Queen + Paul Rodgers

Cosmos Rocks
(Hollywood Records)

It's not easy to follow in the footsteps of a frontman who had a four-octave vocal range and a tendency to wear glittery capes on stage. Listening to Cosmos Rock, it's clear that former Free/Bad Company singer Paul Rodgers isn't up to the task. To his credit, though, Rodgers didn't try to jock Freddie Mercury so that the new Queen sounds like the old Queen. In fact, very few of these tracks resemble anything Queen's recorded before. There's "Call Me," an upbeat number with a country feel (à la "Crazy Thing Called Love"), which reflects Mercury's penchant for operatic backing vocals, and there's "Time to Shine," with its epic ivories and tension-building guitars. But the rest of the tunes don't rehash Queen's classic sound, and that's not necessarily good. For starters, there are too many "inspirational" ballads here, ranging from the okay (the acoustic "Small," which sounds like a flower-power folkie ballad) to the barely-tolerable-in-its-cheesiness "We Believe," in which Rodgers implores us to "hear our brothers" over watery synthesizers. Guitarist Brian May's trademark, soaring six-string licks, are scarce; he even comes dangerously close to butt-rock riffage in the protest song "Warboys." But all is not lost — there are a few fine songs here, even if finding them necessitates hitting the "skip" button a lot. Standout tracks include the Foreigner-sounding "Still Burnin'," with its dirty-white-boy guitars, and the soulful, sexy blues number "Voodoo" — easily the slow-jam gem of a predominantly downtempo album.

 
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