Released 21st September 2012
18th studio album from legendary British pomp (anyone remember that term?) rockers Magnum who appear to be undergoing something of a renaissance in recent years. Having been a fan since their commercial peak of “Wings of Heaven” and “Goodnight LA” I must admit to have been somewhat disappointed in the majority of their releases post their reformation in 2001 after a split of six years, so it’s with some trepidation that I listen to another album.
Whilst it’s been apparent that Bob Catley’s voice isn’t what it was 20 years ago for the last few releases, main writer Tony Clarkin appears to be writing with this in mind, giving us lower keys, and whilst Catley may not have the golden quality of yesteryear, he can still belt out a tune with passion and sincerity, the man is also a joy to behold live.
Speaking of Clarkin, the man seems to have rediscovered the urge to write more driving, and pomp/progressive tunes than those heard of late. “Blood Red Laughter” being a strong case in point with a glorious pre-chorus where guitar and Mark Stanway’s keyboards merge nicely, not to mention the majestic title track which almost makes “On A Storyteller’s Night’ levels of quality! “Didn’t Like You Anyway” serves up Queen style pomp with a canny dark commercial punch before “So Let It Rain” aims for the top 40 with its modern viability and orchestrated edge.
“Dance Of The Black Tattoo” might be the heaviest thing the band have recorded in some time, and gotta say it’s a nice addition to the Magnum sound, great chorus here as well, before the major tonality of “Shadow Town” lightens the mood, yet still drives at a fair pace.
The album slows for the quasi power-balladry of “Putting Things In Place” and here Catley’s vocals are as soulful as you’d hope for. “Broken Promises” is somewhat of a mixed bag, starting out relatively bland which continues for the verses, yet gains life for the bridge and chorus where the band are firing on all cylinders, Thunder drummer Harry James is a welcome addition to the band with his uncomplicated style suiting the band nicely.
“See How They Fall” is another pomp fuelled rocker, almost like the love child of the bands own “Kingdom Of Madness” with Dave Gilmour’s echo fetish, yet once again the band sound fired up and it’s a highlight to these ears and also appears to have brought the best performance of the album out of Catley. “From Within” by contrast sees the album out in mid-tempo waters, nothing overly poor here but nothing to end the album on anything other than an average listen.
Overall this is easily the best release I have heard from the band since “Goodnight LA” and to be fair in a number of places can hang with the bands work from any era of their career. Production is solid, artwork looks good and the overall performances are strong, granted I have made some comments regarding the vocals but then not many singers had the pipes of Catley in his youthful prime and he’s not lost as much as say Coverdale has.
Magnum fans don’t hesitate to pick this up, for the uninitiated this is a strong starting point before checking out essential earlier albums ala ‘On A Storytellers Night’.
Now if only I could get the band to lose their fear of heading further south than Bristol on the live dates…
Rating – 87%