One Track Mind: Queen + Paul Rodgers, "Say It’s Not True" (2007)

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It’s been four years since Queen + Paul Rodgers issued this song in honor of World AIDS Day on Nov. 30, 2007. Time to put aside the problems many have had with Queen carrying on, and focus on the track itself.

“Say It’s Not True” originally appeared on the group’s 2005 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. Otherwise, it’s a very typical charity song: The lyrics were a bit trite and obvious; the melody was also a bit simplistic. It felt like something we’d heard a million times before.

Yet, while there were no real surprises in store, it managed to invoke some of the magic of Queen: It builds at just the right moment into a glorious power ballad. 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.

[SOMETHING ELSE! REWIND: The latest post-Mercury collaboration from Queen’s Brian May is this mind-bending improvisational jam with space-rock pioneers Tangerine Dream.]

But was 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?

Initially, I found distaste in Queen + Paul Rodgers 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 the live performance. Then 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 … OK, + Paul Rodgers.

It was hard to dismiss the outpouring of love and the warmth with which the fans welcomed Rodgers, the former lead singer of Free and Bad Company. 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 out. It was a celebration, and while this new song was written with the intent to be a message about AIDS, its music, to me, was also a celebration of all the things Queen has been — big and bombastic, but so full of beauty.

Sure, it’s still not the most complex song, and 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.

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