❉ There is something endearing to Freddie’s first farewell, writes Eoghan Lyng.
This is a funny one. Hard to love, impossible to loathe, it’s neither as experimental as the daring Hot Space nor as consistently brilliant as the joyous The Works. As a whole, Queen’s writing cache had dropped since The Game; even then, The Miracle has very little of note to it. Its follow-up, Innuendo, an expansive essay of despair, is a much better album in thematic display and production. Yet there is something endearing to The Miracle, a stadium rock album which delighted Queen fans three whole years after the release of A Kind of Magic (1986).
Busying themselves between albums, only John Deacon seemed content to spend quality time with his family. Roger Taylor, eager to champion his artistry beyond the drumkit, had formed The Cross, whose mellifluous screaming compensated for their erratic songcraft. Freddie Mercury, anxious to enter into the world of opera, recorded the sublime Barcelona with legendary soprano Montserrat Caballé while Brian May, ever considerate in his work, had produced Eastenders’ Anita Dobson, a coquettish star with whom he sat in with on Terry Wogan’s show in 1987.
The chemistry was more than musical, as any tabloid writer was keen to point out. May’s separation from his first wife had caused a stir and the guitarist’s personal life had become a convoy of newspaper headlines inquiring into his personal life. Ever searching for a creative muse, May channelled his turmoil into Scandal, a choppy pop song many fans have since interpreted about another band member’s failing health.
“We knew something was amiss, sure” Barcelona co-writer Mike Moran recalled about Mercury’s terminal decline. “Roger and Brian and John would say that you’d go into denial, you don’t really want to know. Fred was such a larger than life character that we thought it would go away. Of course it didn’t and the sad thing is, because medicine changed an awful lot, if he’d gotten ill a year later, he’d probably still be alive. Fred was too early. But he was full of life, sang and worked until the day he couldn’t any more. He never gave less than a hundred per cent and did his best not to let it beat him”.
AIDS had first entered into Mercury’s life through members of his social circle, and now he himself had been diagnosed in 1987. His attitude towards his ailment was one of pragmatism and silence. Though it must have been inferred, his bandmates were not officially informed until 1990, only after The Miracle was released. May recalled that he’d vomited; he’d channelled the death of his father in Queen’s sombre Who Wants to Live Forever? and now looked to lose another man of great importance having just ended his own marriage. One can see why Too Much Will Kill You (finally released in 1992) sounds as dispirited as it does.
Which makes The Miracle the last of a type of Queen album, a product advertising to its fans what joys it would undoubtedly see onstage. Air-punching rockers I Want It All and Breakthru chugged with singalong choruses which longed to be mosh-pitted along to, Party and Khashoogi’s Ship offered front-burner references by which audience members could latch onto. By Innuendo, that dream was a distant memory, leaving the band to conquer their inestimable failings (I Can’t Live With You, Bijou) and reflect on their paling mortalities (These Are The Days Of Our Lives, The Show Must Go On). By 1991, Deacon, the band’s song-writing bassist, had found domestic life infinitely more enjoyable to band work, prevaricating before declining to write songs for Innuendo, leaving May and Mercury to write the bulk of the material, as Queen’s first four efforts had been written.
The Miracle, however, showcases all four members contributing as prolifically and proudly as they had since the excellent News of The World. 1984’s The Works had proven another watershed for Queen, each writing a thriving hit. Radio Gaga and Hammer To Fall, cognizant of rising technologies, triumphed as singalong anthems during Queen’s magnificent Live Aid performance, while I Want To Break Free and It’s A Hard Life offered rare moments of insight into the frailties of Messrs Deacon and Mercury. The Miracle went one further, crediting every song to the band as a collective, regardless of who wrote what. While there are some tells (My Baby Does Me is steeped from head to toe in Deacon’s funk DNA), the band sound united and primed, rehearsing their set for the inevitable day when Mercury would be well enough to play Knebworth with them again.
The band presented themselves with this unity on its cover, a one-sheet collage melding the four faces as one beast. A freakish effect, it remained one of the few leftover ideas from the album’s leftover change from being christened The Invisible Men – yet how the ratchety Invisible Man found itself on the album tracklist, let alone a potential album title, is beyond me, especially since the pristine power pop track Hijack My Heart, showcasing Taylor’s husky voice, and beautiful ethereal elegy My Life Has Been Saved were discarded as b-sides is beyond me!
Much more effective is the new title track, a gorgeous kaleidoscope of effigies that had contributed to the betterment of the world’s beauty. Whether rock’n’roll in stature (Jimi Hendrix) or feats of architectural ingenuity (The Tower of Babel), the song is a tribute to the wonder of the world from the mouth of a man in poor health. May, who’d spent much of the 1970s encouraging Mercury to write from the heart, found it one of Mercury’s finest lyrics.
It’s not a standard maintained throughout much of the album (Rain Must Fall and Party are fun, nonetheless forgettable, tracks), retained on two outstanding tracks that somehow salvage the album. Scandal, May’s parody of a British media more interested in salaciousness than story, is a soporific track with pulsating synths and violent guitars. For fans of Queen’s more theatrical excesses, Mercury provided a passionate delivery over words which made the band “out to be fools”. It’s a brilliant piece of comic writing, the one instance on the album which showed that Queen’s personal situation was not the cosy milieu they boasted it was.
Then there’s Was It All Worth It?, a sprawling, spectacular epic every bit of it a Queen collaboration (Mercury wrote most of the words, while the others worked on the chords in the studio). A dulcet of euphonious keyboards, cascading harmonies and Taylor’s fulminating drums, the song was covered in Queen’s most delightfully kitsch qualities (it even breaks into a timpani solo in the bridge section). And yet, unbeknownst to audiences in 1989 (perhaps even the band themselves), the song was a reflection of highs, lows and conceptions unrealised. A self -reflective ballad only age and illness can provide, it gave the Queen fans their own valedictorian anthem to enjoy.
All of which longed to played live, none of which never was (With Mercury, at least, and little of it with Deacon, who retired from the music industry in the late nineties). Yet it’s that aspiration, that delusion, that grandeur and that dreamlike quality which The Miracle has in surfeited amounts. For nothing else, The Miracle, no musical masterpiece by any means, is still a farewell to the cheery band who brought joy to the Live Aid masses.
❉ Produced by Queen & David Richards, ‘The Miracle’ was originally released on 22 May 1989 by Parlophone in the UK and Capitol Records in USA, selling an estimated five million copies and charted number one in the UK, Austria, Germany and the Netherlands. It was reissued in 1991 with a bonus track by Hollywood Records, and in 2011 as a Remastered Deluxe Edition by Island/UMG.
❉ Eoghan Lyng is a regular contributor to We Are Cult. His writing has also appeared in Record Collector, CultureSonar, Punk Noir Magazine, DMovies and other titles.