The bands latest album in a near forty year career.
Melodic Hard Rockers Magnum have of late been enjoying something of a musical renaissance. Their last three albums have seen fans, and critics alike comparing them to the heady days of the mid 80s, when albums such as ‘On A Storytellers Night’, ‘Vigilante’ and ‘Wings Of Heaven’ saw Magnum sell out large venues, and grace the Top 40.
‘The Visitation’, the bands last album was their best selling since the bands re-formation. Infectious rockers like ‘Wild Angels’ saw a whole generation re-embrace their inner rock god. The band had re-cemented their foundation again with a steady line up, and a new younger audience eager to delve deeper into their back catalogue.
So to ‘Evolution’ the bands latest album in a near forty year career. The band keen not to rest on their laurels have decided to re-visit their SPV era albums. As a musician and a songwriter Tony Clarkin has always been keen to move forward and ‘evolve’, So hot on heels of recent success he and messers Catley, Stanway, Barrow and James have tweaked, polished, re-recorded tracks and bring them up to date.
The first track to get the air brush treatment is ‘That Holy Touch’ from the poignantly entitled ‘Breath Of Life’. The song itself has indeed been given a new lease of life. Clarkins’ guitars immediately appear tauter and full of fresh bite. Bob Catley’s vocals have also be partially re-recorded and sound brighter in the mix along with a fresh rhythm section the whole song sounds ‘bigger’ than the original studio recording. ‘Just Like January’ too has grown in stature thanks to some sympathetic enhancing. Harry James’ newly recorded drums and Al Barrow’s beefed up bass serve to flesh out the whole affair. The majestic orchestration is also raised a notch with some Mark Stanway’s keyboard swathes sounding better than ever.
The album ‘Brand New Morning’ is represented by the coupling of the title track and ’Immigrant Song’ These songs are a sonic revelation. The former has always had an opening crunch to it, but now it is ready to move up a weight division with Clarkin’s guitar and Barrow’s bass adding some significant punch to proceedings. James’ drums also sound huge and add that killer left hook. The latter is possibly the biggest improvement, and one that Barrow personally feels has had a sympathetic ‘face-lift’, The deft engineering and re-recorded bass and guitars give the song greater depth and weight. Magnum are a band that have always had the ‘songs’, Clarkin’s song writing and unfussy playing along with Catleys soaring vocals have always been the bands foundation. Yet past albums have been partially diluted by their production, now we can hear what was in Clarkin’s head all along.
Next up for a fresh coat of paint is ‘When We Were Younger’ from the album that saw a real return to form, the grandly titled ‘Princess Alice And The Broken Arrow’. This track simply snarls out of the starting blocks thanks to Clarkin’s over-hauled guitar. The song has a new edge to it with James’ drums again adding more weight to the song. Ever the perfectionist Catley has also re-recorded some of his vocals. The result is a brighter sounding version. ‘Out Of The Shadows’ similarly has had the essentials re-recorded but is less obvious than the earlier tracks, but certainly all the better for it.
Magnum showed a slightly newer side to themselves with 2007’s ‘Into The Valley Of The Moonking’. The album saw a bluesier and harder edge being demonstrated by the band. The trademark melodies and soundscapes were still evident, but a new dimension had been added. This can be heard on the infectious ‘All My Bridges’ and the altogether edgier ‘Blood On Your Barbed Wire Thorns’. The former sees the now seasoned rhythm section of Barrow and James’ pumping away in the songs engine house, the boiler has been stoked further to enhance the songs fist pumping pomp. Similarly messers Clarkin and Catley’s roles seem re-energised. The latter, with its typically grand song title bobs along at quite a pace sitting proudly atop a basic Clarkin riff. It’s feet dip into blusier waters, and Stanway’s honky-tonk tinklings are a joy to behold. Again the tweaks are more subtle but highlight Magnum’s revitalised sound for a new generation of fans.
The evolution is brought up to date with the bands last studio album ‘The Visitation’. An album I claimed to be the bands best since 1988’s ‘Wings Of Heaven’. The title song sees the bands DNA laid bare. Full of drama, sprawling sound-scapes courtesy of Stanway’s keyboards. Furious machine gun drumming and time changes that would make Dream Theater envious. Throughout the toast master general Catley orchestrates the whole event with aplomb. One listen to the simply majestic ‘Wild Angels’ proves my enthusiasm for the album as a whole. Put simply it explodes with pomp rock goodies, a sing along chorus, a mighty vocal from the evergreen Catley and an infectious riff that most band would kill for. If you were to look up ‘anthem’ in the latest Collins English dictionary this song would be be listed next to it.
We are tantalisingly also given a glimpse of things to come with two new tracks. ‘The Fall’ is an instant hit, Stanway’s tender keyboards give way to an impossibly catchy guitar riff. This mid tempo rocker cleverly eases through the gears with Catley’s voice sounding better than ever. Finally ‘Do You Know Who You Are?’ carries on Magnum’s musical momentum. An AC/DC influenced drum and bass guitar intro sits behind a simple Clarkin riff. Along with Stanway’s simple, but effective keyboards and Catley’s heart on sleeve delivery this is a song you find yourself humming to yourself long after it has finished. Very often bands add ‘new’ tracks to flesh out albums such as these, but this is most certainly not the case here. If this is a look into Magnum’s future, then there is much to look forward to.
So how do I sum up ‘Evolution’, well one thing it does prove is that messers Clarkin, Catley, Stanway, Barrow and James are a band of brothers and now fully formed as a solid unit. The dove-tailing of the first two songs and the final two songs is the most interesting thing about this album. The band are so willing to improve and better themselves that they have re-visited their past and deemed fit to put things right, bring songs up to date. Songs that it must be said were good already. The point being, in order to ‘evolve’ one must learn from the past. And in the last two songs the band have proved their point.