CD Review of The Cosmos Rocks by Queen + Paul Rodgers
Recommended if you like
Bad Company, Free, The Firm
Label
Hollywood
Queen + Paul Rodgers:
The Cosmos Rocks

Reviewed by Jeff Giles

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B
efore we get into the nuts and bolts of this album’s contents, let’s get one thing out of the way: Brian May and Roger Taylor have every right to go on tour and play their old hits, and to hire whomever they choose to take over vocal duties for Freddie Mercury. Whatever terrible things you read in this review don’t come from the belief that May and Taylor should have packed it in when Mercury died; his death wasn’t their fault, and they sweated over those songs as much as he did, so if they’re having fun flogging Queen’s back catalog, more power to them.

And how about Paul Rodgers? Hiring the former Bad Company vocalist to sing for them was probably one of the ballsier choices to be made by a greybeard rock act since INXS auditioned for Michael Hutchence’s replacement on TV. By going the meat-‘n’-potatoes-blues-shouter route, May and Taylor ensured that whatever they did in their second incarnation, it couldn’t be accused of trying to imitate Mercury’s distinctive sound. It was, in effect, a new band.

So why is this album credited to Queen + Paul Rodgers?

Yes, May and Taylor were half of Queen, and they clearly have a legal stake in the name. But if Mick Jagger’s lips exploded tomorrow, and Charlie Watts and Keith Richards cut an album with Bonnie Raitt, wouldn’t it be an act of colossal disingenuousness to call the band the Rolling Stones + Bonnie Raitt? May and Taylor certainly shouldn’t need any money – and anyway, their union with Rodgers probably would have attracted attention no matter what they called it – so it’s hard to understand the reasoning behind “Queen plus.”

Especially when you listen to The Cosmos Rocks.

Truth be told, the prospect of a Rodgers-fronted “Queen” record – especially one with a title as silly as this one – has had a lot of critics morbidly intrigued for some time, and it bears saying that, at least in terms of sheer competence, The Cosmos Rocks isn’t quite the unintentionally hilarious train wreck it could have been; there’s too much sheer talent in this trio for anything truly awful to happen. The flip side of the coin, however, is that this album sounds almost nothing like Queen; the songs are colored heavily by Rodgers’ old-school British blues, both lyrically and vocally, and the end result is basically a middling Bad Company record.

Queen apologists might argue that a band’s musical identity is supposed to be fluid, and that the group has made a daring leap with The Cosmos Rocks. Fine, fair enough – but by slapping the Queen brand on the album, they’ve placed it squarely in the context of the band’s earlier work, and it doesn’t really have any business being there. Where Queen was known for endless layers of larger-than-life sound, and a fair amount of brazen experimentation, Queen + Paul Rodgers is your garden-variety MOR rock band: Leather-lunged singer, hot-shit guitarist, lots of big choruses. Rinse, repeat.

This wouldn’t be such a big problem in and of itself if the songs the band wrote for The Cosmos Rocks weren’t so…well, so stupid, really. Within seconds of hitting “play,” you’re treated to the sound of Rodgers telling you to sock it to him, and yelling some crap about the cosmos rocking with the mighty power of rock ‘n’ roll. It’s the kind of line that probably would have provoked an open-mouthed fist-pump at a Bad Company concert in the ‘80s, and hearing it might trigger nostalgia in listeners who lived through the hair metal era – but it’s bone stupid, and it unfortunately reflects the overall tone of the album as a whole. Rodgers actually sings about loving a butterfly at one point.

The music is better, in a slick, antiquated ‘80s rock way, but part of the joy of Queen was always the way they balanced the humor of the obvious with the pleasure of the unexpected; where the earlier albums had hundreds of moving parts, The Cosmos Rocks is more like a block of wood wrapped in a denim jacket. In “Warboys,” for instance, the band takes care to insert a bunch of battlefield sound effects – planes, gunfire, explosions – just in case you weren’t sure what the song was about. One song, hand to God, is actually called “Surf’s Up…School’s Out,” and it really does contain several shouts of “yeah!” that sound like the work of a Roger Daltrey impersonator with a bad cold. So on and so forth. You get the idea.

Ultimately, this collection adds nothing to Queen’s legacy, other than giving the band another in a long line of albums that were critically slagged upon their release. This time out, though, there seems to be very little chance of a reappraisal; this will go down as an odd, somewhat offensive postscript to the band’s story.

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