February 4th marked the 30th anniversary of rock band Queen’s final studio album: Innuendo. Queen was a four-piece band made up of lead singer Freddie Mercury, guitarist Brian May, drummer Roger Taylor, and bassist John Deacon. The band was known for fusing many different genres in its music, including progressive rock, pop, heavy metal, and soul. Queen is well known for classics such as “Bohemian Rhapsody” and “We Are the Champions” and is viewed as one of the greatest British rock bands in history. In just under an hour, Innuendo’s twelve tracks display all of Queen’s defining characteristics and each member’s respective abilities. Yet, this album is incredibly bittersweet, as it was released just nine months prior to Mercury’s passing due to AIDS in November 1991.
The album opens with its title track, a six and a half minute epic. The song begins with a brief militaristic-like drum pattern before May’s guitar enters with an otherworldly riff that repeats itself multiple times as the song progresses. Following this instrumental passage, Mercury enters the song with his unmistakable voice, almost operatic in tone because of the pure power he puts behind it. In “Innuendo,” Mercury sings about the destructive tendencies of the human race and ponders the meaning of life through three conviction-filled verses. Lines such as “while the waves crash in the sea” and “till the mountains crumble into the plain” illustrate this brilliantly, as Mercury is thinking out loud in the way he tries to figure out if such monotonous and natural processes have any sort of meaning, or if they are just hallmarks of the futility of life. He continues by pointing out the different ways humans have divided themselves and caused destruction throughout time in the name of greed and belief. Yet, his tone is somewhat optimistic in the choruses dividing the verses, where he sings “we’ll keep on trying,” making this song one of resilience in the face of struggle. The title of this song is mentioned in the bridge, where Mercury sings lightly, “don’t take offense at my innuendo.” His usage of the word innuendo is unique in the sense that he is using it as a description of his lyrics, lyrics that are incredibly cynical and negative towards humanity. The word innuendo refers to a phrase that alludes to a callous or disparaging action or idea, and Mercury uses its meaning to demonstrate that his words are simply alluding to the blunt idea that humanity has caused pain and destruction throughout its existence. As soon as the song’s structure begins to feel consistent, a decrescendo leads into a flamenco guitar solo. Flamenco is a Spanish genre of music that is built around a folk and dance style and is performed at a quick tempo with many consecutive notes. Mercury follows this solo with a second bridge in which he sings about feeling free in your identity, offering an optimistic contrast to the rest of the song. I find it amazing the way Mercury approaches this song tone-wise, as he alternates between pessimism to optimism in each passing section. The song then enters a power ballad section where May rips out a heavy and emotion-filled solo which encapsulates the song’s meaning and purpose perfectly. The song closes with Mercury continuing to question life’s meaning before ending with the phrase “till the end of time,” which is fitting, ending with a triumphant tone that looks forward to the future’s possibilities. This song reminds me of “Bohemian Rhapsody” in its ambiguous meaning and usage of multiple styles of music, and I would argue that this song is on par with “Bohemian Rhapsody.”
2) “I’m Going Slightly Mad”
The album follows up “Innuendo” with “I’m Going Slightly Mad.” This song gives off Halloween-like vibes with the ominous synth intro and Mercury’s use of his lower register. Despite the playful and aloof sound, the song describes Mercury’s real-life sanity, which was slowly deteriorating due to AIDS. The random nature of the lyrics makes the song feel almost psychedelic through its vivid imagery. Even the slide guitar solo sounds eccentric, with a muddy and disoriented sound that sounds intentionally imperfect, playing on the theme of insanity and loss of grip on reality. The music video for this song is equally uncanny, as it is filmed in black and white (similar to “These Are The Days of Our Lives”) and shows Mercury and his group mates dressed in incredibly unsettling attire. Mercury is incredibly noticeable with his unkempt hair and extremely thick makeup, appearing almost like a vampire. This song definitely drew inspiration from the psychedelic rock movement of the 60s, yet found a unique foothold to make the genre their own through this song. Overall, this song is enjoyable to me because of the unsettling spirit it brings alongside it and the ironically flippant way the song is performed.
