Messenger of the Gods, Freddie Mercury Vinyl Box Set Review

It’s September 5, 2016, the 70th birthday of Freddie Mercury. The celebrations in Montreux featuring a performance from the Queen Extravaganza, Queen’s official tribute band, have since concluded with a midnight toast to one of the greatest rock legends that every lived, and the announcement of an asteroid in his name. That was the original introduction to this post, which has been in the making for some time. Better late than never, I suppose. Originally written on the release of the set on review, the post has been lurking in my drafts ever since and was discovered recently during some spring cleaning. While somewhat lacking in journalistic magnificence, I thought it nevertheless worth sharing.

It’s difficult to sum up the life and career of such a man, such a spirit, in just a few short sentences. No words in the English or any other language could do justice to Freddie and the gifts he bestowed upon the world, both musically and humanitarian. A true lover of life and singer of songs (so apt is the title of the similarly named album), musically speaking Freddie is best known for his work with Queen, though he has an extensive collection of solo works to his name which are deserving of equal recognition.

Messenger Of The Gods is a 13 disc coloured vinyl box set, or a double CD set containing Freddie’s singles back catalogue, including the 2 posthumous singles, In My Defence and the No More Brothers Radio Mix of Living On My Own, the latter of which became Freddie’s first solo number 1 and was the biggest selling European single of the year in 1993. In this collection, In my Defence is pressed on a Neon Pink vinyl and the Living On My Own radio mix on a yellow vinyl, with the original 1985 single edit also presented here and pressed on a white disc.

Released on Mercury/Universal (and Hollywood Records in North America), the set also includes a booklet containing text and photos, some of which previously unpublished. Each single is accompanied by its original B-side, and the set is supplied with a download code offering 320KBPS MP3 versions of the included singles.

Born Farrokh Bulsara on the East African island of Zanzibar, Freddie’s debut single, released under the name Larry Lurex, actually emerged a week before Queen’s own debut, 1973s ‘Keep Yourself Alive’. Featuring a cover of the Beach Boy’s track I can Hear Music, both the title track and its B-side, Going Back, (offered here on blue vinyl) were recorded as a favour towards a musical project by Trident Studios’ house engineer Robin Geoffrey Cable, who was experimenting with re-creating the ‘wall of sound’ style favoured by Phil Spector. Part of Going’ Back can also be found in Mother Love, the 4th track from the final Queen album, Made in Heaven.

Freddie’s second solo single wouldn’t emerge for more than a decade, until the 1984 release of Love Kills, a collaboration with famed Italian disco producer Giorgio Moroder for the soundtrack to Moroder’s update of the 1927 silent movie Metropolis.

Presented in the set on an orange vinyl, Love Kills paved the way for the 1985 release of Freddie’s debut solo album, Mr Bad Guy. An album very much inspired by the music of the Munich and New York dance clubs, Mr Bad Guy spawned 4 hit singles, 2 of which (I Was Born To Love You (yellow vinyl) and Made in Heaven (red vinyl)) would later be reworked by the remaining members of Queen and featured on the Made in Heaven album.

Arguably the most recognised of Freddie’s solo works is his collaboration with Spanish soprano Montserrat Caballé, spawning the single Barcelona, A tribute to Montserrat’s home town, presented here on clear vinyl. The Barcelona single lead to the pair collaborating on the album of the same name, fostering the singles ‘The Golden Boy’ presented here on Gold vinyl and ‘How can I Go On’, pressed on a green disc.

In October 1988, an invite from the king and queen of Spain led to the pair performing Barcelona on the steps of Barcelona’s National Palace of Montjuic at the open air La Nit festival which was staged to mark the arrival of the Olympic Flag from Seoul. Barcelona was the official anthem of the 1992 olympics, an event which Freddie would sadly not live to see having passed just 7 months before in November 1991.

Before the release of Barcelona in 1987, Freddie would release the theme to the lavish stage musical Time (offered here on a Cyan disc), and a cover of the platters’ 1965 hit, The Great Pretender, here pressed on an orange vinyl.

The 2 remaining singles include a single-sided orange pressing of Love Kills and a red pressing of Love Me Like There’s No Tomorrow with its b-side, Let’s Turn It On.

In terms of pressing quality the set is hit and miss. The included vinyl certainly doesn’t appear to have been given the same attention to detail as the Queen Studio Collection set released last year, which is a shame especially given that the £110 price of the box equates to roughly £8 per single. In My Defence and Time were particularly disappointing in this regard, with a sibilance to the vocals that makes them both at times a rather unpleasant listen. Singles with a softer vocal are better in this regard, The Great Pretender, The Golden Boy and Barcelona playing with few of the audible artefacts that appear to affect the other singles in the collection.

The records are relatively quiet however in terms of surface noise, and providing you have a cartridge capable of tracking difficult pressings with minimal error you should be able to achieve at least a reasonable sound from them, even if that sound doesn’t at all justify the price of the set. I’m unsure whether it has to do with poor mastering, poor manufacturing or both, but in my opinion the original 45RPM singles are of better quality.

In summary, I have mixed feeling about this release. On one hand I’m pleased to see Freddie’s solo work is receiving as much recognition as his material with queen, and I’m pleased that for the first time a complete singles package has been released. I hope that an accompanying album set is also released to include complete reissues of his solo works, and possibly the rarities released with the Solo Collection CD set.

However I can’t help but feel that the package is hugely overpriced, at least where the vinyl set is concerned. It’s possible to obtain an original copy of every single in this box for a tenth of its price, and the quality of the vinyl presented within this set isn’t up to par. The book is a welcome addition and adds a little value, though this set is one for the collector and not for the casual listener.

By Ashley

I founded Audio Appraisal a few years ago and continue to regularly update it with fresh content. An avid vinyl collector and coffee addict, I can often be found at a workbench tinkering with a faulty electronic device, tweaking a turntable to extract the last bit of detail from those tiny grooves in the plastic stuff, or relaxing in front of the hi-fi with a good album. A musician, occasional producer and sound engineer, other hobbies include software programming, web development, long walks and occasional DIY. Follow @ashleycox2

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