Innuendo, Queen’s last album with Freddie Mercury, is a testament to the themes and values the band members had been writing about since the beginning: persistence (“Headlong”), melodrama (“I’m Going Slightly Mad”), and the radiant present (“These Are the Days of Our Lives”). While it’s easy to let Mercury’s death overshadow the music, it’s more interesting to consider that the album came out in 1991—the same year as both Nirvana’s Nevermind and Metallica’s Metallica (aka the Black Album). The tides were shifting; the guard was changing. If there’d ever been a band like Queen before, they were mostly gone by now, and the ones that would pick up where they left off—The Killers, Panic! At the Disco, and Nirvana drummer Dave Grohl’s new band, Foo Fighters—were yet to come. Innuendo’s title track called back to the sweep and theatricality of “Bohemian Rhapsody.” But in a way, the album’s emotional centerpiece was—and would invariably be—“The Show Must Go On,” not only because it captured the band’s sense of persistence, but because it spoke most directly to Mercury’s death. He’d never been forthcoming about personal stuff, even with his bandmates, and in general, Mercury seemed to find frailty annoying—whether it was his own or anyone else’s. Brian May remembers bringing him the song with a trace of apology, because he worried the vocal line might be too demanding; Mercury responded by taking a drink of vodka neat and doing it in a few takes. Innuendo is the sound of the end of an era, and the closing of one of rock’s most spectacular and triumphant ongoing shows.

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