Princess Alice & The Broken Arrow
I grew up idolizing Magnum. On A Storyteller's Night, Vigilante and Wings Of Heaven are a trio of releases that few bands could match and I believe most artists would be proud of.
Three album's in a row where every track was a classic….mind boggling stuff.|
The band continued on but later split. No one was happier than I when plans to reform came to light. The dynamics of the Tony Clarkin/Bob Catley partnership is one I'll probably never see again in my lifetime.
The band's comeback release Breath Of Life was sadly below average for what you'd expect from this band. They followed it up with a very similar record in Brand New Morning. But the songs this time were better and I think it signaled the beginning of a true return to form.
Now we have the band's third album since reforming – Princess Alice And The Broken Arrow.
On the surface, we have the classic hallmarks of Magnum present – the brilliant Rodney Matthews cover art, an old-school promo shot and a great new logo.
But musically I have struggled with this album. There are some very fine songs within, don't get me wrong, but for me, the essential ingredients for classic Magnum are still missing.
Let's take a look at the positives of the release first. In all in all, I think the guys have created a foundation here to move forward and that is important.
I also think Princess Alice features the best sound and production quality of the 3 albums since the band's return.
The album features more complex musical textures, a trademark of Magnum's grandiose style. And new drummer Jimmy Copley makes his mark with some subtle and effective playing and Bob Catley sounds as fabulous as ever.
On a more critical note, Magnum simply must learn again how to shift musical gears. This album is more or less a repeat of the tempo and style of the last 2 albums. That's 3 albums in a row of a very similar style, for a band that has rarely repeated themselves throughout their career.
The thing with Magnum is that they have always sounded like Magnum, but have never repeated the same album twice. Look at the three albums mentioned in the beginning, then add the three albums that directly preceded those - Sleepwalking, Goodnight LA and Rock Art. These were completely different yet again, but always 100% Magnum.
The last 3 albums have all been very similar in their approach, but very worst of all; they have all been of the same unvaried plodding pace.
And that lone fact is the biggest problem I have with this album. The songs themselves are ok, but the stuck in first gear pace of the album (especially the first half) and the definite lack of tempo variation is a big problem.
There is almost no difference in pace between the ballads and the harder tracks. This improves towards the end of the album where two of three tracks pick things up, but this issue is something I have raised in each of my reviews of the last 3 records.
The other thing I am missing is huge choruses. Sure, Magnum still knows how to write a good chorus, but there is little extra emphasis put on these.
Tony Clarkin used to be the king of choruses – Days Of No Trust, Start Talking Love, Lonely Nights, When The World Comes Down, How Far Jerusalem, Just Like An Arrow to name a few. His style of chorus writing stated to change on the Sleepwalking record. That album is a monster in itself and is criminally underrated, but the style did change and it continued through the two Hard Rain records and on into the reformed Magnum.
The anthemic gusto is not there, the urgency somewhat removed.
I'm not asking any artist or band to return to the 80s if they don't want to, but I'd still love to see that old style return coupled with more variation in tempo throughout the record – including a couple of barnstormers like Days Of No Trust or Pray For The Day.
Like I said earlier, there are still some fine songs here.
And I also feel that the song sequence doesn't do the guys any favors either. The laid back opening track When We Were Younger may be one of the best songs of the record as far as emotional depth, but as an opening track it is a real momentum killer.
The next 3 songs are all fairly laid back; giving the album the most laid back start of any Magnum album ever. Of those opening tracks the moody and haunting Like Bothers We Stand shines out.
It is with Dragons Are Real that the album begins to take shape for me.
The track that follows is Inside Your Head, again very laid back, but a fine ballad indeed.
We finally get a more urgent tempo on the seventh track of the album - Be Strong. This reminds me a little of the Sleepwalking album and has a funky retro feel.
Its ballad time again immediately following this with Thank You For The Day, brining the tempo back again, but this is a great ballad and one of the best tracks of the last three albums. And a much better chorus too.
Your Lies is another more uptempo track and is fairly enjoyable, but more for the fact the tempo is rolling again.
The album finds itself in a rocker/ballad/rocker flow in its second half, so it is ballad time again with Desperate Times. But another good chorus and a small lift in tempo continues the stronger run of the second half of the record.
Closing the album is one of my favourite tracks from the record - You'll Never Sleep. This is a nice more uptempo melodic rocker with a catchy melody and a fairly simple premise.
As always I will anticipate the next album to be the classic they are capable of. Still, some good songs here to tide fans over.
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