That whirring sound you hear just may be Freddie Mercury spinning in his grave. It’s not just that Queen has gone on without him, something once thought impossible. Or that Sacha Baron Cohen — yes, Borat — has been mentioned as a possible star in a proposed Mercury biopic. Now, there’s this: The remaining members of Queen will use a Tupac-style optical illusion to reanimate Mercury as part of a gala 10th anniversary performance of the “We Will Rock You” musical on May 14, 2012.
The proposed documentary film, first mentioned in 2010, was to have been produced in part by the three remaining members of Queen — Brian May, John Deacon, and Roger Taylor — and would focus on the group’s early years, leading up to their signature appearance in 1985 as part of Live Aid.
Queen is currently playing a series of select concert dates with replacement singer Adam Lambert, the former American Idol finalist who has earlier appeared with the band in the Idol finale and at the EVMAs. Since Mercury died in November 1991 from complications related to AIDS, Queen has also appeared with George Michael of Wham (1992), Paul Rodgers of Bad Company (2005-09) and, at the Prince’s Trust Rock Gala in 2010, with Tom Chaplin of the band Keane. Queen released the 2008 studio effort The Cosmos Rocks with Rodgers, as well as three live albums.
[SOMETHING ELSE! FEATURED ARTIST: We dig into Queen favorites like "Under Pressure," "Spread Your Wings" and "Stone Cold Crazy," then return for spins of "You're My Best Friend," "Ogre Battle" and "Flash".]
Now, May has announced that the group will make use of technology similar to that employed to bring the late rapper Tupac Shakur back to life at this year’s Coachella festival, in the hopes of giving theatergoers a long-awaited reunion with Mercury — one of rock’s most dynamic frontmen. “People will come out saying: ‘Did we actually see Freddie?’” May said, in an interview with the BBC.
May took pains to stress that the optical illusion used to portray Mercury was in development before the Coachella festival event, and that the technology is different: “It’s a little unfortunate they did that thing with Tupac,” May said, “as we’ve been trying to make Freddie appear on the stage for quite a while.”
Lambert has said he doesn’t see himself as a replacement for Mercury. Queen also billed the earlier collaboration with Bad Company’s former leader as “Queen + Paul Rodgers,” underscoring the idea that he was a guest singer — not a permanent stand in.
“It’s just different. Nothing is gonna beat the original. No one’s ever going to be better than Freddie Mercury — never,” Lambert said. “But I don’t think that’s the point. I don’t think it’s a competition. It’s about music and it’s about making people feel something. It’s not about beating out the original.”
Here’s a look back at our recent thoughts on Queen. Click through the titles for complete reviews …
QUEEN – DAYS OF OUR LIVES DVD (2012): As this sprawling new documentary makes clear, Queen knew — and from the very beginning — that they were on to something. That it took everyone else so long to notice only seemed to spark them to greater heights of genre-jumping, expectation-confounding genius. Because of the way that they had built their own legacy, Queen didn’t have a working template to get trapped in. “They were very opened minded, Queen audiences,” May adds. “We never felt constrained.”
ONE TRACK MIND: TANGERINE DREAM WITH BRIAN MAY, “STAR SOUNDS” (2011): You suspected, just from listening to his wildly inventive work with Queen, that there was little guitarist Brian May couldn’t do. This live collaboration with space-music pioneer Edgar Froese’s Tangerine Dream confirms it. Sure, May has a well-known interest in the cosmos and its exploration, having earned a doctorate degree in astrophysics. But, for all of the many styles that May has excelled at over the years, for all of the times he’s played completely in service of the song — showing such great flamboyance, then such sharp-edged restraint — I still didn’t know what to expect once that famously bushy mane was dropped in amidst this kind of long-form, open-ended improvisational music. We will, we will … space you?
ONE TRACK MIND: QUEEN + PAUL RODGERS, “SAY IT’S NOT TRUE” (2007): “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.