Like our own INXS, iconic English stadium rock band Queen spent many fruitless years trying desperately to find a lead singer with half the charisma of a tragically-departed icon.
Now Queen has announced its first Australian tour in 29 years, in the process apparently settling on a replacement for Freddie Mercury: former American Idol runnerup Adam Lambert. He is probably best-known to Australians for finishing runner-up in the 2009 series of American Idol and for two top-10 singles the same year (Whataya Want From Me, If I Had You).
At this point Freddie-devotees and fans of Queen's classic-lineup will no doubt howl in outrage: the cheek of suggesting a reality television show contestant (and a runner-up at that) is fit to lace Mercury's boots!
Queen truly replacing Mercury was seen as every bit as difficult as INXS replacing Michael Hutchence. Make that harder; Mercury is widely acknolwedged as the greatest rock frontman of all time. The combination of his brazen showmanship, enormous likeability and a voice made for rock anthems was a unique package of talents.
Since Mercury died in 1991 from an AIDS-related illness, no fewer than 11 singers have fronted Queen, among them some music legends: Elton John, David Bowie and Annie Lennox. Robbie Williams even had a crack.
While Lambert, 32, doesn't have Mercury's giant stage presence, he has earned impressive reviews for his fine vocals and his own magnetism. Of his performance with Queen at the iHeart Radio concert in Las Vegas last September, Rolling Stone wrote: "Lambert astounded the audience on songs like We Will Rock You and the closing We Are The Champions and A Crazy Little Thing Called Love." Hollywood Reporter wrote: “Adam Lambert, Queen bring down the iHeart house. With the perfect mix of rock attitude mixed with style, theatricality, sex appeal and impressive vocal gymnastics, [Lambert] took the band’s music to new heights.”
No account of Queen's revival can leave out its former bassist, John Deacon, who retired from the band in 1997. According to an article from the official Brian May website, Deacon has said: "Freddie can never be replaced." Since 2011, Neil Fairclough has played bass on tour.
But there is no surer sign of the remaining original band members' confidence in Lambert than committing on its first major tour in nearly 30 years: before the four Australian concerts, Queen with Lambert will play 19 shows over a month in North America, starting June 19th.
At a press conference announcing the North American leg, guitarist May said "This happened organically with Adam. People are going to ask whether it's Queen without Freddie. I don't know. We just want to go out there one more time. Adam isn't an imitator. We're going into new territory."
Drummer Roger Taylor added: "Adam is the most incredible frontman. He's a great diva, and I mean that in the best possible way. We need that theatrically."
Lambert himself is suitably respectful of the situation: “The thought of sharing the stage for a full set in Australia is so beautifully surreal. I'm honoured to be able to pay my respects to Freddie's memory; he's a personal hero of mine, and I am deeply grateful for the chance to sing such powerful music for fans of this legendary band.
"I know this tour will be a huge milestone for me, and with the support of Brian, Roger and the rest of the band, I feel like magic will be on display.”
While it is probably too late for Queen to regain its place as one of the biggest rock acts on the planet - May and Taylor are 66 and 64 respectively - the likelihood of memorable (rather than regrettable) Queen concerts is extremely promising.
QUEEN TOUR DATES
PERTH: Friday 22 August – Perth Arena
SYDNEY: Tuesday 26 August – Allphones Arena
MELBOURNE: Friday 29 August – Rod Laver Arena
BRISBANE – Monday 1 September – Brisbane Entertainment Centre
On sale 10am Wednesday 28 May from ticketek.com.au or 132 849. Visa pre-sale from 12pm (local time) Thursday 22 May until 11pm (local time) Sunday 25. Go to www.visaentertainment.com.au