No, not “say it’s not true” about Queen + Paul Rodgers, but a new song from the trio called “Say It’s Not True” available today only for free at their site to commemorate Nelson Mandela’s 46664 HIV AIDS global campaign. This originally appeared on the group’s live album, Return of the Champions, in a more stripped down, “acoustic” form sung by Roger Taylor. This version, however, is a much more embellished studio recording with Brian May and Paul Rodgers contributing significantly.
Let’s put aside the problems many have with Queen carrying on. It’s a done deal – Queen has suffixed their name with Paul Rodgers and is recording a new album, supposedly due out in 2008, and based on the live album put out a couple years ago, and which I finally just gave in and bought, if Rodgers can lend that kind of vocal talent and May and Taylor can keep up typical Queen quality, it could be fantastic.
But what about this song? Well . . . I don’t know. It’s a very typical charity song – the lyrics are a bit trite and obvious, the melody is also a bit simplistic. It feels like something we’ve heard a million times before. No real surprises are in store here and yet it manages to invoke some of the magic of Queen – it builds at just the right moment into a glorious power ballad when Rodgers comes with that voice to take it through to the end and May comes with that guitar to carry it over the top. It’s hard to fault these guys – they just sound so damned earnest. I guess that’s why I’ve just listened to this “trite,” “obvious,” “simplistic” song three freakin’ times in a row. It takes the short acoustic number Roger played in concert and shoots it into the stratosphere – simplistic and trite or not. It just works in grand Queen fashion.
But is it Queen? Is it just Taylor/May/Rodgers? Ask yourself this: does it really matter? Does the name really mean anything? Isn’t it the music that means the most? I found distaste in Queen + Paul Rodgers a few years ago solely because of the concept – I didn’t listen to anything, I ignored reports of the shows. And then I realized that I was balking at a concept, not actual music, which is something that goes against everything I stand for about music. And so I listened to clips on Amazon – why bother investing if perhaps my fears were true? – and what I heard sounded good. Return of the Champions soon found itself in my hands and ears and I fell for it. I put aside my misgivings, forgot who I was listening to, and just enjoyed. Not just that, but I heard something else – I heard England proclaiming its love for one of their great bands, and at that, I came back around again and embraced this again as Queen . . . okay, + Paul Rodgers.
It’s hard to dismiss the outpouring of love and the warmth with which the fans welcomed Rodgers. Freddie may be long gone, but his spirit was alive and well in the music the band was playing, and the audience’s enthusiastic reaction bore that. It was a celebration, and while this new song here was written with the intent to be a message about AIDS, its music, to me, is also a celebration of all the things Queen has been – big and bombastic, but so full of beauty. Sure, it’s not the most complex song, it does nothing we haven’t heard before, but it hits all of the Queen hallmarks that have grabbed most of us over the years. Does Queen still have to prove anything to us anymore, other than that they are still Queen? They’ve proven that to me already.