Freddie Mercury’s solo work never quite hit the dizzying heights expected of the front man of all-conquering Queen (at the peak of their powers, commercially speaking, throughout the 80s) – not to mention one of the most revered rock singers and respected songwriters still in the business. Not to say that it was a total loss, as 1985’s Mr Bad Guy hit number six in the album charts, and three top 10 singles were accrued (Love Kills – #10, The Great Pretender – #4, Barcelona – #8). The collaboration with Monserrat Caballé, in particular, opened up a creative outlet that Mercury couldn’t have pursued with Queen – in all likelihood realising an ambition he had held for a while.
With the juggernaut of Queen still rumbling on in the background, it’s perhaps unsurprising that Mercury’s solo work didn’t quite hit the spot; like the band’s 1982 offering, Hot Space, it wasn’t completely in keeping with the more recognisable rock sound – in that context, with new material still being released by the band, there was always a chance any solo offerings would come out ‘second best’. However, now we’re a safe distance from all of that it actually has a chance to stand apart; the collection compiled by Mercury’s sound team (Justin Shirley-Smith, Kris Fredriksson and Joshua J Macrae) for Never Boring is a great listen, and shows off his pop credentials perfectly.
There are some clear highlights in The Great Pretender (a rather apt choice of song for Mercury to cover – and a very memorable video to accompany it) and Barcelona (there is an added poignancy to this track since Caballé’s death last year). I have to admit that I’ve not ever ventured too far into any Queen member’s solo outings, so a lot of this compilation is new to me. Aside from the two songs already mentioned, and a handful that latterly ended up being released by Queen in some form (I Was Born to Love You, Living On My Own, Made in Heaven), this is all intriguingly fresh.
Time Waits For No One comes from Dave Clark’s musical Time, and this particular version features a vocal track that was thought to be lost – the power of these vocals (that come from a rehearsal demo) is something to behold. Another track that jumps out at me is In My Defence – another one from Time. The occasional strain in Mercury’s voice fits so perfectly with lines such as “I’m just a singer without a song / How can I try to right the wrong”. Both of these Time numbers work well as standalone tracks, and manage to bring together an innate sense of theatre with a bit of a pop twist.
Love Me Like There’s No Tomorrow is another winner – a fine example of Mercury’s knack for writing love songs. He wasn’t all about camp and exuberant numbers, and this track’s relatively understated nature reminds us of this; it showcases Mercury at the peak of his powers, his vocal prowess growing throughout his career.
This new compilation is a terrific introduction to Freddie Mercury’s solo projects, giving newbies a taste of what to expect from his studio albums, whilst also making a wonderful collector’s item for fans.