Queen Elizabeth II enjoys the dubious privilege of presiding over the decline of the British Empire. It is perhaps appropriate, then, for her to witness as well the fading of Brit-rock aristocracy at this celebration of her golden jubilee. Recorded at Buckingham Palace, this event offers yet another example of how time and respectability can drain the vital energies of rock, if not life. Aside from a smattering of teenybop icons, the headliners are a parade of weary legends whose performances document the erosion of their youthful strengths. Some deliver spirited vocals: Joe Cocker projects an undimmed, soulful intensity, and Paul McCartney exudes plenty of his hallmark amiability and showbiz timing -- who else would separate the outro chant in "Hey Jude" to, first, the men in the audience, then the women, and then "everybody in the House of Windsor"? Ozzy Osbourne cackles through "Paranoid" like a war veteran repeating his glory stories. If any one artist stands out, that would have to be Queen, from the inevitable Hendrix-inspired Brian May opening on "God Save the Queen" with full orchestral backup, to an emphatic medley of hits. Beyond that, things get dicey: Listeners hear only tatters of Shirley Bassey's brassy timbre, Tom Jones confirms his reputation for musical buffoonery, Annie Lennox seems subdued, if not depressed, Steve Winwood phones in a perfunctory recitation of his first, once electrifying hit. Even Brian Wilson, bless him, only reminds listeners of their losses by failing to match the vocals of his late brother Carl Wilson on "God Only Knows." As the show drones along, it's easy for the mind to wander toward what might have made it more memorable. Imagine, for example, Ray Davies offering an abbreviated performance of Arthur. Even better, Johnny Rotten could have led the orchestra through a chorus or two of "God Save the Queen" -- either his or the older version. Or maybe Damon Albarn might have been encouraged to just wander around the stage, grinning loopily at Rod Stewart. Who knows? When or if Prince Charles inherits the throne, a more creative program director might take the hint.
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AllMusic Review by Robert L. Doerschuk