By Gillian G. Gaar
Hollywood Records (D001460202)
A Kind of Magic
Hollywood Records (D001460502)
Hollywood Records (D001460802)
Hollywood Records (D001461102)
Made In Heaven
Hollywood Records (D001461402)
The last five releases in the Queen reissue program cover the band’s least successful period in America. But as with the other reissues, the sound quality is much improved, so if any of these are your favorite albums, you’ll want to consider an upgrade.
“The Works” saw Queen getting back to hard rock after the disco dalliance on “Hot Space.” Best known in America is “Radio Ga Ga,” the band’s last U.S. hit single. There’s also a return to rockabilly in “Man On The Prowl;” “Hammer To Fall” is a great rocker, and Freddie Mercury’s vocal is sublime on “Is This The World We Created …?” Not every song works, such as the meandering “Machines (‘Back To Humans),” but overall “The Works” is a solid collection of straightforward songs á lá “The Game.” Bonus tracks include the holiday number “Thank God It’s Christmas,” single remixes, a non-album B-side and two live songs from the band’s 1985 appearance in Rio that will make you wish the entire show had been reissued.
“A Kind Of Magic” stalled at No. 46 in America, when, in many ways, it’s a stronger, more cohesive album than “The Works” (even though most of the songs had been composed for two different film soundtracks). “One Vision” is the invigorating opener, “Who Wants To Live Forever” is gorgeous, and Mercury’s voice shines throughout, torchy on “One Year Of Love,” indulging in Motown-esque pop on “Pain Is So Close To Pleasure,” and getting completely carried away on “Princes Of The Universe.” The most interesting bonus tracks are demo versions of “Who Wants To Live Forever” (“Forever”) and Roger Taylor’s “A Kind Of Vision,” showing how “One Vision” and “A Kind Of Magic” were once the same song.
“The Miracle” feels like an album that’s marking time. “I Want It All,” a trademark Queen anthem, is a standout, but too much of the rest of the album feels generic. Perhaps the three-year break between “Magic” and “Miracle” had been too long; while the music is competently played, there’s nothing especially innovative, as if the band had run out of ideas. Bonus tracks include non-album B-sides, single mixes and an early version of “The Invisible Man.”
“Innuendo” is a stunning return to form. The last album recorded while Freddie Mercury was alive echoes “A Night At The Opera;” the same confidence, energy and mixing and matching of different musical styles, as in the title track. There’s also the gentle samba of “These Are The Days Of Our Lives,” the menacing camp of “I’m Going Slightly Mad,” the sweet “Delilah” (about one of Mercury’s cats, complete with Brian May’s guitar emulating a kitty), and the grand finale of the haunting, heart-wrenching “The Show Must Go On.” A fitting farewell. Bonus tracks include “Ride The Wild Wind” with a guide vocal from Roger Taylor, an early version of “Headlong,” and the reworked “I Can’t Live With You” that appeared on “Queen Rocks.”
Knowing Mercury’s time was running out, Queen began work on “Made In Heaven” as soon as “Innuendo” was finished. Some songs go as far back as 1980 (“It’s A Beautiful Day”) or were on Mercury’s solo records (both the title track and “I Was Born To Love You” are from “Mr. Bad Guy,” and “Queen-ized” for this release). The heartfelt “Too Much Love Can Kill You” was originally slated for “Miracle,” and was happily rescued for this release. Other highlights include the poignant “Mother Love,” with Mercury’s final vocal performance, and “You Don’t Fool Over,” also one of Mercury’s last vocal recordings, which has a breezy confidence. Highly emotional without being mawkish, it provides an eloquent conclusion to Queen’s recording career. Bonus tracks include more B-sides, Taylor’s version of “Heaven For Everyone” (which he recorded with his group The Cross) and vocals and piano mix of “I Was Born To Love You.”