Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Queen + Paul Rodgers - Return of the Champions


The Venture Bros., a show I deeply adore, had a bit of a crossover with the old 60's cartoon Jonny Quest (which it parodies) in its first two seasons. In an episode in the first season, Race Bannon, the bodyguard from Jonny Quest, died after falling out of a plane, while Jonny himself was portrayed as a crack addict in a second season episode. They had the full blessing of the rights holders, as their channel, Adult Swim, had aired a show called Harvey Birdman, Attorney at Law, which made fun of basically every cartoon in the Hanna-Barbera canon (my favorite example was Boo Boo from Yogi Bear being portrayed as an eco-terrorist).
Then, in season 3, Jonny Quest appeared in another episode, but something funny happened. He looked exactly the same, but everyone called him "Action Johnny". I assume that something happened behind the scenes, and some executives were, well, being executives and decided to force a change on the show's creators despite the fact that there was strong precedent for shows featuring characters from Hanna-Barbera shows and lampooning them. What made it worse is that The Venture Bros. relies heavily on continuity; for example, a robot that was a one-shot character in the first season reappeared in a Season 3 episode that was one of my favorite moments in the show. The name change kind of put a black mark on the show's otherwise immaculate continuity.
It's stuff like this that destroyed my childhood dreams of writing for TV. There are enough examples from Adult Swim alone to have killed it (the aforementioned "Action Johnny" incident, the network paying $2 million to the city of Boston because the police mistook Aqua Teen Hunger Force advertisements for bombs, at least one Robot Chicken sketch mysteriously disappearing from the DVD release, the network completely caving after BET threatened to sue them over two episodes of "The Boondocks" which criticized the network). God only knows how many people with talents far greater that my own have been scared off from Hollywood due to stuff like this.
"But Pugs," you ask. "What does this have to do with the album?" Well, when I heard that this album was coming out, I knew that calling this "Queen" was simply sacrilegious, and using the name without Freddie is about a million times more conspicuous than even the incident mentioned above. Maybe (and I stress maybe) they could've gone on producing material immediately after Freddie's death. But waiting more than a decade after "Made in Heaven" to release new material is just a horrible decision. I was aware that May and Taylor had been making appearances as "Queen" for quite a while, but "Return of the Champions" was just too big to ignore. (John Deacon wisely retired from the music business during the mid-90's.)
And then there was the choice of who would be replacing Freddie. They chose Paul Rodgers; he's not a bad singer, but how would his gritty voice go with Queen's material? How yummy does a peanut butter and filet mignon sandwich seem to you? I haven't heard anything by Free, Bad Company, The Firm, The Law, or any other projects Rodgers may have been involved with, so I can't really judge him when he's in his element. But as a replacement for Freddie, he sucks. (Technically, he's not a replacement, as Queen just consists of May and Taylor now, and this album is credited to "Queen + Paul Rodgers." Why the plus sign? Why not "and" or "with"?)
The worst part is that they didn't have to defile the Queen name- they could easily have ditched it and formed a supergroup that wouldn't have had any baggage. You'd think that Rodgers might have suggested that to May and Taylor, since he's been in two supergroups. (Three, if you count The Law, a band that consisted of only him and Keith Moon replacement Kenney Jones. I don't.) But they didn't.
This double-live album should never have been released under the Queen name. Freddie was the heart and soul of the band, and his absence overshadows almost every track. There are a few performances I enjoyed, however; Brian May's vocals on "'39" and "Love of My Life" are very good (he only sang the studio version of the former) and Roger's vocal performance on "I'm in Love with My Car" is unpolished but appealing. Unfortunately, it's also very similar to the version on "Live Killers," so it's kind of redundant. Not surprisingly, none of the parts I liked featured Paul Rodgers at all; he doesn't exactly slum it, but he's just out of place on the Queen songs. I also felt that the Free and Bad Company songs that were included were just kinda dull. There's also a Roger-penned song, "Say It's Not True," which was written for an AIDS charity concert honoring Nelson Mandela, which is ironic, considering that Queen played at the infamous whites-only Sun City resort when South Africa was still under apartheid. (This was probably because of the obscene amounts of money offered them; others who performed there include well-known white supremacists Tina Turner and Ray Charles.)
Also, for some reason, they turned the first half of "Hammer to Fall" into a sorrowful ballad. But the most telling moment is "Bohemian Rhapsody," which barely features Rodgers at all; instead, the vocals are almost entirely a tape of Freddie, making the few parts that Rodgers sings stand out even more.
This album is just unnecessary. May and Taylor are lucky that Freddie was cremated, as per Zoroastrian custom, because if he'd been buried, he undoubtedly would've come back as a zombie and eaten their brains for this crap. Only for completists and die-hard Paul Rodgers fans (if they exist). At least they didn't try to record all-new material.

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