The third track of the album is one that uses a much heavier sound than the previous two songs, and can be classified under the genre of hard rock. “Headlong” makes use of Mercury’s rugged vocals to create an incredibly gritty piece of music. May’s guitar, using a distortion effect, adds to the overall muddy tone of the song. His guitar solo is brilliant, as it does what all good guitar solos do, that being combining technique with feel in a very seamless fashion. Lyrically, this song is somewhat simplistic in nature, with Mercury singing about talking to an incredibly rash and headstrong individual. In a way, this song’s lyrics are similar to “We Will Rock You” when it comes to theme and meaning. The highlights of this song are definitely May’s sizzling guitar and Mercury’s incredibly addicting melody.
4) “I Can’t Live With You”
“I Can’t Live With You” opens with a guitar intro that makes the song appear like a continuation of “Headlong,” yet the song sets itself apart from its precursor by having lyrics that resemble a ballad. The repeated refrain “I can’t live with you, but I can’t live without you” reminds me of countless other cheesy love songs, but Mercury makes it work with his overdubbed vocals and his call and response technique in the verses. It is a power ballad, and although the melody is incredibly well-constructed and a solid earworm, it feels rather hollow compared to the rest of the album.
5) “Don’t Try So Hard”
The fifth track of Innuendo contains one of my favorite vocal performances from Mercury’s entire career. The song, which opens with an ethereal intro similar to “I’m Going Slightly Mad,” has Mercury put his upper register on full display from the first note he sings. He sings with his head voice in a soft and angelic fashion during the verses while increasing the intensity in the choruses, making use of his incredible tenor register. The song’s lyrics are about not working too much and resisting burnout, which I definitely relate to. May also plays an incredibly poignant guitar solo before Mercury closes the song out with his emotional words. This song is an underrated masterpiece, with beautiful vocals and powerful lyrics.
6) “Ride The Wild Wind”
The next track is an upbeat track that is once again saved by Mercury’s vocals. The tone of the song makes it sound like a Western tale, with Taylor’s fast-paced drum cadence and May’s wailing guitar. Yet, to me, the song is somewhat lacking when it comes to musical creativity, as it simply doesn’t have any real redeeming qualities other than Mercury, and Mercury is usually the bright spot in all of Queen’s songs. This song is an okay track, but I wouldn’t go out of my way to listen to it.
7) “All God’s People”
“All God’s People” opens with a bang, with a complex harmonic introduction which sees Mercury performing a three-part harmony. The song immediately catches the listener’s attention with this abrupt opening, and it sets the stage for the rest of the song. The song reminds me of “Somebody to Love” with its call and response style, with Mercury switching from only singing melody to flowing right back in with the harmony in a very smooth and elegant fashion. The synth progression around the two minute and thirty-second mark is beautifully constructed, and it sets up the explosive conclusion. May’s guitar is present but not overpowering, and Mercury’s vocals are smooth but not without emotion. My only complaint is that with around thirty seconds left in the song, the song suddenly trails off. My ears anticipate a loud and powerful ending, but it is simply a fade-out. Despite this, the beauty of this song is in its creativity, and it is truly a beautifully written piece.
8) “These Are The Days Of Our Lives”
From the opening drum pattern, it is obvious to the listener that “These Are the Days of Our Lives” will be a much more emotional and heavy song than the rest of the album. The lyrics, imbued in regret and sadness, are masterfully written and performed with a delicate beauty by Mercury. The whole band comes together in this song, creating a surreal sound that sounds otherworldly. This song also resonates on a deep level because of the subject matter, as the song is sung from the perspective of an individual who is saddened when looking at the past with feelings of longing. It is goosebump-inducing to hear Mercury sing this knowing his fate was set in stone at that point, yet still have a lightness to his voice. The music video, which was filmed in black and white, shows Mercury in his frail state, with pale skin and a sunken expression. Despite this, like the song, Mercury faces the present, choosing to live life instead of looking back with regret. This song is a masterpiece and is genuinely written with heart and soul.
