Bohemian Ecstasy

Queen + Adam Lambert go globetrotting (while still mining Mercury)

Queen + Adam Lambert (Art: Ron Hart)

Replacing a popular lead singer of a well known band is generally a precipitous proposition.

There have been exceptions of course — Phil Collins subbing for Peter Gabriel in Genesis, Sammy Hagar standing in for David Lee Roth. But for the most part, the introduction of a new vocalist tends to make the group transition into a tribute band, one that replicates the hits without ever attempting to move the needle forward.

It’s especially challenging when the front person in question was so remarkable in his or her own right, that any successor — no matter how skilled — has to meet a ridiculously high bar to fill their shoes. In the case of Queen, it was especially challenging. After all, Freddie Mercury was one of the most charismatic singers ever to set foot on a stage, and once there, he completely captivated Queen’s audiences to the extent that he became more than merely its figurehead, but its entire iconic image as well. Replacing Freddie seemed like an insurmountable objective, which, even if successful, might not find approval from the band’s fans or followers.

Queen + Adam Lambert Live Around The World, Hollywood Records 2020

To Adam Lambert’s credit, he not only accepted the challenge but also succeeds despite the odds. Lambert, who holds the dubious distinction of being a runner-up during the 8th season of American Idol, not only replaces Mercury, but Freddie’s initial stand-in, vocalist, Paul Rodgers, as well. That in itself was no small feat, but as evidenced on Live Around the World, a new CD/blu-ray combo credited to both Queen and Lambert (Apparently Queen either haven’t committed to integrating Lambert into their ranks or his management insisted that he singularly share the marquee), he ploughs through with ample aplomb.

As its title notes, the performances were recorded at multiple venues worldwide, including several songs from an Australian gig that replicated the whole of Queen’s set at Live Aid. As the liner notes point out, that includes the famous “Ay-Oh” shout outs that enticed the audience into participating in a call and response exchange.

Indeed, Lambert doesn’t miss a trick when it comes to going full Freddie. He invests himself wholly into his predecessor’s persona, visually and vocally. Hearing his take on “Don’t Stop Me Now,” “Somebody To Love” and “Under Pressure” in particular, it’s easy to suspend belief and imagine Mercury rising, given Lambert’s similar posturing and precision. Yet while it’s easy to identify him only as an actor who’s so well choreographed he’s simply going through the motions, his own abilities ought not be underestimated. He’s a remarkable vocalist in his own right, one with an extraordinary range and the capability of holding on to a single note with breathless abandon. Likewise, he’s obviously studied Mercury’s stage moves as well; the blu-ray finds him mimicking Mercury’s regal presence to a tee, and often stealing the spotlight from Brian May and Roger Taylor at the same time. Considering the fact that there’s a substantial backing band in tow to help with harmonies and instrumental additives, that’s no small feat in itself.

 

VIDEO: Queen + Adam Lambert “Don’t Stop Me Now”

Of course, May and Taylor do their part to sustain the sound — they are the keepers of the legacy after all — and given the roll call of classic Queen songs, they play their roles well. In a sense, Live Around the World is a successor to the live albums Queen released early on, not to mention an inevitable replay of the band’s platinum-selling greatest hits LP, which, after almost 40 years, recently reentered Billboard’s Top Ten after spending 413 weeks in the Top 200. What’s different here — aside from the absence of Mercury and retired bassist John Deacon — is the constant presence of an enthralled audience. They can be heard cheering along on practically every song, anticipating the intros, singing along as if on cue, and generally soaking in the sheer exhilaration of every soaring anthem with the kind of enthusiasm that only a venerable veteran band like Queen is capable of inspiring. 

Long live the Queen. The royal lineage is completely secure. Live Around the World ensures Queen’s global rule will continue.

 

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Lee Zimmerman

Lee Zimmerman is a writer and columnist based in beautiful Maryville Tennessee. Over the past 20 years, his work has appeared in dozens of leading music publications. He is also the author of Americana Music: Voice, Visionaries, and Pioneers of an Honest Sound, which will be published by Texas A&M University Press early next year.

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