence or logic, other than loosely being described by the sticker on the cover as a collection of love songs. Whoever thought this would make any kind of sense must have been one card short of a full deck. I’d have much preferred them to boycott any songs which had appeared on the trio of massive-selling Greatest Hits albums and to have compiled an album of deep cuts, instead of including, as they have, “Play The Game”, “You’re My Best Friend”, “These Are The Days Of Our Lives”, “Who Wants To Live Forever”, “Somebody To Love”, “Crazy Little Thing Called Love”, “Friends Will Be Friends”, “It’s A Hard Life”, “Save Me”, “Too Much Love Will Kill You” and “The Miracle”. As someone who has known and loved the Queen catalogue for years, I could have easily come up with eleven replacements for these well loved and well heard tracks which, admittedly, may be there as favourites of the band, but a more cynical mind could suggest that they have been included as familiar names to provide an added incentive for the casual fan to buy “Queen Forever”. They’re all really great songs, of course, and it’s no chore to listen to them all again as part of this compilation, but their inclusion means that this album is a bit of a missed opportunity to really open up the Queen archives to people who have no idea just how good they were outside of the big hits. Sadly, the heavier, harder side of Queen (which many fans love) isn’t particularly represented here either, opting instead to showcase their ballads, love songs and predominantly lighter side… still, there are small mercies; at least they didn’t include “Body Language” or “Delilah”.
The main reason for people buying this album will be the three unreleased tracks. So, do they justify the purchase of an album which contains so much previously available material? “Let Me In Your Heart Again” is certainly a nice enough composition, but it does seem to lack any real direction. The vocal track also feels a little unfinished, like they have used the demo/guide vocal and despite Brian May’s classic Queen guitars giving the song a well-needed lift, it is really quite apparent why this remained unreleased until this year. “Love Kills”, a ballad version of the pumping electro-pop anthem from Freddie’s solo years, works very well and has instantly become my favourite version of the song. Arguably the biggest draw of this release is the collaboration between the band and Michael Jackson, “There Must Be More To Life Than This” which is a perfectly nice, if unspectacular, ballad with slightly trite lyrics. The climax of May’s guitar solo is also shockingly loud compared with the rest of the track as well, adding the element of ridiculousness to an already shaky composition. So, all-in-all, the answer is no, these three songs alone don’t justify the purchase of a brand new album, I’m afraid. However, Queen diehards will buy it anyway and there are some excellent album tracks here which means that those who only have Greatest Hits I, II & III will have plenty of new Queen songs to discover.
“Queen Forever” is certainly a bit of disappointment or missed opportunity to fans hoping for some great, lost gems, but if these three songs are the cream of the still unreleased Queen archives, perhaps it is a blessing in disguise that Brian and Roger didn’t attempt to fashion a whole new album with whatever else was left. Still, if it leads people to hear the many less obvious songs on “Queen Forever” for the very first time and then start a voyage of discovery through Queen’s catalogue, then it will have done plenty of good. For the rest of us who have been buying everything Queen released for a long time, the cynical feeling you may get when you listen to the album may be there for an understandable reason, as well as that sense of puzzled wonder as to why on Earth “Teo Torriatte (Let Us Cling Together)” was omitted from an album of Queen love songs. One wave short of a shipwreck, I tell you…
“Queen Forever” is available now, both in physical and digital formats (but they won’t currently allow you to download the three new tracks on their own without the rest of the album, for some reason…) on Virgin EMI Records.
Andy Sweeney, 10th November, 2014.