To follow the mournful and melancholic nature of the previous track, Queen follows up with a light love ballad in “Delilah.” It intrigues me that Queen chose to follow up such a heavy track with an upbeat love song, but I think the intention was to keep the listener on their toes. To be completely honest, Delilah is definitely one of the weaker tracks on this album, but is still a simple and wholesome track about love. May’s guitar solo is somewhat out-of-place in this song, but it is still phenomenal per usual. This is a fun song, but not much more.
10) “The Hitman”
Queen must have really loved “Headlong,” as “The Hitman” echoes the atmosphere and tone of the previous track. Heavy guitar, aggressive vocals, and accented drum cadences are all present in this song, and it works in the realm of hard rock very well. May adds onto his guitar virtuosity with two more brilliantly played solos. Although Mercury gives an impassioned effort, this song falls kind of flat for me for the same reason as “Ride The Wild Wind,” that being the lack of musical creativity or ingenuity. Yet, it is still a quality rock track and I can definitely see myself listening to it in my free time.
It is ironic that following a “creatively dry” track, Queen created a track unique from the entire album. With an opening that sounds straight out of a video game OST, “Bijou” is an anomaly. While songs traditionally tend to open with lyrics sung by a vocalist, “Bijou” inverts this. With instrumental passages during the verses and Mercury’s vocals in the bridge or refrain section, the song sounds incredibly abnormal and unorthodox. Yet, I enjoy “Bijou” because of these reasons. It might not be the most flashy or iconic song, yet its simple creativity along with its beautiful melody is why I adore this track.
12) “The Show Must Go On”
For a band as monumental and influential as Queen, it is truly astounding that it was able to close its final album with arguably the most emotional track created by the band. The song opens with an epic synth intro that sets the tone of finality and triumph brilliantly. Mercury enters with his charismatic voice and the song builds to the climax, the chorus. When Mercury sings “The show must go on,” it sends goosebumps throughout my body every time. The resounding authority and confidence in which he sings this phrase while on death’s doorstep is unbelievably touching to me. The song continues with Mercury giving his all to the craft he held so dear to him, and the song enters the bridge section. While the song had a sense of urgency up to that point, the bridge brings a brief respite where Mercury sings about his legacy in an upbeat manner, bringing a pause to the gloomy tone in the verses. Following the bridge, Mercury’s last notes are filled to the brim with raw emotion and catharsis. When he ends the song with the sustained note on the world “show,” it becomes clear that above all else, Freddie Mercury lived his life as a performer. What I find utterly brilliant is the thirty-second silence following Mercury’s last note. At face value, it appears that this may have been a production error or serves no real purpose. Yet, I interpret this silence as a time to truly reflect on what the listener just witnessed, a man holding back no punches and giving his life to the art of music. This technique has also been used in other album closers, such as “The End” by the Beatles on Abbey Road. The silence on “The End” served a similar purpose, to allow the listener to recognize the end of a saga. Whenever I hear the silence after the last note, I realize how quiet it suddenly gets, and I begin to think about Mercury’s legacy. Even after death, his music grips the hearts of millions. This song is unbelievably powerful and it is one of the best vocal performances I have ever heard in my entire life.
Despite having some average tracks scattered throughout its tracklist, Queen’s Innuendo is a raw, impactful piece of art that cemented Queen’s legacy through the individual valiant performances. Mercury’s contribution resonates on an even deeper level knowing of his frail state and his imminent passing at the time of recording. With two of the best Queen songs opening and closing the album, Queen closed the door to its saga. Yet, it did not do so in a hasty and forgettable fashion, instead adding to their vast catalog more instantly recognizable hits with their final studio album. There is a touch of urgency in this album but a sense of acceptance and determination at the same time and this album touches me deeply because of this. The heart present in the album is unparalleled by most and the project’s most redeeming quality is its fearlessness to go outside the box, which separated Queen from the rest of its peers. Thanks for reading my review of Innuendo and I strongly recommend a listen to this masterpiece.
Link to the album (Spotify):
Link to the album (Youtube):