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The Cover Uncovered: Freddie Mercury's farewell on Queen album 'Innuendo'

Queen has been one of the most iconic rock bands of all time. Over the years, the band has come up with some very memorable records – from their eponymous album Queen to A Night at the Opera, to Jazz, and so on. With time the band has undergone a constant change in its line-up, but the most popular has been the one with Freddie Mercury on lead vocals and piano, Brian May on the guitar, Roger Taylor on drums and John Deacon on the bass.

For this week’s feature of Cover Uncovered, we go back to Queen’s 1991 album Innuendo, which incidentally was also the last Queen album of Freddie Mercury‘s lifetime. For this album’s music, the band went back to their roots – coming up with some of the most raw and original tunes, making Innuendo one of their best albums – both in terms of musicality as well as lyrics.

One of the elements that made Innuendo so attractive and eye-catching was its unusual and colourful album cover. A little unknown fact about the cover art is that it was adapted from the French caricaturist J. J. Grandville’s surrealist artwork ‘Juggler of Universes’ from his book Un Autre Monde (literally meaning, “Another World”).

Grandville, apart from his two most celebrated works Les Fleurs Animées and Un Autre Monde, was also well known for designing the book covers for some of the classics such as Robinson Crusoe, Don Quixote, and Gulliver’s Travels. His work in Un Autre Monde, however, was considered a significant precursor to the Surrealist movement. It is from this book that most of the artwork for Queen’s album Innuendo was inspired.

While most of Grandville’s piece of ‘Juggler of Universes’ stayed the same on the Innuendo cover, the art was black and white. Richard Gray, the artist behind designing the album cover, incorporated colours into the picture to make it stand out more. Apart from that, and we’re sure you would notice if you see the original drawing, there is the somewhat strange presence of the banana in the picture. Grandville’s original featured a meteorite in the form of the Cross of Legion of Honour, that the band and Gray decided to bring their own surrealist twist to.

Richard Gray was the photographer and designer for Queen for almost 26 years and he came up with multiple album covers for the band as well as photographed them on stage. Gray joined the music industry in the early ’80s and some of his most recognised works – apart from Queen’s – had been with artists such as Kate Bush, David Bowie, Duran Duran, Live Aid, and so on. Gray was also the photographer for Queen’s final concert on stage with Freddie Mercury.

For Innuendo, Gray’s designs were truly commendable. Grandville was known for his unique representations of faces of animals and objects alike, with human expressions. For the back cover of Innuendo, Gray used a version of Grandville’s drawing, the centrepiece of which was a lion with a brass tuba in place of its head.

Gray also designed each of the member’s faces in the artwork for the inner sleeves of the album in a similar style. Mercury featured with some cats and a banana (again), Deacon in a clown costume with a rabbit and a tortoise, May with a mime-mask coming off his face and with snakes in place of hair (like Medusa), and Taylor in a shirt with stars and stripes and suns and with a halo of sun rays behind his head.

Subsequently, Gray used modified renditions of Grandville’s drawings for the covers for some of the singles on the album, as well. For the front and back cover of ‘The Show Must Go On’ and ‘Innuendo’, Gray chose the images from the ‘Concert à La Vapeur’ section of the book Un Autre Monde. For ‘I’m Going Slightly Mad’, the cover included Grandville’s drawings of ‘Volvox’ and ‘The Cage of Heraldic Animals’. ‘Headlong’ and ‘These Are the Days of Our Lives’ also featured the coloured versions of Grandville’s original works.

It is no surprise that Innuendo became one of the top-rated and most loved albums by Queen, what with such a rich and varied artistic and musical influence. You can check out some of Grandville’s original works in Un Autre Monde here, and view the final Queen effort below.