REVIEW: Queen + Paul Rodgers – The Cosmos Rocks (+ bonus tracks)

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QUEEN + PAUL RODGERS – The Cosmos Rocks (2008 Hollywood Records, iTunes + Amazon bonus tracks)

I was surprised as anyone else when, in 1997, Queen continued on as a three-piece (sans the retired John Deacon) with a new track called “Only The Good Die Young” (Queen Rocks). Since then, Queen has continued on with one-offs under the name “Queen +” with the name of the singer.  (Adam Lambert, you can fuck right off.)

When they started touring with Paul Rodgers, I salivated! I loved the live album Return Of The Champions, and I was chomping at the bit to hear some new music. Would I, as a long-time Queen fan, be let down?

Not really.

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There have always been Queen albums, particularly in the 80’s, that I felt had filler on them. Cosmos Rocks is like that. Some songs are awesome, worthy of the Queen legacy and a proud addition to the canon. Others are limp are dull. And, the best song didn’t even make the CD release! Read on….

The CD kicks off with what I consider to be some cheesy sound effects, similar to but not as good as “One Vision”. Then, Brian May’s guitar kicks in, and the first track “Cosmos Rockin'” really starts. This is a great track, a hard and fast rocker with May’s licks as fluid as ever. Paul Rodgers, perpetually young, is in fine voice. What a great start to a comeback album! Rogers and May ably handle all bass duties on this album.

Rodgers sings most leads on his own, with familiar sounding backing vocals by Roger Taylor and Brian May. On some songs, the lead vocal is split three ways, such as “Say It’s Not True” which is actually an older song from 2003. I like this touch, as it keeps the sound a little more rooted in old-school Queen which always had Taylor and May singing lead. When Rodgers sings, however, with his voice in full power, it is a brand new beast.

I have to say I was very happy with the choice of Paul Rodgers as lead singer, as he is simply one of the greatest rock vocalists of all time, up there with Daltrey or Plant. He is also a gifted writer, although I’m not sure his writing really gelled with Queen. Still, he is vastly different from Freddie, and nobody could ever replace Freddie, so I think this was definitely the way to go. Certainly much better than picking up some guy who lost American Idol…

Some of the other highlights on this album were the heavy-handed first single “C-lebrity” which seems to disparage the reality TV that Queen would later embrace! I prefer the disparaging sentiment! “Surf’s Up…School’s Out!” is another rocker that blows the doors off most younger bands. “Say It’s Not True” is a highlight, as it is the most Queen-like. Of course, with Freddie gone, his dramatic flourishes and piano was also gone, leaving Queen as a straightforward rock band with May & Taylor firmly in charge. What they once had in unique operatic flourishes has been replaced by hard rocking guitars, for better or for worse.  It is what it is, and nobody can be Freddie.

“Small” is a fantastic ballad, worthy of the Queen back catalogue.  May and Taylor join Rodgers on the lush outro.  I absolutely adore this song.  But then when you think Queen have lightened up, “Wayboys” assaults the speakers, a rare political statement with a military drumbeat.  “Call Me” is another great tune, very vintage Queen in style, sort of an electric campfire singalong.

There is, unfortunately, a lot of filler on this CD, slow-paced plodders that don’t go anywhere or stay in your memory. The thing about the Queen of old is that they were very diverse. You could have a nice jaunty flamenco song like “Who Needs You” on the same album as an epic like “It’s Late”. Queen + Paul Rodgers lacks that diversity. Well, it would have had more diversity if the best song had been included….

That best track I mentioned, that isn’t even on the CD, is available as an iTunes download only. It is a cover of Del Shannon’s “Runaway”, and it is worth the purchase, because it is amazing. I love the oldies, and clearly these guys do too. I wish it had been included on the CD. There is no shame in having a cover tune on your CD, especially when you also have over a dozen originals as well! The iTunes download also came with a new live version of “The Show Must Go On”, but I have no idea when or where it was recorded, except it is a different version from the one on Return Of The Champions. Maybe it is from one of the Queen instant live CDs, of which there are plenty, or maybe it is from the Super Live in Japan DVD that comes with some editions?

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There was another bonus track too, one I haven’t heard, because only American residents can get it from the Amazon.com site. Canadians are SOL!  “Fire And Water” (a live version), originally by Paul in Free, is that bonus track. Come on, Amazon! Let Canadians buy it too!

This actually really pisses me off.

(ADDED NOTE:  I have since acquired that bonus track.  Read all about it here.)

