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Regal new lineup explores 'Cosmos'

What do you get when you cross Bad Company with Queen? The tempting answer, of course, is Bad Queen.

Truthfully, though, that works far better as pseudo-late night talk show host banter than it does as a descriptive serving the truth. "The Cosmos Rocks," out Tuesday, is an album that marks a pair of firsts for the band -- its first without the late, revered Freddie Mercury at the table, and its first with legendary blues-soul-rock belter Paul Rodgers at the microphone.

Founding members Brian May and Roger Taylor make an honest (and mostly successful) attempt to find new life in an old sound. And if Rodgers and Mercury are far more dissimilar than they are alike, well, replacing Mercury with a clone was never the point in the first place.

It was not surprising when, after forming in 2004, the band that would come to be known as Queen Paul Rodgers decided to tour the world playing well-known and much-loved songs from the back catalogs of all involved. The tour, documented by a successful live album and concert DVD, "Return of the Champions," felt like nostalgia, even if hearing and seeing Rodgers in the space once occupied by Mercury was occasionally rather jarring.

This maiden voyage proved akin to sticking one's big toe into the pool to test the waters, prior to diving in headlong. It worked, as a celebration of what was. Now, however, it's time for the assembled to suggest what might be. And, "The Cosmos Rocks" sounds not unlike the sort of din one imagines a hybrid of Queen, Bad Company and Free would summon.

It should be noted that this is an impossible task, this whole "carrying on without Freddie" thing. It's a no-win situation for May and Taylor -- whatever they do will be unfairly compared to past glories. Similarly, Rodgers, despite making it clear that he's no Mercury imitator, will be compared to Mercury regardless.

The record opens with a barn-burner in "Cosmos Rockin'," a song that packs a number of references to Queen's past into its standard blues-rock construction. "Time To Shine" is an anthemic ballad that wouldn't have been out of place on 1990's "Innuendo," marked by a commandingly expansive chorus melody from Rodgers. "Still Burnin' " is the classic self-referential, boastful Queen anthem, and bang, there they are again, those startlingly stacked vocal harmonies doing battle with what I hope is a tongue-in-cheek refrain of the classic "We Will Rock You" "boom-boom-stomp." "Call Me" reprises the playful pseudo-rockabilly off "The Game's" "Crazy Little Thing Called Love," but Rodgers brings a touch of the country leanings of Bad Company to the party.

All of this is good fun, marred only by the appearance of a few tunes that take a step or two over the line into the realm of the overwrought -- most notably, the heartfelt but hopelessly corny power-ballad "We Believe."

In the plus column, firmly ensconced, sits the consistently outstanding singing of Rodgers, one of the finest British blues-rockers extant, and still a man with full, nuanced control of an expansive vocal range.

Similarly, May and Taylor are at the top of their respective games. Just as he did throughout the finest Queen albums of the '70s, May is a purveyor of impressive guitar orchestrations here, moving with agile grace between searing, classical music-themed solos to bluesy squeals and triumphant power-chords, his layered harmony overdubs adding color and texture throughout. Taylor's drum sound is so massive and beautifully recorded on "The Cosmos Rocks" that it sets a new barometer for arena-rock. His playing is probably the most subtle, stripped-down and lean element of the album, but that only serves to make it bigger and more powerful.

There are a few duds folded into "The Cosmos Rocks," but on balance, it's exactly the album one would expect from such an assemblage of rock royalty.

***

Queen Paul Rodgers

The Cosmos Rocks

[Hollywood]

Review: 3 stars (Out of 4)

e-mail: jmiers@buffnews.com

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