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There Can Be Only One
on 8 September 2011
1986 was a big year for me. Not only was it the year one of my favourite movies, Highlander, was released it was also the year I became a Queen fan - not because of Highlander (I did not see that film until its release on VHS - remember that format?) though. I became a fan after my brother bought a copy of Live Magic in December 1986. After then I made an effort to listen to as much of Queen's music as I could get my hands on and luckily for me one of my best friends who lived two doors down was into the band and started lending me the albums. A Kind of Magic was the first he lent me - on vinyl (remember that?) as it was the band's last studio album at that point and seemed a good starting place.
From the opening moments of One Vision to the closing moments of Princes of the Universe I barely breathed as I discovered the studio versions of songs I had only heard in their live format at that point i.e. One Vision, A Kind of Magic and Friends Will Be Friends. Of the three it is only A Kind of Magic I have had a great deal of affection for in its studio format. This Roger Taylor penned track reportedly ended up in this version due to Freddie locking himself in the studio and saying to Roger he would make into a hit - and he was as good as his word as the song reached number 3 in the UK charts (when it meant something - remember that?) and sounds as current now as it did back then. One Vision is an above average Queen rocker but I absolutely hate Friends Will Be Friends. It was clearly trying to be the next big anthem for fans to sing along to at live shows but lacks the substance of previous stadium anthems written by the band and is among the three worst tracks on the album - the other two being Don't Lose Your Head (about as bland as Queen ever got) and the Deacon/Mercury collaboration Pain Is So Close To Pleasure (no it isn't!).
As I discovered when reading the sleeve notes a lot of the music was to feature on Highlander and three of the songs - aside from A Kind of Magic - that stand out on the album all featured predominantly. One Year of Love and Who Wants To Live Forever are both gentle rock ballads - Forever naturally garnering the most praise though Love is a little gem in its own way and Princes of the Universe opened the film and has some wonderful heavy guitar in it and is one of Queen's best promo videos despite it not being a UK single (a crime given Friends was!). Heavy guitars are also the defining characteristic of the other album track not mentioned so far, Gimme The Prize, which like the 1980 single Flash, makes use of film dialogue heavily in the track - perhaps not surprising given May wrote both tracks.
Overall all then I would sum up A Kind of Magic as three great songs, two very good songs, an average song and three stinkers, which means I can only give it three stars - even though as per usual the re-mastering work gives a fresh listening experience.
The bonus CD on the deluxe version is perhaps one of the better ones on the last set of reissues. It opens with the Highlander version (played on the end credits) of A Kind of Magic and though good in its own right (I prefer it to the album version) Freddie was right to turn it into a hit! The single version of One Vision is included (pointless as it's on Greatest Hits II) and proving you can't make a silk purse out of a sow's ear is a single remix of Pain Is So Close To Pleasure. Rather than One Vision it might have been better to have included the 7" version of Who Wants To Live Forever given that on GHII and Absolute Greatest the version used is the album mix. Forever is an instrumental of Who Wants To Live Forever and is interesting to try and sing along to...whilst the next track A Kind of Vision is the most interesting given that it was a song Taylor wrote in 1985 that then became the basis of both One Vision and A Kind of Magic. One Vision gets another mention, but this time as a live version from the 11 July Wembley show - a nice to hear rather than a must hear and Friends Will Be Friends Will Be Friends is an extended mix of the album track that like Forever was originally a bonus track on the original 1986 CD release. Indeed, the omission of A Kind of a Kind of Magic on the bonus disc sums up just why the bonus CD's have been somewhat of a mixed bag over the re-issues. It certainly should not have been left off due to lack of space on the disc.
Overall then A Kind of Magic is just that, it is a kind of a magic but nothing too spectacular - more Paul Daniels than Penn & Teller!