CD Review: Queen

Queen
Queen 40, Vol. 3: The Works, A Kind of Magic, The Miracle, Innuendo, Made in Heaven
Hollywood Records
By David Chiu

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Although Queen’s momentum in the United States declined during the’80s, the band was still popular in Europe and the rest of the world. It was a period that saw Queen still at the top of the their game until tragedy struck that would change everything and mark the end of one chapter of the group’s storied history.

After the mixed reception to Hot Space, Queen released The Works (1984), a return to their hard-rock form. The album’s sound was certainly of the period with the emphasis on synths such as on the New Wave-ish hit “Radio Ga Ga “and “Machines (or Back to Humans)”; the rest of the album is marked by the distinctive and eclectic Queen styles of heavy rock (“Tear It Up,” “Hammer to Fall), ballads (“Is This the World We Created,” a typical Mercury composition in “It’s a Hard Life”) and pop (John Deacon’s “I Want to Break Free”). The Works saw a revitalized band come back. The bonus EP contains a few noteworthy rarities: live performances of “Is This the World…” and “It’s a Hard Life” from Rio, and a Headbanger’s remix of “Hammer to Fall.”

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Queen delivered a memorable performance at Live Aid in 1985 and the energy from that day carried over into the next record, A Kind of Magic (1986) — whose music was also featured in the movie Highlander, their second soundtrack outing. An overall satisfying record, Magic delivered two key tracks that became staples of Queen’s live set list during the Magic Tour: the title song and the adrenaline-fueled “One Vision.” Again, like The Works, Magic also showcases a range of styles, whether it is the smooth jazzy pop of “One Year of Love,” the Motown homage “Pain is So Close to Pleasure” or the bombastic rockers “Gimme the Prize” and “Princes of the Universe”; Brian May’s power ballad “Who Wants to Live Forever” provides the album’s emotional high point. From the bonus EP, only the rare tracks such as “A Kind of Magic” (Highlander Version), “A Kind of Vision” and “Friends Will Be Friends Will Be Friends” will be of interest to die- hard fans.

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Three years later, Queen returned with The Miracle (1989), a somewhat underrated that successfully closed the ‘80s for the band: it ranges from funk rockers (Party, The Invisible Man, “Rain Must Fall”) to pop (the chugging “Breakthru,” the semi-autobiographical “Scandal”) The best songs on the record are the anthemic rocker “I want it All” and the socially-conscious title song; the closing “Was It All Worth It” is a musical and semi-autobiographical tribute to Queen’s past triumphs, a fitting hint of what was to come on the next record. The material was credited to all four members, which is why the music sounded a bit stronger than it has in the past. The additonal disc to this reissue contains a plethora of bonus tracks, most notably the Roger Taylor B-side “Hijack My Heart,” the loose-sounding rocker “Stealin’” and “The Invisible Man” with a guide vocal.

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With no tour for The Miracle and Freddie Mercury’s declining health, the group returned shortly with Innuendo (1991), an absolutely triumphant album that recalled Queen’s best work from the ‘70s. The title song recalls “Bohemian Rhapsody” in terms of the length (over six minutes) and its progressive/art rock sensibilities along with “I’m Going Slightly Mad” and “All God’s People”; “Headlong” is a classic straight-ahead rocker; “The Hitman” was the group’s heaviest offering in years that harkens News of the World; and “These Are the Days of Our Lives” is a sublime and gorgeous ballad. Most telling are the album’s lyrics that read like meditations on life and death which in retrospect seems appropriate given Mercury’s personal situation. Sadly, Innuendo would be the last record recorded with Mercury before he died on Nov. 24, 1991. Some of the additional tracks of interest to fans on this Innuendo reissue are the bluesy ballad “Lost Opportunity,” which would have been a perfect fit for Brian May’s Back to the Light solo record; an alternate mix of “I’m Going Slightly Mad”; and an early version of “Headlong,” with May’s guide vocal.

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In 1995, the surviving members of Queen released Made in Heaven (1995), a collection of songs that were finished or revisited following Mercury’s death. The fact that it was patched together and released after the fact probably accounts on why it sounds uneven compared to Innuendo. But given the circumstances, it still remains a loving and heartfelt tribute to Mercury, particularly in the reworking of two previously released Mercury solo songs: the title track and “I Was Born to Love You”; the gospel-inspired, “Let Me Live” is notable for featuring Mercury, May and Taylor taking turns on lead vocals; and “It’s a Beautiful Day” bookends the record, first as a soulful piano and vocal number and later as an uplifting rock song. If not cohesive or brilliant, “Made in Heaven” is certainly the most poignant record Queen has ever made. Several bonus songs on this reissue include a B-side version of “It’s a Beautiful Day,” the original version of “My Life’s Been Saved,” and “Rock in Rio Blues.”

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