Queen’s 1989 album was the first one recorded with the secret knowledge that Freddie Mercury had AIDS. At the time, such a diagnosis was almost always a death sentence, and Queen ceased to exist as a concert act. The result is a transitional album: On some level, the foursome forges ahead as if nothing had happened. Like its ’80s predecessors, The Miracle is unabashedly commercial high-end rock. Lacking a playful pop anthem like A Kind of Magic‘s title track or a lush ballad like that album’s “Who Wants to Live Forever,” it’s strikingly heavier than Queen’s last few discs, and suggests that all concerned were intent on keeping up a front. Its biggest hit, “I Want It Now,” feels like a coat of armor.
It’s the first time Mercury is featured on every track for which there’s a vocal, and although it’s also the first album on which all cuts are collectively credited to Queen, this shift makes their later output more about Mercury. Although The Miracle doesn’t yet reach the level of autobiography that would make 1991′s Innuendo such a striking achievement, the movement in that self-reflexive direction accounts for its most compelling material. While “Scandal” lashes out at the tabloids that began leaking rumors of Mercury’s illness, “Was It All Worth It” looks back on Queen’s legacy as if the band was already history. Mercury sings it with so much bravado that it’s obvious that the answer to the title’s question is an affirmative one.