Marc Martel recently released a stupendous EP of Queen cover songs entitled Thunderbolt and Lightning. If you are looking for a paint by numbers album of Queen covers this is not it. If you are an opened minded Queen fan looking for bold reinterpretations of beloved classics then you have struck gold.
Martel’s collection is among the absolute best set of Queen covers that I have ever heard. Martel has a unique perspective for his bold and refreshing interpretations. He has spent the last six years singing the classic hits and more of Queen. Beginning initially in 2012 Martel fronted the official Queen cover band The Queen Extravaganza. Queen drummer Roger Taylor was partially responsible for handpicking the band members. In 2016 Martel opted to branch out on his own and formed The Ultimate Queen Celebration. Both bands have toured the world predominantly playing the greatest hits of Queen. Martel has had the opportunity to sing some lesser known Queen songs as well, including The Prophet’s Song, Liar, In The Lap Of The Gods… Revisited and I Was Born To Love You.
If any artist is qualified to record AND reinterpret some of Queen’s most beloved songs it is Marc Martel. His experience has given him intimate knowledge of the song structures. He is keenly aware of the subtle nuances needed to pull off the complex and singable songs with conviction. The number of people who I would trust to reinterpret the music of Queen is a very short list. With the Thunder And Lighting EP Martel achieves the seemingly impossible. He has respectfully stayed true to the original arrangements while simultaneously putting a unique and modern spin on the songs. I know that some Queen fans will be skeptical. I also know that a few fans will not accept anything but the original versions. I hope that many Queen many will open their minds and enjoy the work of a true artist.
Bohemian Rhapsody – Martel begins boldly with one of Queen’s most difficult and well known songs. I am amazed at the number of artists who have chosen to tackle this monumental song. Whether it has been in a live setting or a studio cover most versions fall flat. That is not the case with Martel’s version. Martel’s rendition generally adheres to the original arrangement. The biggest differences are his artistic choices. Some will disagree with those choices, but I admire his boldness. Martel adds in modern drum beats, totally omits all of the electric guitars and adds in a string section. The song is stripped of the rock and roll bombast, yet Martel is able to make it work. The classical stings are the song’s true point of difference. Vocally Martel does not stray too far from the original studio recording.
We Are The Champions – Right from the start the listener is aware that Martel has opted for a modern approach to this classic track. Yet, he remains true to the original. There are some subtle additions throughout the song that help to take it beyond a straight re-recording.
Love Of My Life – Martel omits the classically inspired piano of the original version. In its place he has added classical strings. Vocally he has based his rendition on the original studio version. Martel opts not to reproduce the original’s multi-tracked vocals and Brian May’s wonderful guitar solo. With just a single vocal track and strings he has created a wonderfully intimate and stripped down version of a much beloved song.
Under Pressure – Martel stretches his creativity with one of Queen’s most emotional songs. He stays very close to the arrangement of the original. The song includes many subtle and clever additions and omissions. Vocalist Kevin Max, ex-member of the band DC Talk, handles the David Bowie vocal section. Martel and Max do a fantastic job on the song.
Don’t Stop Me Now – Martel displays his brilliance with the arrangement of one of Freddie Mercury’s signature Queen songs. Martel adheres to much of the original arrangement while mixing in modern production values. Somehow Martel makes it all work together. The original is a piano driver rocker. Martel brings the drums to the forefront and lets the beats carry the song. Vocally Martel is spot on, he sounds so much like Freddie Mercury that it is uncanny. With this rendition Martel successfully blends the 1970’s with the 2000’s.
You Take My Breath Away – The only deep cut on Thunder And Lightning. The original is largely a Freddie Mercury creation. For reasons known only to the band the song lasted in their live set for just one tour in 1977. I have always loved this song. It is a fantastic showcase for Freddie Mercury’s angelic vocals. The original version would have worked well solely as a piano ballad. Brian May’s contribution to the song is one of his finest guitar orchestral solos. May’s overdubbed guitars sound like the string section of an orchestra. Martel strips away the vocal overdubs and the electric guitars. His version is intimate with just his voice, the hauntingly beautiful piano and a cello. The brilliance of Brian May’s original solo is highlighted by how well it sounds played by a cello. This is my favorite song on Thunder And Lightning.
Somebody To Love – This is the song that began Martel’s Queen journey. His video audition singing this song is what caught the eyes and ears of many. Martel could not record a collection of Queen songs without including this song. This version mixes modern drum sounds with an arrangement that adheres closely to the original studio version. Martel wisely leaves Brian May’s signature guitar solo intact. Towards the end of the song Martel adds in vocal touches that are more in line with live versions of the song.
We Are The Champions – Reprise – A short reprise, just under a minute and a half, that features just Martel’s vocals and a piano.
I have just one complaint about Thunder and Lightening. At just over thirty minutes it is too short. I know that it is an EP, however the quality of Martel’s creation is so extraordinary that I want to hear more. I know that the EP was just released, but I am extremely eager for a followup. It would be amazing to hear a full album of Martel’s creative reinterpretations of additional Queen songs. If there is a followup I would be overjoyed to hear some deeper cuts in the Queen catalog. A few that I would love to hear include White Queen (As It Began), Don’t Try So Hard, Lily Of The Valley, A Kind Of Magic, Jealousy, Spread Your Wings and Scandal.
Marc Martel could have chosen to record an EP of note for note cover versions. If that was his choice I still would have eagerly purchased the EP. That would not have been his style. Marc Martel is more than just an extraordinarily gifted singer. The man is truly an artist. Only a true artist could create art as exquisite as Thunderbolt And Lightning. Speaking as a fan of Queen and Marc Martel I do hope that other fans embrace Thunder And Lightning.