Freddie Mercury Messenger of the Gods box set

Review: Freddie Mercury – “Messenger of the Gods: The Singles”

Here’s one of those horrifying facts that make you take a step back and wonder where your life went – Freddie Mercury would have been 70 years old next month. Alas, he’s not here to celebrate the occasion and with May and Taylor seemingly intent on diluting Mercury’s core significance within Queen by continuing to perform with any number of inferior frontmen, it falls to another repackaging of Freddie’s solo work to spearhead the anniversary celebrations.

Undeniably, Freddie was one of the world’s greatest rock stars – quite possibly the greatest. His uncontrollable urge to show off whenever he got within ten feet of a stage made this inevitable, but unlike many other pretenders to his throne he had the talent to back it up. That said, only the most rabid fan would claim that he left behind a uniformly flawless body of work; a run through Queen’s back catalogue will confirm that for every Bohemian Rhapsody or Somebody To Love there’s a Don’t Try Suicide or a Body Language. Take away the steadying influence of the other members of Queen and the balance tips even further towards the self indulgent (although this is equally true of May and Taylor’s respective solo careers). Witness Mercury’s two solo long players: Mr Bad Guy, a mixture of lumpen dance tracks and overwrought balladry which would be mined for posthumous Queen material only once they’d run out of other ideas, and Barcelona, a genuinely interesting and enjoyable idea stretched way beyond breaking point over the course of an entire album.

Released on 2 September 2016, the typically pretentiously titled Messenger of the Gods brings us nothing more or less (well, actually slightly less) than the thirteen singles Freddie released outside of Queen between 1973 and 1993. No remixes, bonus items or unreleased tracks (there can’t be anything left in the vaults after 2000’s twelve disc The Solo Collection box set explored Mercury’s extra-curricular activities in eye-watering detail), just the ones considered good enough to be released as 7″ A- and B-sides, spread thinly over a double CD (A-sides on disc 1, B-sides on disc 2) or thirteen coloured vinyl 7″ records.

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It’s the vinyl box set that will draw in the collectors, of course. Across the thirteen discs of various hues we travel from Mercury’s pseudonymous early exploits as Larry Lurex, through the Giorgio Moroder-produced Love Kills and the Mr Bad Guy singles to one-off projects Time and The Great Pretender, then on through three (three!) singles with Montserrat Caballé to posthumous singles In My Defence and the 1993 chart-topping remix of Living On My Own. All are presented with their original B-sides with the exception of Love Kills, which appears here with no B-side at all, a curious and somewhat half-hearted decision necessitated by the fact that the single’s original B-side was a Giorgio Moroder track from his Metropolis soundtrack and didn’t feature Freddie. It could easily have been replaced by the instrumental version of Love Kills or any one of the umpteen remixes that have appeared over the years; it wouldn’t be authentic to the original single release, but then neither is its single-sided existence within the box set.

As a record of Mercury’s solo singles, it does the job and, assuming they have dug out the original single mixes, it’s the first set to focus on the music as originally released rather than slotting in unnecessary remixes concocted since Freddie’s demise. The CD version is a welcome opportunity to own these single versions and rare B-sides without having to shell out for the previous 12 disc behemoth. The lack of a B-side on Love Kills is a minor quibble as the vinyl set is surely designed to be looked at, cherished and cooed over rather than subjected to the weight of a stylus. Overall, how much of it you actually enjoy depends on how much of a Freddie fan you are, but the set is a useful record of an often overlooked period in the career of a legend.

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Track listing

Disc 1 (blue): I Can Hear Music / Goin’ Back (as Larry Lurex)
Disc 2 (orange): Love Kills
Disc 3 (yellow): I Was Born To Love You / Stop All The Fighting
Disc 4 (red): Made In Heaven (Single Remix) / She Blows Hot And Cold
Disc 5 (white): Living On My Own (Single Edit) / My Love Is Dangerous
Disc 6 (red): Love Me Like There’s No Tomorrow / Let’s Turn It On
Disc 7 (cyan): Time / Time (Instrumental)
Disc 8 (orange): The Great Pretender / Exercises In Free Love
Disc 9 (clear): Barcelona (Single Version) / Exercises In Free Love (with Montserrat Caballé)
Disc 10 (gold): The Golden Boy (Single Edit) / The Fallen Priest (Edit) (with Montserrat Caballé)
Disc 11 (green): How Can I Go On (Single Version) / Overture Piccante (with Montserrat Caballé)
Disc 12 (pink): In My Defence / Love Kills (Wolf Euro Mix)
Disc 13 (yellow): Living On My Own (No More Brothers Radio Mix) / Living On My Own (Julian Raymond Album Mix)

7/10

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