For years, Brian had toyed with the idea of recording a solo album, but finally got around to it during a period when the future of Queen was very much in question. Though he had recorded a series of demos that he deemed unsuitable for Queen throughout the early 1980s (namely The Dark, recorded during sessions for Flash Gordon, and My Boy, originally submitted for Hot Space but rejected), Brian started work in earnest in the early months of 1988, at a time when both Roger and Freddie were hard at work on their own side projects. Unlike his fellow bandmates' projects, Brian's took an extended period of time to complete, for it was recorded in bits and pieces as he became inspired, and with no solo record deal lined up just yet, there was no pressure to deliver a finished album by a certain deadline.
Sessions were held discontinuously between 1988 and 1992, mainly at Brian's home studio, Allerton Hill, in Surrey, but also at familiar haunts Mountain, Sarm East, and Townhouse Studios, as well as Mono Valley and Marcus Studios. The first wave of sessions (not counting The Dark) occurred during 1988, when Brian laid down half of the twelve songs that would end up on the album: Back To The Light, Too Much Love Will Kill You, I'm Scared, Last Horizon, Let Your Heart Rule Your Head, and Rollin' Over, while the remaining five songs were recorded during 1991 and 1992.
No real band was assembled for the sessions, with Brian playing most of the instruments himself, though he did call in a group of friends to help him out when needed. (Indeed, this was how he would work on his next two solo albums, Another World and Furia.)
The first signs of life came in the summer of 1991, when the Ford automotive company started airing a new wave of commercials (viewed here) with a song that sounded remarkably like Queen. Fans were immediately outraged, as they so often are, and wondered who the impostor was; inquiries were made, and it was discovered that it was indeed a new song by Brian. Knowing just when to capitalize on a moment, Queen's management pencilled in a single release date of the single for November 25, 1991. Of course, this would coincide unfortunately for obvious reasons, but when Freddie was told of this, he reportedly said, "Tell him to release it. What better publicity could he have?" Regardless of Freddie's sentiments, Driven By You was delayed by a week, and promptly shot up the UK charts to #6.
Back To The Light, Brian's long-awaited debut solo album, was released in September 1992, in conjunction with Too Much Love Will Kill You; both hit the Top Ten in their respective charts, with the album reaching #6 and the single peaking at #5. (In the United States, the album even charted at #159, with a bonus track of Driven By You, with Cozy Powell on drums and Neil Murray on bass.) Two further singles – the title track, #19 UK, and Resurrection, #33 – were extracted from the album, though the main point of interest was Brian's world tour, the first time he had gone out as a solo artist. The Brian May Band – Brian on vocals and guitars, Cozy Powell on drums, Neil Murray on bass, Spike Edney on keyboards, Mike Caswell on guitars, and Maggie Ryder, Miriam Stockley, and Chris Thompson on backing vocals – debuted on November 1, 1992, in Buenos Aires, with a five-date tour of South America. By the time the band wound its way to North America in February, Caswell, Ryder, Stockley, and Thompson were replaced by Jamie Moses on guitars and Cathy Porter and Shelley Preston on backing vocals, which would be the lineup that would remain steady for the remainder of the year.
Electronic Press Kit
This is an album of songs, and the man who finished making it today is very different from the man who started it five years ago. So this is not a set of ideas put down at one moment, nor is it the story of my life; it is merely a collection of attempts made at various times to make sense of life's journey. Thus you won't find much in here about how fab it is to be a rock star in Queen; but you may find, in contrast, glimpses of someone quite small and insecure. I know him well.
Music is joy to me, and living in it is sometimes the only safe place to be. Much of what is recorded here is for fun, escapism, music for it's own sake, and although I mean what I say, take it all with a small pinch of salt.
In my mind, this album was always called Back To The Light. At it's beginning I felt no real hope of finding the light; now it glimmers dimly, encouragingly, but always intermittently in the hall of mirrors around me. I suppose if we ever knew exactly where the light was coming from, getting there would be easy.....
Brian May, Billboard, 1993
When I started this album five years ago, I was severely depressed. I had split from my wife and kids, which was unthinkable. I had lost my father. Also, Queen had stopped touring. All three of these things combined had a tremendous impact on me.
The Advocate, 1993
Freddie Mercury is gone, but Brian May is carrying on. The Queen guitarist's Queenesque solo album, Back to the Light, proves the music didn't stop with Mercury's death in 1991.
The collection offers Mercury and May fans plenty of Queenish traits, including signature high vocal harmonies, classical-rock songs that recall Queen hits like "Bohemian Rhapsody" and and, of course, May's distinctively fluid, melody guitar playing.
Title track "Back to the Light" is grand orchestral rock buoyed by lush vocal harmonies and May's soaring, multi-tracked guitar harmonies. Beyond the song's trademark studio polish, its lyrics and May's singing display real passion. May's not a great vocalist, but he succeeds by singing from the heart.
"Resurrection" is arena rock in the grand Queen tradition. The song is one of several showcasing May's ever smooth guitar. As Queen followers probably know, May achieves his unique sound by playing a custom-built guitar and striking the strings with a coin rather than a conventional guitar pick. May says the coin gives him "more control and better contact with the strings."
"Driven By You" is an album highlight that's not readily identifiable with May's heritage. This slick but spirited rocker doesn't sound Queenly until May's unmistakable guitar solo.
While Back to the Light not surprisingly features plenty of guitar, May can't be accused of self-indulgence. Every track is a song in its own right, not simply an excuse for a solo. The exception is the album's sole instrumental, "Lost Horizon." Even here, May doesn't sacrifice compositional integrity for shallow virtuoso display.
On the lighter side, Back to the Light includes an affectionate spoof of country music, "Let Your Heart Rule Your Head." It's a foot-tapping number including clever country guitar-picking from May.
Even without his late frontman, May is a vital artist.