Review Summary: Welcome back to the fold, Queen! Well, for a few more years, at least.
Chapter XIII: A Great Return to Form
The 80s turned out to be a bit of a tough decade for Queen; while the 70s saw the band playing hit after hit and making some of the best records of that time, the Queen of the 80s really struggled in terms of quality and consistency. 1982's Hot Space was especially ruinous to the band's popularity, trading in rock anthems for pretty bizarre dance numbers. The Works, while it could have been good, suffered from rehashing too many musical ideas. A Kind of Magic was a partial return to the band's roots, but it didn't do as well commercially as the band hoped. On top of all this, the recording of the 1989 album the The Miracle was especially emotional as guitarist Brian May was trying to recover from his divorce and Freddie Mercury was diagnosed with AIDS. So with all of this in mind, it was understandable for so many people to expect this record to be a disaster. Luckily, that's not the case; in fact, this is the best Queen record since 1978's Jazz.
The biggest thing to point out here is that The Miracle has more of the traditional Queen vibe than the band's last few albums. The sound is bigger and more bombastic once again, and the music doesn't sound as artificial as on The Works or Hot Space. Granted, there are a few heavily synth-laden songs such as "The Invisible Man" and "The Miracle," but they are so much more bearable (even good enough to be considered some of the album highlights) than the ones on the other 80s records (barring The Game). As for the hard-rocking songs, there are quite a few. The first two songs on the album are of this variety, but bring sort of a fun, dance-oriented vibe that sets a nice entertaining tone for the rest of the album. Going back to the synthrock songs though, they strangely end up being some of the best songs as I said. "The Invisible Man" benefits from Roger Taylor's percussive drumwork and the sort of suave atmosphere you'd hear in a James Bond film. The title track, on the other hand, is quite an unusual song for the band; the keyboards exude a "mystical" feel as Freddie Mercury sings about the miracles and other strange occurrences that happen in everyday life. The chorus is very inspirational-sounding as vocal harmonies are smoothly included in the song and the synthesizer work becomes a bit more expansive in sound.
And that's when it was hitting me: the reason this album is so good is because it sounds like the band members actually care again! They sound more invested in the songwriting and emotive melodies throughout the album and don't sound as fake as they did on their last few albums (perhaps excluding A Kind of Magic). Also contributing to that aspect are the heavier tunes; Brian May and John Deacon really shine here as they are scorching their fretboards with some great songs. "I Want It All" should be familiar with most rock fans by now, with the heavily multilayered vocals in the chorus and the almost punk-esque solo section where Roger Taylor's fast drumming kicks things up a notch. However, many people seem to forget about "Was It All Worth It." This song is exactly what Queen needed to get back on track. A beautifully arranged intro with the keyboards and guitar leads into one of the band's most metal-oriented riffs; this is Queen with the same ferocity they had in songs like "Ogre Battle" or "Liar," and it really rocks. Freddie Mercury swiftly changes between a gravelly vocal style and emotional melodic singing with ease, and he fits well with the arrangement of the song. Overall, it's quite mindblowing.
But is the entire album mindblowing? Sadly, it is not. There are certainly some throwaway tracks, the two most obvious ones being "Rain Must Fall" and "My Baby Does Me." Both fall into the category of synth-oriented soul/funk music and they really don't go anywhere. The arrangements are bland and Freddie doesn't seem very invested in terms of his vocal work. On top of that, Brian May barely does anything on these songs except for the occasional solo here and there. The other song that's a little 'meh' is "Scandal." This song details the media attention given to Queen about Brian May's divorce and Freddie Mercury's declining health; while the song has its moments (for instance, another great synth/guitar intro), the midtempo sound of it feels a little forced. The song wears out its welcome at about the 2:30 mark as it starts repeating itself a bit too much after that. These songs aren't horrendous, but they're just a bit too average compared to the rest of the album's quality.
But speaking about the album's quality, this is still a fantastic release. Yeah, it has flaws, but with The Miracle, Queen finally managed to get more of their old touch back. The rockers are great, a good number of the synthrock songs are surprisingly good, and the band functions more as a cohesive unit here. Just skip a few of the 'meh' tracks and you'll be all set. Luckily, the highlights are just too damn good. I consider this one of Queen's most underrated efforts, so get this album whenever you can.
Yeah, the lyrics to all three range from shaky to nonsensical, but that's Queen for you, but still, the problem with Miracle is that it's supposed to be one of those gigantic 'change the world'-ish songs, like Land Of Confusion, Man in The Mirror, or similar, but it ultimately fails due to the sheer range of what Mercury calls a 'miracle',
he says that the Taj Mahal and the Golden Gate Bridge are 'miracles', which they aren't, they're man-made,
and he also calls a CUP OF TEA of all things a miracle, how is a cup of tea going to end all war?
he goes on to call all sorts of obvious non-miracles miracles,
The other reason I find this song downright awful is the fact that it just feels downright lazy, not lazily written, but lazy in the sense that we aren't able to do all these things by ourselves so we need Mother Nature or God to solve our problems.
Breakthru along with Crazy Little Thing Called Love, I Want to Break Free, Save Me and Radio Ga Ga are my favorites from the post-Jazz era. If I absolutely had to pick just one of them I' d probably say I Want to Break Free.