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“I would like to inform you that I tested positive for the HIV virus and I have contracted AIDS. I considered worthwhile to keep this information private until now, in order to protect the privacy of everyone around me. However, it’s time that my friends and fans around the world know the truth and I hope they will join me, the doctors that look after me and everyone else in the world in this battle against this terrible disease.”
In little more than 24 hours from this press release, the frontman of one of the most relevant band in the history of rock, passed away in his home in Earls Court, London, at the age of 45. It was November 24th, 1991. Mercury knew to be HIV-positive since 1987, later on he started to show the first symptoms of AIDS syndrome. The Queen members were made aware of it only in 1989 when, because of that, they decided to quit the album tour The Miracle. The two albums were designed during the illness period: Innuendo (1990) and Made In Heaven (1995) are the results of a race against time for Mercury. Within the two years from the diagnosis till death, the singer locked himself in the studio to record as many ideas as possible, despite the poor physical condition.
In his last life period, after having recorded every vocal tracks of Made in Heaven, which will be out posthumously, the singer showed sever pain due to a pneumonia and he was forced to stop singing. The suffering dominated the last two albums indissolubly, along with references to the illness more or less evident, beyond the audience speculations and criticism after the frontman’s death, like the one about the well-known track The Show Must Go On — end-track of Innuendo — which many credit Mercury but it was written by Brian May, the band guitarist. As many critics have noted, Innuendo symbolises the Queen testament, and they will never have the chance to record all together in the studio again, after this production.
The dark tones wrap the record since the title track Innuendo, but they never prevail: the feeling you get is the one of a man who gives it all till the end, never looking like a person defeated by the inescapable fate. The references to the past productions go through the album; many has seen Innuendo as a second Bohemian Rhapsody, due to the several musical themes that arrange the song and that are interwoven like a puzzle: the flamenco guitar solo of Steve Howe, Yes guitarist, represents one of the highest moment of the track. I’m Going Slightly Mad is caught between irony and low spirits, self-aware and madness, due to the illness: “You’re simply not in the pink my dear, to be honest you haven’t got a clue” sings Mercury. Headlong can only highlights May’s touch, who initially wanted to insert the track in his solo album Back to the Light, out in the 1992. The track has a strong rock energy, close to the metal in many ways, easily assimilated to the role I Want It All played in The Miracle.
The most exhausting moment of the album, emotionally speaking, is shown with Don’t Try So Hard, where the lyrics focused on everyday problems and fully living every single day, are put side by side to a May solo, that is able to convey Mercury’s pain in music perfectly. You can’t not quote These Are The Days of Our Lives, considered as a goodbye from Mercury to the fans, along with the last videoclip shot by the whole band. The Show Must Go On is the last act, the musical all-in from Queen: the apocalyptic sounds and the story in theatrical terms symbolise nothing but the essence of the life itself. “My make-up may be flaking, but my smile, still, stays on!”.
Gaia Ponzoni – Translated by Beatrice Birolo