The Cosmos Rocks is not a perfect Queen album, but one that stands up in the back catalogue as an interesting and entertaining sideroad.  The big difference is that The Cosmos Rocks has more, and bigger, guitars than many Queen albums of the recent past.

3/5 stars.

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33 comments

  1. Mike, great review and I totally agree with your 3/5 rating. Also, your description of Rodgers as “one of the greatest rock vocalists of all time, up there with Daltrey or Plant” is spot-on, and exactly the way I always describe him. I’ve seen him live a few times, first with Jimmy Page at the ARMS Benefit concert in 1983, then with The Firm in 1986, and one more time with Q+PR in 2006. Sadly, the Q+PR show I saw (in Philadelphia) was very lackluster, and from what I’ve read it was one of the weakest shows of that tour. Paul sounded great, of course, my there was a noticeable lack of energy from the band and the crowd. Roger Taylor, who’s one of my drumming heroes (I’ve borrowed a lot of tricks from him over the years), sounded like he hadn’t played in months. I’ve seen a later concert on TV and they sounded much better than that show, so I know they could deliver the goods.

    As for the pairing of Queen and PR, I almost wish they had chosen a different band name, since being Queen is a lot to live up to, and they could never come close to the original incarnation. That being said, I listened to The Cosmos Rocks as though it was a new group with three of my favorite musicians, and even though it’s a bit long and bloated and contains too much filler (as you pointed out) it’s got enough good and great songs to make it more than just a footnote in their catalogs. Sadly, I think it’s been mostly forgotten. I need to play it again, since I only played it about 3-4 times when it came out and then filed it away.

    Once again, nice review.

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    1. Thanks for the compliments Rich!

      Roger Taylor is a very underrated drummer. I understand your appreciation of him. But he’s also an underrated vocalist if you asked me.

      Perhaps you are right, that a new name (something more original than “Queen +”) might have been the way to go. However I’m sure for ticket sales, they have more marquee value that way. Ahh well.

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      1. I totally understood why they went with that band name, but what it did for ticket sales was offset by the negative comparisons by many fans & critics. I always liked Taylor’s vocals but he has a limited range, and being in a band with stronger vocalists like Mercury & May didn’t help. Kind of like Gil Moore in comparison to Rik Emmett (as a fellow Triumph fan, I’m sure you understand, even if you don’t agree).

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        1. Hahha, yes, I like that comparison! As a whole, I thought the three Queen guys blended very nicely.

          I just hope they don’t continue on too much longer with this Adam Lambert fella. Don’t like him at all.

          In fact, I think it’s best if they just quietly move on. Perhaps it’s time for May to do a new solo album? It’s only been 21 or 22 years!

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        2. Haven’t heard anything they’ve done with Lambert yet, and I’m not sure I need to spend any of my precious music-listening time on that. They definitely need to call it a day, or May & Taylor need to form a new project if they love working together so much. I agree about May going back to his solo career. I have most of his albums (3 studio + 1 live, I believe), and although none of them are earth-shattering, they’re all very good and he shouldn’t deprive us of his one-of-a-kind guitar playing.

          Oh, and there’s no disputing that the blend of their 3 voices, sometimes re-recorded dozens of times, was brilliant, and one of the things that made them so unique. Not sure how they were viewed in Canada, but it was very sad how forgotten they were in the US between 1982 and 1991/1992 (around the time Freddie died and Wayne’s World featured “Bohemian Rhapsody”). It’s been nice to see their permanent return in the public eye as one of the greatest rock bands ever.

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        3. It was the same in Canada with Queen, unfortunately. Luckily I discovered Queen on my own before Wayne’s World. I found some really cool articles in some rock magazines and they got me intrigued. I actually started with the very first Queen album!

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        4. Wow, the first Queen album is an interesting way to start with their catalog. I assume you at least knew their biggest hits before then, right?

          I remember being at some kind of party or dance in 1977 when I was 11 and hearing “We Will Rock You” and “We Are The Champions” back to back for the first time. I had probably heard a couple of their songs before then, but that was the first time I was “aware” of Queen. My first Queen purchase was the double a-side single of “Bicycle Race/Fat Bottomed Girls.” Come to think of it, there’s really no bad entry point into their catalog, especially with their ’70s output.

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        5. Oh yes, I was familiar with all the big hits. And then there were some songs, like “Don’t Try Suicide”, “Sail Away Sweet Sister”, and “Radio Gaga” that I knew, but had no idea they were by Queen!

