Disc Reviews: Queen & Paul Rodgers, Kings of Leon, The Music

The grandiosity that is Queen's birthright struggles against the humble, bluesy bent that Rodgers brings to all his projects.

queen album 88 248 (photo credit: Courtesy)
queen album 88 248
(photo credit: Courtesy)
QUEEN & PAUL RODGERS The Cosmos Rocks (Helicon) I'm sorry, it just doesn't seem like a good idea. Resurrecting the hallowed name Queen without Freddie Mercury - whose vocals and style were more than 50 percent of the band's sound with Brian May's guitar magic providing the other 49% - just isn't going to work, even if the replacement is one of rock's other great voices, Paul Rodgers. Perhaps touring and playing Queen's greatest hits, as the new unit of May, Rodgers and drummer Roger Taylor have been doing, is just fine. But the result on The Cosmos Rocks, the new unit's first album of original material, is initially too jarring for comfort. The grandiosity that is Queen's birthright struggles against the humble, bluesy bent that Rodgers brings to all his projects, creating an awkward hybrid that should satisfy neither Queen nor Bad Company fans. The title song is a fun rock & roll romp, despite its goofy lyrics, as is the arena rock stomp of "C-lebrity." And the grinding boogie "Still Burnin'," where Rodgers gets to strut his stuff in an anachronistic '70s manner, works far better than the sculpted Queen-like message songs like "Time to Shine." His voice is still as impressive as ever on the sentimental message songs like the understated "Small," and the somewhat overwrought "We Believe." Occasionally, May conjures up some of the signature speed riffs that so distinguished Queen's music, but for the most part, he blends into the music rather than standing out. There are plenty of cringe-worthy clunkers among the albums's 14 songs, like the mindless "Surf's Up… School's Out!" which puts shame to both classic originals, but the Rodgers-Queen alliance, in retrospect, could have been a lot worse. Freddie might even be dancing in the cosmos. KINGS OF LEON Only by the Night (NMC) Kings of Leon, one of the best bands the US has to offer, continues to shed its skin and grow on Only by the Night. Any alternative Southern rock connection that initially was pegged to the Tennessee quartet has melted away under a purer, anthemic rock sound. "Sex on Fire," "Use Somebody" and "Manhattan" are just three examples of how the band has firmly entered an expansive age, replete with impassioned choruses and Edge-like guitar squalls to emphasize the uplifting urgency of the music. Not a boogie riff in sight. Caleb Followill's vocals are still an interesting combination of Ronnie Van Zandt and Bono, but they add a distinctive quality to the music, which increasingly challenges the listener as the album moves on into unchartered atmospheric territories. The closing ballad "Cold Desert" - with a chord progression similar to "Purple Rain" - is a wonderfully floating way to end the album, one that will surely stay with the listener long after the music has stopped. THE MUSIC Strength in Numbers (Helicon) One of the promising Brit pop bands that emerged at the dawn of the decade, The Music had dropped out of the spotlight in recent years, with four years in between 2004's Welcome to the North and the band's new Strength in Numbers. And frankly, the break wasn't long enough. Roaring back with a big disco beat and a synth drone that propels its driving guitar sound, the quartet sounds like it wants to be a New Order for the 2000s, but just doesn't have the ability to pull it off. It may sound great on the dance floor, but on CD the songs are repetitive, unimaginative and utterly immemorable.