Queen

Tagged: Music

UK pop/rock band comprising singer Freddie Mercury (1946-1991), guitarist Brian May (1947-    ), drummer Roger Taylor (1949-    ) and bassist John Deacon (1951-    ). After rather floridly pompous beginnings, Queen hit the big time with the single "Bohemian Rhapsody" (on their fourth album, A Night at the Opera, 1975), a splendidly inventive and rousing portmanteau song about the battle between demons and angels for a suicide's soul. This song enjoyed and continues to enjoy remarkable popular success; in its day it brought to a head the vein of splendidly high-camp Fantasy writing that had dominated the band's earlier releases – for instance "My Fairy King" on Queen (1973) and "Ogre Battle", "The Fairy Feller's Master-Stroke" and "The Seven Seas of Rhye", all on Queen II (1974). The album A Night at the Opera also includes the straightforwardly science-fictional track "'39", an intriguing piece of sf-skiffle music about interstellar explorers who travel for a year but return to find a time-dilated century has passed on Earth. Later Queen releases generally abandoned the sometimes fey manner of their earlier style in favour of a more mainstream sound that consolidated their chart success, and that had less time for the explicitly fantastical. The album News of the World (1977) contains no sf songs, but boasts memorable artwork in which Frank Kelly Freas repainted his October 1953 Astounding cover (a sad-faced giant Robot holding a dead human in its hand) to include members of the band. The band's 1980 soundtrack album to the film Flash Gordon includes the thumping hit-single "Flash" ("Flash! A-aa! Say! Viour! Oftheuniverse!") and a variety of lively instrumental numbers.

In 1991 Mercury's premature, widely-mourned death effectively drew a line under the band. One further album, the feeble The Cosmos Rocks (2008), with Mercury's role taken by UK singer Paul Rodgers, was not a success – despite its title it has no genre, (or, frankly, any other) interest. But in one specifically science-fictional form the band's music remains current – a West End musical, We Will Rock You, which has run since its 2002 debut. The format here is a so-called "jukebox musical": a libretto constructed to link a band's hit singles into a unified narrative. In this case the story was written by Ben Elton: a future-set fairytale in which the Dystopian, commercialized twenty-third-century "Planet Mall" is overthrown by a group of street kids and their rediscovery of suppressed pop music. This tale is both silly and ideologically incoherent – a critique of commodification framed wholly, and with painful ingenuousness, via precisely the reified commodification of Queen's songs. But there is a degree of cleverness to the way Elton links the disparate musical matter, the display of which is (after all) the point of the show; and he probably didn't merit the critical mauling he received (the UK Daily Mirror's judgment that "Elton deserves to be shot for this risible story" was not untypical). At any rate, critical disapprobation proved irrelevant: the show was a massive commercial success, is presently (2011) the longest-running musical London's Dominion theatre has ever hosted, and has been performed all over the world. [AR]

see also: The Nomad Soul.

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