In the winter of 2004, when Queen were inducted into the UK Music Hall of Fame, Brian and Roger asked Paul Rodgers to sing lead vocals on a trio of songs: We Will Rock You, We Are The Champions, and Free's All Right Now. While Brian and Paul had worked together previously, it took the addition of Roger for the chemistry to truly spark, and, after addressing some fans' comments on Paul's performance with the band, Brian vaguely noted on his website that a collaboration of sorts was possible. Of course, Queen + Paul Rodgers became a reality in 2005, much to the varied reactions of fans worldwide – some were disgusted, claiming that without Freddie, there is no Queen, while other open-minded fans were willing to give the band a shot – and the trio, aided by a further trio of supporting musicians (familiar faces Spike Edney on keyboards and Jamie Moses on guitar, with newcomer Danny Miranda substituting for an absent John Deacon), embarked on a world tour that ran sporadically from March 2005 until April 2006.
Rumors persisted for quite some time that the band would be entering the studio, and Roger essentially confirmed this during the promotional rounds on the US leg of the tour in the spring of 2006, stating that there was interest between the three and they would at least bounce ideas off each other in the studio and see if anything stuck. Paul, too, inferred that he would be open to recording a studio album, provided Brian and Roger were able to work around his schedule (he embarked on solo tours in 2006 and 2007), while Brian was busy with his thesis, his Bang!: The Complete History Of The Universe book (written in collaboration with Patrick Moore and Chris Lintott), and about 8,000 other projects. So an immediate collaboration wasn't to be, though the planets aligned in the summer of 2007, and when Brian, Roger, and Paul finally got a chance to work on some material together, it was obvious that the chemistry between the three of them was still there. Sessions commenced in full at Roger's home studio, the Priory, with nearly twenty songs being written between the three of them.
An emphasis was made on performing the backing tracks completely live, in order to return the sound to a more organic feel. In the absence of a regular bass guitarist (Deacon had been invited to take part in the sessions, but this invitation either went ignored or was politely declined, depending on who's telling the story), Paul and Brian switched duties on the instrument, while vocal harmonies were provided by all three of them; in fact, no session musicians appeared on the album whatsoever, apart from backing vocal assistance on C-lebrity by Taylor Hawkins. While this may be seen as a way of proving to detractors that the three of them were able to produce a competent and enjoyable album, the lack of a bass guitarist was perhaps the most harmful decision; as good a guitarist and a vocalist as Brian and Paul are, respectively, they certainly weren't able to match the inventiveness and fluidity that John Deacon had on previous albums, nor could they even have touched the skill level of Danny Miranda. Perhaps a concession should have been made to have Miranda play bass on the album, but clearly the trio were more than happy to do things their own way.
Sessions continued discontinuously throughout the remainder of 2007 and into 2008, and reports varied on the amount of songs that would be present on the finished product, hovering somewhere between nine and 14. The first fruits of the sessions was released in December 2007, as a free download to mark World AIDS Day; the re-recording of the 46664 campaign's Say It's Not True was bombastic and over the top, but just reminiscent enough of the old Queen to inspire confidence in the new union. Unfortunately, when it was decided to release as a physical product toward the end of the month, many fans had already had the song and saw little point in purchasing it, so the single struggled to #90 in the UK charts. Finally, in March 2008, the announcement was officially made that the first Queen + Paul Rodgers album would be released that September, just in time for a worldwide tour that would see them performing throughout Europe and the UK, with a South American tour planned and a tentative North American tour in 2009. The first single was announced as C-lebrity, which sent the more rabid anti-QPR fans into gleeful critical mode (Oh boy! A song by three celebrities condemning today's celebrities!), and was due to be released a fortnight before the album, though it would receive its live premiere on The Al Murray Show early in April, a full five months before its release.
Speculation only intensified over the next few months, as rumors and reports circulated over what would and wouldn't be included on the new album. Finally, with a little under six weeks to go before the album was released, the full tracklist was revealed, with 10 new compositions, three previously available songs (Warboys (A Prayer For Peace) and Voodoo had been performed throughout Rodgers' 2007 tour, with the former song appearing on his Live In Glasgow album and DVD, while the third title was the aforementioned Say It's Not True), and a reprise of one of the songs. What came as the biggest shock was not necessarily what was included, but what wasn't: Take Love, which had been performed in embryonic form on the 2006 tour, was nowhere to be seen, nor was the cover of Del Shannon's Runaway, which had been announced in the press release for the album.
