Review by Rick Ossian
According to my calculation, if you include live albums, this is #20 for the folks at Magnum. Formed in Birmingham in 1972 by Tony Clarkin (guitars) and Bob Catley (vocals), they have been active pretty much ever since, save for a hiatus from 1995 to 2001. Though the two blokes listed above have remained at the core over the years, several personnel changes have taken place. Currently the Dynamic Duo are rounded out by longterm ivory-tickler Mark Stanway and relative new boys, Al Barrow (bass since 2001, formerly with Hard Rain, also a well known photographer) and Gary “Harry” James (drums, probably best known as a member of Thunder). Brief mention should be made of the cover art, by the one-and-only Rodney Matthews (Nazareth, Avantasia, among others), who could be said to be an extension of the group, à la Roger Dean (cover art for Yes, Asia, etc.) or Storm Thorgerson of Hipgnosis (cover art for Pink Floyd and a host of others). For the previously uninitiated, Magnum are perhaps best known for their LP, On a Storyteller’s Night (1985, featuring Just Like an Arrow), which garnered them much acclaim and commercial success.
The fellows begin with the title track, which features a mid-tempo and a sweet beat. The licks, the riffs, the vocals are all there, and some considerable swagger with a wicked bottom end. At the four-and-a-half minute mark we get a decent lead guitar solo as well. This track is a bit long for radio consideration, but is a fantastic lead-off track.
Crazy Old Mothers is up next, and features a piano intro, then slamming, stately, even majestic riffing. The key instrument here is the piano, pun fully intended. The vocals are powerful, even commanding at times. This track is more of a down-tempo number, and is considerably mellower fare, but also features some heavy riffing. There is another guitar solo (hooray!) at 4:15.
Gypsy Queen is another track which could be said to be stately, among other things. The piano/synth intro is beautiful, but begins a bit of a sobering, disturbing trend to the proceedings. The vocals may be a bit rough, but they are still pretty solid. There is a sweet main riff, plus some very heavy, magnificent drum work. There is a nice, heavy rolling beat and uptempo rhythm going on as well, and the obligatory guitar solo at the 2:45 mark.
Princess In Rags (The Cult) follows up, and has a savior intro of sorts in that it is heavy as hell (perhaps a visit to Riff City IS in order, after all), but things are slightly tempered with synthesizer. We cannot, alas, have it all, dear reader. There are some definite pussy boner vocals going on here, in my opinion. I can see the appeal. The majestic mood prevails again, this time with more of a ‘modern’ vibe, if you will. There is some cool riffing, but a decidedly huge chunk of keys, and they are the driving force of the track AGAIN. This is a chugging, uptempo number with yet another guitar solo at 3:40. Anybody out there detecting a pattern yet?
Your Dreams Won’t Die continues this rather disturbing trend towards the syrupy side of things. The keys/synth intro and a nice drum beat start things off, and the vocals are again considerably powerful. There is some sandpaper audible, but still mostly clean gravel. The keys are driving again, which, as I said, I found slightly disturbing. Once again, this is stately, majestic stuff, but considerably mellower than the first few tracks. This is more ballad-style fodder.
Afraid of the Night is more of the same, I’m afraid. I really dig the majestic vibe, but again the piano is driving the song. This track featured a pretty cool guitar intro, and was slightly heavier, with some bluesy things happening. An instrumental breakdown adds some weight to the proceedings, but the vocals interrupt it. There is a good guitar solo at 3:20.
A Forgotten Conversation begins life with violin and seriously mellow vocals on the intro, with the piano driving AGAIN. Some heavy riffing is involved, though, so we can’t completely ignore it. Powerful vocals may yet be the saving grace for this and several of the other tracks. At 2:20 the piano and vocals sort of take charge, but a guitar solo (3:30) can be said to have saved things once again. Perhaps these fellows are relying a bit too much on the piano intro and the obligatory guitar solos? Funny you should ask…
Quiet Rhapsody goes down the same path, unfortunately. It is more in the ballad style again, though it does feature some heavy drumming at the outset and some nice riffs, plus a bit of guitar FX thrown in for good measure. There are strings, particularly violin, in place, and it is decidedly mellower than the first few tracks. Broken record, Rick! Yes, I know, readers, and I AM sorry about that. Will have to be more careful in the future…Another guitar solo and a brief instrumental breakdown with violins later, and this track is over. “Now all your yesterdays are gone“, Bob tells us. Perhaps their tomorrows, as well.
Twelve Men Wise and Just is another mellow, ballad-style number, with a piano and vocal intro. It is very mellow, and YES, the piano is driving again. I suppose we should be used to this by now. There is some building up of riffage in the first minute or so, and it is chugging, mostly uptempo, with another of the famed instrumental breakdowns where the vocals interrupt! I am sorry but I do not like where this is headed.
Don’t Cry Baby, today’s closer, is another mellow one. It occurred to me whilst listening that some of this stuff would be good FM fodder if it didn’t come off so pretentious. The same familiar elements are still in play; ballad-style production, piano being the driving force, and the stately, majestic grandeur for the personality, or the mood of the song, if you will. There is actually a piano solo this time (3:10) and a brief guitar solo at 4:20.
If what I have described to you above appears a bit maudlin’, even perhaps a bit boring, then don’t bother to check your glasses or your eyes – you read correctly. I entered into this particular review expecting more, I guess, so if I sound disappointed, it is because I am. Half marks, then!