I admit that I’ve not really had anything to do with Magnum for a long, long time. I’ve heard bits and bats over the years but I just wasn’t a fan of the direction they went in from the 90’s onwards (around and after the whole Hard Rain era). They never lost any of their talent or appeal to many, they just weren’t playing a style of music that I clicked with. Bob Catley’s excellent voice has always just had that something though…so British, so unique, I just couldn’t ignore a band he was in forever. So here we are, Magnum have a new album out, resplendent in its stunning Rodney Matthews artwork (surely the deciding factor in me buying “Storytellers Night” with my hard-earned paper round money back in the day) – it has the classic logo and a promise in the press release of a return to a harder more rocking musical direction. Mark Stanway is still in the ranks admirably tinkling with his ivories alongside the ever-present Tony Clarkin’s guitar and song-writing. If it wasn’t going to be now that Magnum and I properly reconnect, then when?
Magnum have been at this hard rock lark for an amazing 40 years and counting, and have plenty of their own musical guises over the years to draw from as well as any others they choose. The title track (and ’Afraid Of The Night’ for that matter), remind me very pleasantly of their early 80’s classic “Chase The Dragon” or “Eleventh Hour” era – slightly progressive, leaning heavily on chunky trademark Clarkin guitar and great melodies, punctuated by dramatic keyboards and effortless time changes. The album continues and balances nicely – tongue-in-cheek ‘Crazy Old Mothers’ draws nicely from their more recent grandiosity, whereas ‘Gypsy Queen’ is as timeless a hard rock classic as you could hope for. Broadly spanning the 70’s and 80’s perfectly in its influence, it’s utterly Magnum with a catchy guitar riff, atmospheric keyboards and Mr. Catley in fine form holding back on the verse and letting loose on it’s fabulous chorus. There’s a damn fine guitar solo thrown in and the crowning glory (for me anyway) of a cowbell buried in there too, courtesy of ex-Thunder-now-Magnum drummer Harry James.
Continuing my trip around past Magnum benchmarks, we have ‘Princess In Rage’, which is more akin to “Goodnight L.A.”, ‘Quiet Rhapsody’ has a feeling of “Vigilante” and to be honest ‘A Forgotten Conversation’ and ’Don’t Cry Baby’ manage to encapsulate the best elements of say ‘Wild Swan’ or ‘Prey For The Day’ from “Wings Of Heaven” – very enjoyable indeed. There’s only really one true ballad on the whole album too, which given Magnum’s reputation is certainly worth mentioning.
Look, I may be thoroughly enjoying my trip down Magnumy Lane, but it needs stating that this band – this treasured part of the UK’s Hard Rock heritage – aren’t all about the past. I’ve just chosen to focus on it as someone who knows their music from back then rather than more recently – it’s my choice for review purposes. Besides, just when you think you have the band pegged you get ‘Quiet Rhapsody’, which has a fabulous groove to it, driven by a dynamic heavy riff that I’ve never heard Magnum do before and sounds like it could be a classic from any time in the last 30 years. Then there’s the album’s closing track ‘Don‘t Cry Baby’ that somehow blends modern drum samples as well as epic 70’s Rock…but all SO Magnum. The production and structure of all the songs are of course very up-to-date and Magnum are just so timeless that drawing from their past is almost the same as their recent future. And also a good indication that although Magnum have their distinct sound, no two Magnum albums are alike. This album is as heavy, yet still as refined and polished as they have ever been, and I have been totally charmed by it. And a final testament to the band is that I’ve just realized I have only compared Magnum to themselves – no-one else. This is truly is a band with real history and pedigree, and if this album is an example, still with a bright future.
(7.5/10 Andy Barker)