In terms of sales figures alone, there could be little doubt that the Queen hardcore – and more than a few fairweather fans – approved of this posthumous album that featured vocal and piano parts recorded by Freddie Mercury in the months before he died.
Put together as a labour of love by Queen’s surviving members, Made In Heaven was released on November 6, 1995, and topped the UK album chart, marching towards multi-platinum sales and spitting out five Top 20 UK singles.
Stripped of context, few connoisseurs would argue this was the strongest album in Queen’s auspicious catalogue. But there were moments here well-worthy of the brand, including the neck-tingling opening salvo of It’s A Beautiful Day, the title track’s rousing balladry and the impossibly moving A Winter’s Day.
“The last album is one of the most ridiculously painful experiences, creatively, I have ever had,” Brian May told Radio 1. “But the quality’s good, partly because we did have those arguments. Whether it’s healthy for life or not is another matter.”
Curiously, given the praise shortly to be heaped onto The Beatles’ cut-and-shut Free As A Bird single, press reaction to the album was somewhat muted, with NME’s memorably virulent review focused on the ethics of the project (“Made In Heaven is vulgar, creepy, sickly and in dubious taste”).
In truth – and whatever your take on the album’s musical merits – anecdotal evidence all points to the fact that this last hurrah was exactly what Mercury had hoped for in Montreux.
“Freddie at the time said, ‘Write me stuff, I know I don’t have very long,’” explained May. “‘Keep writing me words, keep giving me things, I will sing, I will sing. And then you do what you like with it afterwards and finish it off’.”
By completing Made In Heaven, then, the Queen survivors had fulfilled their leader’s last will and testament in the band’s inimitable style, rather than leave it to industry vultures to crudely reanimate and repackage the sweepings. Perhaps just as important, they had exorcised the demons and drawn a line under the original band’s extraordinary first run.
As May remembered of the process: “You were just listening to Freddie’s voice twenty-four hours a day and that can be hard. You suddenly think, ‘Oh God, he’s not here, why am I doing this?’ But now I can listen to Made In Heaven and it’s just joy – and I feel like it was the right album to finish up on…"