Queen’s final album completed and released during Freddie Mercury’s lifetime is also the one that most closely resembles the records of its ’70s hot streak. Mercury’s lung power is sometimes compromised by the advance stages of his illness, yet his aura most certainly is not: The intensity and death-defying irreverence of 1991′s Innuendo make this an exceptional, extraordinary album.
Yes, the drum sound is at times abrasive, and it’s regrettable the synth strings that similarly date the arrangements weren’t supplied by a real orchestra. But Innuendo‘s fiery performances and uniformly vibrant, substantial songwriting more than compensate. Mercury contemplates his life and what was to come, and the band responds with inspiration that suits the context. There’s the unmistakable sense that this is the end, and so Queen with heroic grace returns full circle to its aesthetic beginnings.
That duality pays huge dividends both musically and emotionally. The opening title track is pure prog: Even Yes‘s Steve Howe drops by midway for some virtuosic flamenco guitar runs that push Brian May to play faster and flashier than he had in years. “I’m Going Slightly Mad” features a bravura camp vocal from Mercury, who channels Noel Coward in both style and sentiment. An American rock radio favorite, “Headlong” kicks butt as if Mercury had been in the best of health, while “These Are the Days of Our Lives” and “The Show Must Go On” candidly form Innuendo‘s spiritual core. Delivered in one knockout vocal take when Mercury could barely walk, the latter presents a brave face while revealing the struggle to maintain that façade. The effect is devastating.