One of the great things about Queen is also a major flaw of the band: they were a songwriting democracy and that led to both a greater diversity of sound and a lack of consistency.
That’s partly because Roger Taylor is not a great songwriter. There might be one or two good or great Roger Taylor songs in the catalogue but I don’t know any of the top of my head. And though both Deacon and May have written some great songs over the years but they are not that consistent. Really Mercury is their most consistent songwriter (to the best of my knowledge) and he’s nothing close to a great songwriter. (He’s just usually good and he’s almost always better than at least two of his bandmates.)
And then there’s another issue with the democracy: despite possessing perhaps the greatest frontman in the history of rock music, the two original members of Queen still insist on singing lead on at least some of their songs.
It’s great for Mercury as a person that he was so willing to defer and so willing to step aside for his bandmates. Without knowing enough about him personally, it certainly seems like he was willing to compromise for another’s song.
But, for the listener, it basically always results in an uneven experience, whether because Mercury isn’t there enough to elevate the song or because Mercury is stuck singing a song that’s just not that great.
This is true of all Queen albums I’ve heard (unless you count Best of compilations) and it’s true for this record. The songs you know already are the best songs here. Mercury wrote two of them, Deacon and May one each. The rest of the album, split between the band members, is a lot less compelling from a songwriting standpoint. And I wonder if Mercury could have done more with the songs he doesn’t sing lead on if only he were allowed to.
It is a bit of a left turn from them, and it’s nice to see. The band’s always been a bit diverse but here they really step outside their comfort zone and it mostly works. Even when Queen’s songs aren’t all up to snuff – which is all time time, let’s be frank – they remain capable of pulling off any genre they want whenever they want. And this album is just more proof of it.
They could do anything. Just imagine if they had a great songwriter.