March 27, 1996
Queen, Made in Heaven (Hollywood Records 1995) - Before Freddie Mercury's death in November 1991, Queen spent many hours in the studio laying down tracks for posthumous release. For their 20th album, Queen has released a personal, comfortable album that will reward the band's loyal fans.
And those fans were many (including me). Queen enjoyed an extraordinary run of success before its final US tour in 1982, and sold more than 130 million albums worldwide.
Many have wondered why Queen fell out of stateside favor in the early 80s. The short answer is that Queen's aura of excess didn't translate into the Me Decade. (And Freddie's poorly-timed decision to sport a Village People look starting with 1979's The Game didn't help matters.)
Although he hid his illness from the public, Freddie knew death was coming, which led to a final period of creativity. Unlike the band's last release, Innuendo (1992), which contained darkly introspective cuts such as "I'm Going Slightly Mad" (a very difficult song to listen to), Made in Heaven is more accepting of Freddie's fate.
For example, on "Heaven for Everyone," Freddie sings honestly of "these days of cool reflection." Similarly, on "Too Much Love Will Kill You," Freddie says he is "Just the pieces of the man I used to be/Too many bitter tears are raining down on me/I'm far away from home/And I've been facing this alone/For much too long." With the album's lush production, the mood isn't bitter or angry; rather, it's comforting and accepting.
Recorded at the band's studio in Montreaux, Switzerland (where Freddie also maintained a home), Made in Heaven has the signature Queen sound -- spacious recording, with richly-layered vocals and guitars. Unlike some posthumous albums, where it's evident that the band recorded instrumental tracks without guidance from the singer, Made in Heaven has a coherent feel.
Although Queen had a roller coaster history, albums like Sheer Heart Attack (1973) have secured the band's place in the hearts of rock fans. Queen may be gone, but Made in Heaven, a ballad-oriented disc, will help preserve the band's reputation.
Lou Reed, Set the Twilight Reeling (Warner Bros. 1996) - I don't understand why Lou Reed doesn't get more credit. Everybody thinks Neil Young is a rock god. And I like Neil Young too.
But no one elevates Lou Reed to the same stature, despite his legendary songs and guitarwork. Perhaps the reason is Lou's renowned surliness: Lou's said to be a world-class asshole.
But none of that matters on Set the Twilight Reeling. The 11 tracks on this disc are classic Lou Reed: three-chord manifestos dealing with the power of love, 1400cc V-twin anger, and compassion for the condition of his fellow man.
Reed's capable of recording a perfect three-man rock album, and he comes close on Set the Twilight Reeling, which features Reed on all vocals and guitars, Fernando Saunders on fretted and fretless electric bass, and Tony "Thunder" Smith on drums.
On Set the Twilight Reeling, Reed explores himself in "Set the Twilight Reeling" ("I accept the newfound man and set the twilight reeling/As the twilight sunburst gleams"), as well as his big-city roots on "NYC Man."
While the semi-silly "Egg Cream" may not be Reed's strongest effort, he more than makes up for it in the turbocharged "Hang on to Your Emotions," followed by a great live recording of "Sex With Your Parents" (a slam on right-wing Republicanism).
Set the Twilight Reeling is more uplifting than the emotionally-charged Magic and Loss (1991), on which Reed explored his feelings following a friend's cancer-caused death. I can't listen to Magic and Loss (which some say is a classic); it's just too introspective and challenging for me. [Although it has one great song, "What's Good (Life's Good)."]
Reed's dabblings in the visual arts are also evident on the album. The liner notes are presented in a refreshing and visually-engaging fashion; it's a shame that they're reduced to the five-inch format required for CD release. If this set was released on LP format, the liner notes would be hailed as classics of the genre.
Reed doesn't mess around in the studio, and that strengthens Set the Twilight Reeling. Says Reed, "Due to increased dynamic range, raise volume above average. PLAY IT LOUD."
And that's what rock 'n roll is all about. This is prototypical three-man rock, recorded and designed to be played back on a stereo. If you like your rock earthy, real, and guitar-drenched, then Set the Twilight Reeling is the album for you.
Short Notes -- Twisted Willie (Justice Records 1996) is a collection of Willie Nelson songs performed by such alternative-oriented acts as L7, Supersuckers, and Steel Pole Bath Tub. While I generally prefer Willie's original recordings, highlights include "Hello Walls" by The Reverend Horton Heat.
Nick Cave returns to form on Murder Ballads (Reprise 1996). If you like your rock moody and twisted (maybe even a little sick at times), then Nick's your man. And Murder Ballads (yes, all of the songs are about killing people), which features guest appearances from Kylie Minogue and PJ Harvey, won't disappoint fans.
Finally, Don Larson & Quicksilver have released There's A Light Guiding Me (Sugar Hill 1996), a gentle and unpretentious gospel collection that's recorded in a blue-grass mode. Even if religious music isn't your bag, there's something charming about this set (which Gail says reminds her of a barber-shop quartet).
-- Randy Krbechek
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