Wednesday 17 November 2021

Roger Taylor - Outsider (2021)

Country: UK
Style: Rock
Rating: 6/10
Release Date: 1 Oct 2021
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This may not be the most minimalist cover on any album I've reviewed at Apocalypse Later, but I'd be surprised if it isn't the most pink. I guess that makes it an Outsider and the logical response to that is, "Welcome to the club!" Now, we don't tend to think of Roger Taylor as an outsider, given a highly acknowledged career in music that dates back to three years before I was born (and I'm on my second half century). Most obviously, of course, he was the drummer in Queen from before it was even founded, given that it grew out of Smile, in which he spent a few years alongside Brian May before Freddie Mercury joined and renamed it Queen.

Now, Queen were always an eclectic band—arguably the most successful eclectic band of all time, though they might have to hand that crown to the Beatles—and this album follows suit, because it veers through a patchwork of different genres and styles. That can be a good thing, as it was on a variety of Queen albums, especially Sheer Heart Attack, but it isn't always and it's electic here in many ways because it's half reworkings of older material and half newer songs to add to them.

That's an odd approach but then Taylor isn't really known for his solo albums. This is only his sixth such in over half a century of making music, following Fun on Earth eight years ago, and my guess is that he felt the urge to do something during lockdown. There's a song here called Isolation that is easy to read as his feelings over the past year. It's actually one of the highlights of the album, a notch or two above quite a lot of it.

I believe it opens with new stuff. Tides is new wave pop/rock with an edge of prog. It's enticing and easy to listen to, Taylor's voice as soft as ever. I Know, I Know, I Know mixes teasing xylophone with poppy fingersnaps, but settles into a similarly patient pop/rock vibe. There's a lot of David Bowie here, as there is on Absoutely Anything, but with a side of Pink Floyd too. In between those latter two tracks, though, is More Kicks (Long Day's Journey into Night... Life), which is a rocker, starting out with some rocking drums and, well, rocking throughout. It's not a great rocker, really, but it's a rocker and it feels as at home here, given his talents, as it does out of place with what's around it.

Then we get some older songs. Absolutely Anything is a reworked version of a song he wrote for a film of the same name in 2015. Gangsters are Running This World is a single he put out a couple of years ago, oddly included here in two versions, one heavier than the other (and very cool indeed). These all feature right in the meat of the album, while two others wait for the end: Foreign Sand, a new version of a song he released as a single in 1994, and Journey's End, a single in 2017. I have to own up here because they're all new to me. I don't think I've heard any solo Taylor since Fun in Space way back in the early '80s, though I do remember his other band, the Cross, a little later on.

As you might imagine, this doesn't feel particularly coherent as an album, but the songs are good for the most part and it occasionally sparks into great. For me, that's around the middle, with the two takes on Gangsters bookending the only track with a guest, We're All Just Trying to Get By, an interesting singer/songwriter sort of number with KT Tunstall lending her talents to proceedings. I like Isolation after them too, which has moments of experimentation in a song that feels smooth in that Bowie-esque style. And then there's a spirited cover of The Clapping Song, a million seller for Shirley Ellis in 1965. How it even thinks about fitting here I have no idea, but it's a highlight. I'd be lying if I didn't say I drifted away somewhat after that.

So this is a mixed bag. Fans of solo Taylor will enjoy, as may some fans of Queen but it feels like it's a solo album by a musician not known for his solo music. There's good stuff here but it doesn't gel together particularly well, even if there's a vague arc of aggression that waxes and wanes as the album moves on. The opener and closer, Tides and Journey's End, are stylistic mirrors that have us coming in calm and leaving that way, with the more interesting, less thoughtful songs in between.

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