Freddie Mercury, “Never Boring” Box Set
With Rami Malik’s Oscar-winning portrayal of Queen’s frontman in Bohemian Rhapsody, the cement has dried on a PG-13–rated version of Freddie Mercury as a man and musical entity. Along with the inevitable downplaying of Mercury being a gay man with sexual appetites, Mercury’s solo exploits were seen, in that film, to be a declaration of war against his band. In reality, this could not have been further from the truth; all of Queen, by the time of Mercury’s lone solo record in 1985, were up for a break, not a break-up.
As for Mercury’s music being an all-disco affair filled with Giorgio Moroder flourishes, as also portrayed in Bohemian Rhapsody…wrong again. Opera and flamenco (both in collaboration with his Barcelona partner, opera singer Montserrat Caballé), echo-filled covers (“The Great Pretender”), and grand, theatrical pop escapades such as “Time Waits for No One” were each showcases for the diversity of Mercury’s solo ideals, all of which appear as part of the sparkling Never Boring box set. While the original albums sounded surprisingly grey, Never Boring‘s curation of Mercury’s solo output is hotly in-the-red, remixed and boldly remastered.
While 1985’s Mr. Bad Guy starts off with Mercury in an opulently nostalgic disco mood on “I Was Born to Love You,” the silvery synthesizer-filled rawk of “Let’s Turn It On” and the Latin-tinged pop of “Your Kind of Lover” are anything but reminiscent. Instead, they feel fresh and vibrant, allowing Mercury as much of a chance to sing conversationally as wail to the rafters. While the sparsely dramatic “Made in Heaven” shows off Mercury’s talents as a pianist and a moody, melancholy vocalist beyond the gihugic keen of Queen, fans of “Bohemian Rhapsody”–style complexity will applaud the Queen-ly chorales of “Man Made Paradise” as loudly as they would any night at the opera.
Like a telenovela set to Bizet’s Carmen, Mercury and Montserrat Caballe tackle the popera of Barcelona with classical, catty esprit. There is beauty to be found in everything here, from the vaguely Eastern-sounding “La Japonaise” to the stately “Ensueño” and the gospel-ish “The Golden Boy.” Truly an experiment, and as far from Queen or rock as Mercury could go, the singer proves how far he’d developed from “Hammer to Fall” and “Fat Bottomed Girls” without eschewing metal grind or campiness.
Never Boring is never perfect, and not every track sticks to your melodic memory bank. But its intention is clear and its aesthetics are wild: Freddie Mercury was as inventive a solo artist as he was a member of Queen—just a little more operatic and a lot more playful.