Shortly after Queen released their 1984 album The Works, Roger Taylor dropped his second solo album, Strange Frontier. Like its predecessor, Fun In Space, Taylor played most of the instruments himself but, unlike that album, Strange Frontier features some notable guest appearances, including Rick Parfitt from Status Quo and all three of his Queen band mates. The CD has been rereleased in the US in expanded form.
The album opens with the title track, a song that answers the question of what Taylor would sound like put through a Bruce Springsteen filter. The song builds in intensity from its mellow introduction before slamming into its memorable chorus. Given its subject matter about potential nuclear disaster, the song is surprisingly upbeat, with Taylor giving an excellent vocal.
"Beautiful Dreams" finds Taylor mixing synths and acoustic guitars on an appropriately dreamy track that once again references a potential nuclear future. The strong "Man On Fire" finds Taylor getting an assist from a certain Brian May on rhythm guitar. Though uncredited, his massive tone is obvious when it kicks in. An up-tempo rocker, it would have fit in nicely on The Works.
One car guy pays tribute to another as Taylor delivers an excellent cover of Springsteen's "Racing In The Street." Taylor speeds up the tempo from Bruce's original, but it's a testament to Springsteen's songwriting that it still sounds like a Bruce song even with the changes. Springsteen was huge in 1984 and his influence is apparent on this album, yet Taylor is not aping his sound either. He was merely adding another color to his musical palette. Taylor puts his own stamp on his cover of Bob Dylan's "Masters of War," giving an edgy vocal over a pulsating synth background. It's an inspired choice for a cover and Taylor sounds great singing it.
Freddie Mercury contributes background vocals to the very 1980s sounding "Killing Time," a song filled with electronic drums and synthesizers. While the song is very much of its time, Taylor gives a strong vocal and, just like with "Man On Fire," Mercury's presence is very obvious when he appears in the track. Rick Parfitt, who co-wrote "It's An Illusion," joins John Deacon as guest musicians on the straight-ahead rocker on guitar and bass respectively. A driving rocker, the song is one of the highlights on the album. Taylor closes the album with a potent vocal on the dance-oriented rocker "I Cry For You."
The rereleased album features five bonus tracks including an extended version of "Man On Fire" where May's playing is even more apparent and the non-album track "Two Sharp Pencils." Like Fun In Space before it, Strange Frontier is an underrated release and it's fantastic that it is back in print in the US. While the synths and electronic drums make the album sound more dated than Fun In Space, the songs are strong enough to make up for it.
As the 1980s wore on, Taylor and May no longer featured on lead vocals on Queen tracks, but Taylor made up for it in spades with his excellent solo releases. With all the cameos, both musically and production wise from David Richards and Mack, Strange Frontier could be the musical cousin of The Works anyhow. Well worth owning for Queen and Taylor fans.