Queen guitarist Brian May recalls Freddie Mercury's 'very generous' blessing for solo music

·5 min read

The house where Brian May is ensconced is part of his living history.

Tucked away in Surrey, England, the home has been his sanctuary, a place he purchased in the early ‘80s for his family because it offered “adventures” for his children to frolic in the woods.

It also became a place for the legendary Queen guitarist to hibernate after getting divorced in 1988 and begin work on his first solo album, “Back to the Light.”

“I had some very dark times here, because it’s a big house out in the country, and when there’s nobody in it, it rattles,” May said recently from his “Zoom Room” in the Surrey domicile. “So when I started making this album, that’s when the house started to come back to life. And when I started to come back to life, really, which is what the album is about.”

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Brian May says the reissue of "Back to the Light," out Aug. 6, 2021, is the first in a series.
Brian May says the reissue of "Back to the Light," out Aug. 6, 2021, is the first in a series.

Released in September 1992, the melody-and-riff-packed “Back to the Light” thrived in England, where songs “Too Much Love Will Kill You” and “Driven by You” parked in the Top 10.

Its success in the U.S. was fleeting – an uninspiring No. 159 peak on the Billboard album chart. But the Aug. 6 reissue of May’s defining work, which has long been unavailable on CD, vinyl and streaming, will reintroduce the original dozen tracks. It will also feature an 11-song bonus lineup of live and guitar-only versions of songs.

May, 74, who dutifully posts updates on social media about his health – including his recovery from a heart attack in May 2020 and, more recently, eye surgery – realized fans couldn't use his music with Instagram Stories. That helped prompt him to remaster and rerelease “Back to the Light.” (1998’s “Another World” is next for a refresh.)

A warm and thoughtful conversationalist, May talked to USA TODAY about the confidence boost he received from Freddie Mercury, the status of new music with Queen + Adam Lambert and what he thinks is his “tombstone song.”

Brian May, lead guitarist of Queen, calls his song "Too Much Love Will Kill You" a "tombstone song."
Brian May, lead guitarist of Queen, calls his song "Too Much Love Will Kill You" a "tombstone song."

Q: You wrote and recorded this album during a time of upheaval with your divorce and the death of Freddie Mercury (in 1991). Were you concerned about going back to revisit it?

Brian May: I went into it with an open mind, but I did have the feeling that I would be revisiting a younger version of me. That I would feel that I was older and wiser and all the passion and pain and whatever that was in this album, perhaps I would just kind of look at with a smile and think, 'I'm over all of that now.' Funny thing is, it didn't happen. All this stuff in this album represents the fact that I didn't really grow up (laughs). Some of it's good because I still have the passion. I still have the hunger. But I still have the pain and the yearning and the feeling that I don't get things right, the feeling that there are unsolved problems. And that's what this album is all about. So I offer it now to a new generation.

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Brian May, lead guitarist of Queen, released "Back to the Light" in 1992 and is reissuing the solo work on Aug. 6, 2021.
Brian May, lead guitarist of Queen, released "Back to the Light" in 1992 and is reissuing the solo work on Aug. 6, 2021.

Q: You’ve said that “Too Much Love Will Kill You” is one of your most important songs. Still feel that way?

May: Yeah, I think it's a tombstone song. It's a theme of my life; I never quite got that right. I probably loved too much and live too much in my head. My perception of the world is, on the one hand, vast, and I know because I’m an astronomer. But on the other hand, I live in this very small emotional world.

Q: You wrote “Driven by You” specifically for a British car commercial. Was there ever any criticism of “selling out”?

May: I don’t think anyone thought of it as selling out because I always write for myself. (The song) meant "driven by you," as the car is driven by you, physically, but it also meant to be "driven by you" in a relationship sense and that can be good and bad, heaven and hell. What it did was give me confidence because it was a job (outside Queen).

Q: And Freddie gave you his blessing?

May: I had a moment with Freddie because I was a little worried: Is it tasteful for me to offer this as a solo track not knowing how long Freddie would be with us? I just said, "Do you want to have a listen?" and he said, "I love it, it’s great. Nice bit of work." And I said, "Do you want to sing it? Do you think it should be a Queen track?" and he said, "You sing it beautifully, darling, and you should go for it." We had this little conversation that I didn’t expect and he said: "You should be doing this. I don’t know how long I’ll be here, and Brian, you should be getting yourself ready and embarking on what will be your solo career." Freddie is very generous and incredibly philosophical about looking at the end of his life. I never heard him complain.

Q: The European tour with Queen + Adam Lambert isn't expected to start until May, but you all were in the studio a couple of months ago. Any new music coming?

May: It didn't really go anywhere. We had fun – a lot of fun. But we didn't feel that anything was good enough to pursue. It would have to be great and be something that stopped you in your tracks. We’re very aware that people, if they if they have a recorded work from Queen, they expect to hear Freddie. Live, I think everybody's gotten very used to the fact that Adam more than delivers. Some people don’t like it and that’s fine. They can stay at home and listen to the records! But mostly people love it. I feel very proud of what we do out there as Queen + Adam Lambert.

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Queen guitarist Brian May reissues 'Back to the Light' solo album

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