The album was released with considerable fanfare on September 15th, just as the band was gearing up for their Rock The Cosmos tour, beginning in the Ukraine on that day. Queenonline also went to great lengths to make the interactive side of the new album interesting, with an Album Club that was meant to keep fans updated with news and song clips, as well as monthly competitions and downloaded performances from the resulting tour. (However, midway through the tour, it seemed that any effort to keep the Club updated was abandoned.) Print and radio interviews were undertaken, with a huge media blitz that hadn't been seen in quite some time. Unfortunately, this didn't translate to the sales, which were mediocre at best (World Wide Albums reports that a meager 338,000 units have been shifted), though the #5 UK entry was at least something to rejoice ... though its immediate drop to #18 was telling. Happily, the album charted in the US at #47, which was surprising considering its release was delayed there by a month, and Hollywood Records did little to keep it in the public eye. (Of course, a North American tour might have helped, as would TV appearances, but hindsight is everything.)
So what of the album, the first collection of songs since Made In Heaven? (Or, if one were to believe the claim that Queen + Paul Rodgers is a new band altogether, the first collection of songs by this new band?) Well, it's surprisingly good, provided the listener is able to distance him or herself from the glory days of Queen and can accept Paul Rodgers as a vocalist. Queen's lyrics were never really anything to write home about, and the words on The Cosmos Rocks are no exception; however, the music is excellent, and the chemistry between the band is evident from the start, with the almost-title track Cosmos Rockin' kick starting with a jubilant drum blast and raucous guitars. Time To Shine and Through The Night, both written by Paul, are more in line with his own style of blues-rock, while Call Me (again written by Paul) seems to be a conscious attempt by him to write something in the style of Queen.
Brian contributed only three songs to the album – Still Burnin', a powerful blues rocker extolling the virtues of live performances; We Believe, which one fan has gloriously compared to six minutes of Brian's Soapbox; and Some Things That Glitter, the most Queen-like song on the album and reminiscent of earlier piano-based songs like Sail Away Sweet Sister and Spread Your Wings – while Paul wrote five. The biggest surprise, then, is that Roger wrote the bulk of the material, and it's all rather good. In fact, there really isn't a bad song on this album, and the production – split between the performing musicians and familiar faces Joshua J. Macrae, Justin Shirley-Smith, and Kris Fredriksson – really makes the album come to life. If anything, it's refreshing to hear that the band is clearly enjoying themselves.
(It's only speculation, of course, but perhaps the fact that Brian was the instigator of only three songs spurred the decision to credit everything to Queen + Paul Rodgers. This was apparently overturned for the US release, which credited the songs to the three of them instead of as the collective "Queen + Paul Rodgers", with the instigator of each song listed first in the credit.)
Sadly, something happened in the promotional department, and The Cosmos Rocks faltered. While the single release of C-lebrity peaked at #33 in the UK, and #1 in the UK Rock Singles chart, a second single was never decided upon, with the most obvious one (Some Things That Glitter) apparently looked over in favor of either Call Me or We Believe. (The latter was ultimately decided, but only as an Italian promotional release.) On top of that, the band would have been well encouraged to have appeared on music programs to perform key tracks from the album (for instance, Later... With Jools Holland), and a video for C-lebrity would have been a decent idea, too, but none of these were ever considered. Additionally, the set list for the tour flatlined midway through, with most of the adventurous stuff being removed in favor of a static set list, with only a minimum of material from the new album performed; the set list resembled the 2005/2006 tour too closely as well, with only a handful of surprises being introduced. As a result, The Cosmos Rocks was a relative failure, which wasn't an auspicious start to the recorded works of Queen + Paul Rodgers.
And so it goes: in April 2009, Paul Rodgers confirmed in an interview that the collaboration has effectively run its course, and while he wouldn't be against working with Brian and Roger in the future, it would seem that he's already made plans to move on to other musical avenues (which included reforming Bad Company for a handful of summer 2009 US gigs). Quite what went on behind the scenes is anyone's guess, and it's almost definite we will never know; rumors have abounded that Paul and Roger wanted to play more adventurous material on tour, while Brian was happy sticking to the war horses; others have said that Paul became frustrated with constantly being compared to Freddie, especially during the South American gigs when reporters at press conferences practically ignored him. Maybe there were other forces at play, or perhaps it felt natural for the three of them to go their separate ways, with no acrimony between them. Though a second live CD / DVD will be released in June 2009, it marks the end of one of the simultaneously most controversial and electrifying collaborations that Brian and Roger ever embarked upon; while the history books certainly won't be hailing Queen + Paul Rodgers for being revolutionaries, they did get a good amount of mileage out of the collaboration, and, what's more important, they had fun doing it, too.
Queen + Paul Rodgers Talks
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