          Do you still have that Queen single?

          I have some Queen 3″ singles that I need to review here, including Queen’s First EP.

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        6. Yep, I still have that 45. It’s been a long time since I collected singles, with the exception of a handful of artists, but in my formative music years I would occasionally buy a single without checking out the album.

          When you say “3” singles” I assume you’re referring to CD singles, right? I have a few of them, but they never caught on here. All the ones I own are from the UK.

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  2. Cool review and really interesting to get an expert perspective on this album. I liked the live album for the most part but this just didn’t interest me for some reason.

    The territory dependent tracks are just hugely annoying! I can see why it happens but… it’s still a pain in the arse. Sometimes its like the music industry wants you to steal stuff!

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    1. Thanks, mang!

      This is not the first time I encountered this. When I bought Spinal Tap’s latest album, one track was only available via the UK Amazon site. That bugged me, because again, you can’t download here from there. So I had to get a buddy to download the track and email it to me. Now I have them all, but it’s annoying.

      One day I’ll have all the tracks from this album too.

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  3. No thanks,Rodgers is fine in Bad Company and as far as Queen goes I prefer Queen Rocks Montreal…got into Queen at the age of 13 when The Game was ruling the charts .
    Dug back into the older material and was pumped the day when Hot Space came out and when i got home and put it on it was like…WTF!!!!
    Hahahahaha….they lost me after that….but for me the Game and the Live album along with News of the World are masterpieces…..

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  4. Actually after The Hot Space fiasco the next Queen I purchased on cassette was The Miracle,and that was a step in the right direction….never did check out Innuendo ….

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    1. Deke, as someone in the same age bracket (I turned 14 the year The Game came out and it was one of my favorite albums of the year), I also had that reaction to Hot Space when it came out. It wasn’t until A Kind Of Magic that I finally came back to their music in a big way, and like Mike I’m a big fan of The Miracle. I have to say that when I went back to Hot Space years later I loved it. The album was sequenced to turn off as many rock fans as possible, but if you skip the first four songs it’s a pretty solid rock/pop album with several great songs. I also developed a taste for funk in my ’20s, so even songs like “Back Chat” are enjoyable to me now.

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        1. Flash Gordon has its moments but it’s the least re-listenable (is that a word?) album in their catalog in my opinion. Hot Space is one of those albums that rock fans hated back in the day, and I always find myself defending it because I felt the same way and eventually came to kind of love it. To me it’s every bit as good as The Works but doesn’t have the same reputation.

          On a related note, I actually saw Flash Gordon in the theater specifically because Queen did the music. I remember cheering with my friends when “Music By Queen” appeared on the screen. I did the same thing with Death Wish II and “Music By Jimmy Page”.

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        2. Did Queen not also contribute music to the re-release of Metropolis? I seem to remember watching it with my dad as a kid, and him telling me about the great music by this band called Queen. Or am I imagining that?

          The Works is the other one I don’t have. I’m only missing a few Queen studio albums, and those are two of them. (The others are Queen II, and Day At The Races.)

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        3. My memory of Metropolis is that it was re-released (originally it was a silent film) in the ’80s with music by various artists including Queen (or possibly just Freddie Mercury). I don’t think they recorded any music specifically for the film.

          Oh man, you’re gonna love Queen II and A Day The Races whenever you get them…but I’m sure you already knew that.

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        4. Oh yes, I have no doubt you’re right! I imagine by my birthday (July) I’ll have them all. All the Queen albums are on my Amazon wishlist, and I dd score three for Christmas. My family liked buying me Queen!

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        5. Bam, nice pun (and use of “eh”)!

          Yes indeed, and it was great fun to have a “Queen Day” and listen to all my new Queen treasures in a row. I actually ordered Flash Gordon right after that, because I was in such a Queen mood.

          I’ve always liked Flash, I had the previous remaster (with the horrendous 1991 remix, ugh. “Flash one time! Flash two times!”).

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        6. Those 1991 reissues, which is how I own most of the catalog now, were really mediocre mixes to begin with, and then those bonus tracks were atrocious. Who thought they were a good idea? I couldn’t bring myself to re-purchase the entire catalog last year, but fortunately a friend did and I made digital copies. Sure, it’s not the same as owning the CDs, but since I already own the ’91 CDs at least I have packaging & lyrics, and my 320mbps MP3s are sufficient when I want to listen to Queen on a portable player or my computer.

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