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Magic? Kind of
on 16 June 2013
Regular readers of this column (lol etc) will probably draw the conclusion that I have somewhat of a downer on Queen's 80's recordings. Although past their creative peak, they could still knock out a decent tune; its just that the bad stuff got worse.
But lets begin on a positive step. 'One Vision' introduces the album, and neatly sums up what the rest of the album will bring, namely some rock and very 80's pop melded together. Its chiefly a simple if catchy rock riff though, so we're off to a good start. Then we have what I consider to be Queen's best 'pop' moment, the title track itself. Constructed around not 1 but 2 memorable bass lines, it deservedly went on to be one of Queen's biggest hits and probably established them as pretty much the biggest band on the planet at the time. But the stand out track for me on this album is not a household name. 'Gimme the Prize' is one for the proper rock fan, and is a stark contrast to most of the other songs on here. It's one of the all too rare occasions where Brian May is allowed to unleash some serious guitar mayhem, even making his axe sound like bagpipes at one point. Above all this you have Freddie bellowing some rather self aggrandizing lyrics, and if this song doesn't empower you and make you feel that you can go out and take on the world then nothing will. Seriously, if you like your heavier stuff and don't know this song, its well worth seeking out. The only other song that comes close is 'Princes of the Universe', which actually uses a very similar riff but doesn't work quite as well. Still, it gives May another chance to work out his frustrations on his fret board, which is always a good thing.
But...after these songs the rest of the album sounds rather limp. Keyboards and the rather shiny and polished production values come to the fore, and this is why listening to Queen can be frustrating at times. The real low points, 'Don't Lose Your Head' and 'Pain is so Close to Pleasure' could have only been recorded in the mid 80's, the latter in particular sounds like something Michael Jackson or Billy Ocean could have done at the time. 'One Year of Love' is a Queen stab at soul, complete with sax solo (it was the law that in the mid 80's, you had to have a sax solo in one of your songs) and you have your mandatory ballads, 'Friends will be Friends' and 'Who wants to Live Forever' which will probably do you just fine if you're into that sort of thing.
There is one massively positive aspect to this album though. I have always considered this to be Freddie Mercury's finest recorded statement in terms of his vocals. Regardless of how good or poor the song happens to be, Freddie sings with the confidence and authority of someone who is at the top of his game. Which makes the fact that the great man would be dead 5 years after this album came out all the more heartbreaking. But if you're not a Queen fan in particular but you happen to love Freddie's voice, this is the one to have. If you do love Queen, you'll have this already. If you want to get into them, start in the 70's and work your way up to this one, as by the time you do, you'll be ready to forgive them for their occasional failings and appreciate their strengths a lot more.
And I didn't even mention Highlander once. This is not a soundtrack, and you don't have to see the film to get more out of the album, and you don't have to listen to the album to enjoy the film. The film's rubbish anyway!