The reviews for the Queen biopic Bohemian Rhapsody have been less than glowing. While lead actor Rami Malek has received plaudits for his performance as the band’s legendary frontman Freddie Mercury critics have had a field day castigating the melodramatic script, indifferent direction, the playing down of Mercury’s sexuality and the many biographical inaccuracies, ranging from the way the band formed to the reveal of Mercury’s HIV status years before even he was aware of his health status himself.
But I’d like to suggest there’s another reason why the film isn’t a triumph. Bohemian Rhapsody is filled with the music of Queen, and Queen’s music is terrible.
Queen are unique in that all four members – Mercury, guitarist Brian May, drummer Roger Taylor and bassist John Deacon – all contributed songs to the band. They are also unique in that a band with four songwriters created a catalogue in which all the songs are awful.
This is not a reflection on the band members, all of whose musical and performance talents range from the spectacular (Mercury) to the entirely competent (Deacon). May has made genuine contributions to the world of astrophysics. Taylor has… um, nice hair.
They’re perfectly fine human beings, as best I can tell. And the only reason that they have a shell of a career now is because a generation of dads were 14 when they were on the TV and have been playing Best Ofs in their cars ever since.
Can you imagine what might have been had Mercury been in a good band? Alternatively, has there ever been a band more dependent on their frontman’s charisma? Live they could get away with a lot because audiences were going “wow, look at that guy in the catsuit!” rather than “hey, this song is pretty lousy!”
Every single song is a weird combination of absolutely meticulous studio craft and perfectionism over second-to-fourth-rate material, like a director pouring their heart and soul in capturing the absolute perfect lighting to tell the deeply personal story of this shampoo commercial.
While artists like the Beatles, the Who, the Kinks and David Bowie played around with different styles and genres through their careers, Queen similarly turned their talents to glam rock, proto-metal, neo-classical, disco, funk, doo-wop, synth pop and more, and succeeded at zero of them.
Like Men At Work their biggest power move was adopting music videos before anyone else realised what a marketing tool they were about to become, giving the band a visual identity which plastered over the musical shortcomings. Although Men At Work at least knew a good hook when they heard it.
Queen are often described as a singles band, which is code for “could never do a consistently strong album”. And this is accurate: even those records generally noted as being classics, Sheer Heart Attack and A Night At The Opera, are chock-full of filler.
May even thought Taylor was taking the piss when he first presented the band ‘I’m In Love With My Car’, and who can honestly blame him?
Taylor was also responsible for ‘Radio Ga Ga’, the insipid synthesiser demonstration exercise in which not even Mercury can get make “Let’s hope you never leave old friend / Like all good things on you we depend” sound effortless.
Elsewhere we have classics like ‘Don’t Try Suicide”s powerful message of “Nobody cares… Baby when you do it all you do is get on my tits”. Or Mercury’s timeless tribute to the late Beatle, ‘Life Is Real (Song For Lennon): “Breastfeeding myself / What more can I say?”. And ‘Under Pressure’ is proof that David Bowie’s genius can’t be dimmed by third rate collaborators. Or even Vanilla Ice.
Even BoRhap, the song which legendarily became a hit because its epic length gave radio DJs a chance to take a dump, is a waffling garbage dump of faux-profundity over a bunch of unconnected song ideas indifferently welded together into a weak facsimile of prog rock. Admit it: when it plays in your head, it’s not carrying you to a beautiful place; it’s soundtracking that scene in Wayne’s World.
If there’s a good thing about the song it’s that popular culture realised the poison that had been released and was forced to invent punk as an antidote.
In short, Queen were a band for people that didn’t really care that much about music. Is it any shock that they inspired a biopic for people that don’t really care about film?
Freddie Mercury really deserved a far, far better band.