Various Artists

Killer Queen: A Tribute to Queen

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Queen are one of those serendipitous bands: the right guys, in the right frame of mind, at the right place, at the right time. Freddie Mercury, Brian May, John Deacon, and Roger Taylor could make fey sound manly and inject complex melodic lines into straight-ahead megaton rockers -- this is known. Queen are a near impossible act to follow, but tribute after tribute proves that people are still willing to give it a shot. Hollywood Records offers up Killer Queen: A Tribute to Queen and takes as good a stab as any at trying to capture some of Queen's magic. Pagan god of American Idol, Constantine Maroulis' "Bohemian Rhapsody" is a Xerox copy of the original (helped in great part by the cast of the British Queen musical We Will Rock You). He sounds great, no doubt about that, injecting quite a bit of human feeling into the performance of a song that he obviously holds in the highest regard. Well, good for him. This CD surely will sell a few copies based on his presence alone, and that's precisely why he's on here with Joss Stone and Sum 41 in the first place. Jason Mraz takes a break from taking over the world to turn in...what?!...the least obvious cover? Surprise, surprise. This Dave Matthews apprentice must have a couple of Queen albums besides The Greatest Hits in his hemp-fiber backpack. His take on A Day at the Races' bouncy "Good Old-Fashioned Lover Boy" might be the best song this self-designed geek ever recorded. Denied the crammed wordplay and "lookit me! I'm really singing high!" nonsense of his Mr. A-Z release, Mr. Mraz focuses for a moment on someone other than himself and channels Mercury (albeit by way of some Colorado coffeehouse) quite admirably. L.A. rockers Eleven turn down the speed and turn in a girthy version of "Stone Cold Crazy," taking the tune out of the mosh pit and into the back of Monster Magnet's tour bus. Rooney takes an ambitious stab at "Death on Two Legs" and proves that they can play it note for note. They just can't sing it (who can, anyway?). Los Lobos eat up some studio time with "Sleeping on the Sidewalk" and the Flaming Lips decide this whole thing is just too much trouble by giving up and recording another version of "Bohemian Rhapsody," a limp and route take on the tune that makes Constantine's version sound even more reverent than it already does. But none of this is the "real deal." It can't be, not without Freddie, and this brings to mind a quip, related by Led Zeppelin's most revered knob-twiddler, Glyn Johns, where a band he was recording kept begging him for that "Bonham" drum sound. "I'll tell you what," he said. "Here's the phone. Call him up and have him come down here to play the drums, because that's the only way you're going to bloody get it." There can be only one.

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