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Queen: Associated Press • The Cars: Handout

Listening again

Music | Queen reissue highlights the troubling band's talent, while a new Cars CD sounds like an older model

Issue: "Orphaned no more," July 30, 2011

The music of Queen has always presented Christians who were coming of age during its zenith with a conundrum: namely, how to celebrate the band's undeniably superlative talent and creativity without endorsing the unabashed hedonism of some of its best-known songs.

It's a conundrum that will strike buyers of Hollywood Records' 40th-anniversary reissues of Queen's albums afresh. Digitally remastered yet again (frankly, the sound quality isn't discernibly different from that of any of the previous digital remasterings) and accompanied with bonus EPs chock-full of mostly previously unreleased demos, live cuts, instrumental versions, and a cappella snippets, the albums (1973's Queen through 1982's Hot Space as of this writing) and the work that went into their construction seem even more impressive now than they did when the albums were new.

To a degree, time has made the problem of separating Queen's aesthetic wheat from its content-oriented chaff less thorny. First, a good deal of its content was either innocuous ("You're My Best Friend," bassist John Deacon's love song to his wife) or salutary ("Jesus" from Queen) to begin with. Second, Christians who've been maturing in the faith for the 40 years since Queen debuted are far less likely to feel their baser instincts inflamed by songs such as "Get Down, Make Love" and "Body Language" now than they were as adolescents.

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Third, the AIDS-related death of Queen's bisexual lead singer Freddie Mercury in 1991 has relegated his more outrageous forays to the category of "more to be pitied than censured": The words of "Bohemian Rhapsody" sound like nothing so much as a prophecy of his final days.

As for those tasteless staples of the group's catalog penned by the guitarist Brian May ("Tie Your Mother Down," "Fat Bottomed Girls"), one suspects that, given his overall refinement (he has a Ph.D. in astrophysics and is a university chancellor), he conceived them in the same spirit of English cheekiness as the one in which Chaucer composed the raunchier aspects of The Canterbury Tales, albeit with less of an ear for the richness of metrically exact verse.

All of which is to say that if one didn't speak English, the meticulously constructed traits of Queen's baroque sonic architecture would merit admiration even from those with scrupulous consciences.

One of Queen's sonic co-architects was the producer Roy Thomas Baker, who parlayed his success with Queen into helping ignite the Boston-based New Wave band The Cars, thus permanently linking the two otherwise quite dissimilar bands.

The Cars are back in the news these days because they've released their first new album, Move Like This (Hear Music), since the death in 2000 of their lead guitarist and co-lead vocalist Benjamin Orr.

Baker isn't aboard for the ride, and neither is Mutt Lange, who produced the group's quadruple-platinum 1984 LP Heartbeat City. Nevertheless, Move Like This sounds like a vintage Cars album. The group leader Ric Ocasek has always sung enough like Orr to make differentiating the two a challenge, so his assumption of full singing won't create a disturbance in the minds of the band's more ardent fans. Besides, all of the other original band members are present and accounted for, and the album's first single, "Sad Song," even boasts percussive handclaps straight out of the group's 1979 hit "Let's Go."

But, on the debit side, the continuity also emphasizes the extent to which the band remains stuck in a gear that it can't get out of. A few tracks in, it seems that The Cars must've undertaken a crash course in listening to their old albums before putting the pedal to the metal this time.

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