In 1991, Queen were on album number fourteen. It featured “Innuendo”, “I’m Going Slightly Mad”, “Headlong”, “I Can’t Live Without You”, “These Are The Days Of Our Lives”, “The Show Must Go On”, “Ride The Wild Wind” and “Delilah” as singles, and propelled a most epic of conclusions to the career of one of the greatest rock bands in music’s entire history.
It was the last album to be released with Freddie Mercury still living and also their last to be comprised entirely of new material. Innuendo was recorded from March 1989 to November 1990 and was intended for Christmas release later that year, though release was postponed until February the following year. This was most likely down to Mercury secretly being diagnosed with AIDS in spring 1987.
It reached the number-one spot on the UK album charts and stayed at that position for two weeks, and also peaked at number-one in Italy, the Netherlands, Germany and Switzerland. It was the first Queen album to go gold in the US upon its release, since The Works in 1984.
Innuendo will be twenty six years old as of Sunday, February 5, and it’s aged better than a lot of material from that particular era. The album cover was designed by Queen and Richard Gray. Given the fact that the giant clown on the cover is standing amidst numerous globes of the Earth, you’d maybe reason that what he’s juggling are maybe planets of the solar system rather than mere juggling balls. Is this act of juggling an innuendo for orbiting planets?
Innuendo was declared ninety-fourth greatest album of all time in a national 2006 BBC poll.
Title track, “Innuendo”, is an apt way to start things. It opens with a drum roll. Grave keyboard and the ominous ring of the bass suggests, heralds, crushing lead guitar lines. “…and the desert has sand/While the waves crash in the sea and meet the land” very much suits the Egyptian sounding backdrop.
“While we live according to race, colour or creed/While we rule by blind madness and pure greed”, with the impassioned plea in the chorus to “keep on trying”, indicates a desire to move on, the human race as a whole. It then strips back, acoustic and sedate before building, again. This time, though, with a more Spanish flavour, a joy to listen to and celebrating life.
It then gets a tad classical, subsequent twin lead guitar tracking beautifully. The seamless transition from that back to the Egyptian feel is an expert one. “We’ll just keep on trying/Till the end of time” the song’s suitable, lyrical conclusion.
Mercury’s says “I’m Going Slightly Mad” next. It’s eerie, chugging industrial as if, perhaps, to convey a certain soullessness. “…I’m not quite the shilling…I’m coming down with a fever” seems to indicate, perhaps, that, contrary to public perception, Mercury was very ill at the time. The guitar solo’s suitably despondent, and a bit quirky, too. The word quirky, indeed, just about sums up the whole thing.
You then go in “Headlong”; and it sounds like it, too. This one’s a bit more upbeat. Very, actually. It chugs with a hard rock fervour. Tunefully done, though, of course. The “whoop whoop” during the verse indicating this. The guitar’s certainly quite gnarly, especially for the first solo.
Very empowering, that low, driving bass making the main verse riff emphatically moody. A late key change explores new parameters. Rocking guitar, flourishes of drum and “headlong!” finish it out.
They tell the audience “I Can’t Live With You”, imploring them to keep listening. It’s quite a sparse one, grooving intermittently. “…all I know is I can’t live with you” seems to point to the intoxicating environment of toxic friendships and relationships.
Majestic lead guitar lines weave their magic, “Through the madness through the tears/We’ve still got eachother for a million years”. It seems to turn into a track celebrating the thick smog of passionate love, rather than decrying it.
You’re told “Don’t Try So Hard”, which’s an impassioned plea, with the tempo of a ballad, one with some expert falsetto. It builds hopeful, with some triumphant, very Queen, lead guitar moments. Then it turns tragic, again. As if art imitating life, the trials and tribulations of reality. Mercury really puts across his identity in this one.
The untamed and free “Ride The Wild Wind” has a massive drum sound, perfectly imitating flying on the seat of your pants in an expensive and fast sports car. The beat’s so intense you half wonder if such high octane tempos can be maintained without falling off and dying.
“Ride the wild wind, don’t sit on the fence…razor’s edge” indeed encapsulating that dangerous feel. Fatalistic, tragic lead guitar reinforces this further. Busy moody bass takes things down a notch, briefly, before resuming normal, hectic service.
“All God’s People” features signature Queen, very full, vocal harmony. Calling forth the Creator’s name, it’s a suitably celebratory track, perhaps a tad ironic given Mercury’s impending fate. He certainly, rich in vibrato, seems to indicate, despite all going on, that he’s in fine fettle. It has a moody swing to it. “Rule with your heart, and live with your conscience” very grand and regal, but most of all loving.
Touching ballad, “These Are The Days Of Our Lives”, could, arguably, be called one of the album’s highlights. Maybe the utmost. It’s thick, moody and brooding ballad credentials are served well with Mercury baring his soul. Probably an emotional one to record, given the circumstances at the time.
The support of wailing, emotional lead lines making the feel extra emphatic. The solo more so. Is May crying, the guitar an extension of himself and his emotions? “When I look and I find, I still love you…I still love you”, with that last whisper’s very candid.
Dedicated to Freddie’s cat, “Delilah” is a tad more light hearted. Lines like, “You make me so happy/When you cuddle up, beside me”. There’s even comedy in “pee all over my Chippendale suite”. This furthered with the talkbox effect, laden in May’s guitar lines, suitably meowing like Freddie’s cat. The soundscape’s generally light and fluffy, floating to some sort of feline ethereal.
There’s shooting to kill in “The Hitman”, which’s a hard hitting hard rocker. It’s resplendent in its more restrained moments. All hell for leather elsewhere, though. It swells with ecstasy, then “make my day, gonna blow you away” stops joy in its tracks. Is this the joy of being in pursuit of your next hit, unfulfilled when you blow their brains out? That grooving riff generally, honestly, only a hair’s breadth away from heavy metal.
“Bijou” seems like an extended guitar workout. Very sad, very emotive. Very Gary Moore, even. Just with a classical bent, that’s all. Intermittent keyboard rings in and out, then Freddie’s vocals dance over the top of it all. The track ends as it began, with that guitar. Nothing more, nothing less. The fadeout traipsing between intense and sedate.
Showstopper, “The Show Must Go On”, with its stabbing keyboard and general drama is an absolute joy to listen to. The key change for “whatever happened” carrying off something between triumphalism, desolation and resignation. May’s guitar rings with tragedy, then Mercury cuts in and heralds a middle section of absolute beauty:
“My soul is painted like the wings of butterflies/Fairy tales of yesterday, grow but never die/I can fly”. Flying to the afterlife? Then, like life, another punch to the solar plexus and all hope is, again, lost. Despite loss, service must resume. “The Show Must Go On”. The chorus vocal is put on loop, the dying embers of Mercury’s life.
Rewind to “Innuendo”, “I’m Going Slightly Mad”, “Headlong”, “These Are The Days Of Our Lives”, “The Hitman” and “The Show Must Go On” if you want to capture the essence of this seminal album.
Queen, after having been through the heady days of the Eighties, like success brought forth through exposure on Live Aid, really came into the Nineties with deserved swagger in this effort. They had an ear to not sound dated in times of a burgeoning, for instance, grunge scene, yet stayed faithful to what they’d already established since the Seventies. Queen’s Innuendo can be bought on iTunes here.
Words by Andrew Watson