JANUARY ALBUM OF THE MONTH
A lasting memory of 2017 was seeing Magnum play at Ramblin’ Man Fair. I couldn’t quite work out why they were billed on the prog stage and some of the people I spoke to weren’t sure if they wanted to go over to the prog stage, with other bands playing on other stages at the same time. Magnum’s performance that afternoon proved to be one of the crowning highlights of the festival weekend, drawing a huge crowd and making many look again at the band with fresh eyes – and with fresh ears to perhaps revisit the band’s back catalogue.
‘Lost On The Road To Eternity’ represents the 20th original studio album from Magnum – a remarkable feat for any band in a music scene where fashions can be brutal and tastes can be at best transitory.
The opener ‘Peaches and Cream’ wastes no time getting down to business. Straight into an arresting groove – and a chorus that brought back memories of ‘How far Jerusalem’ – the song like so many on this album has a completely natural feel to it; the sound of unforced new material, a band very comfortable with who they are and how they work together.
‘Show Me Your Hands’ has a racing rhythm that would work perfectly on stage: it feels like a perfect show opener – and will almost certainly become a fan favourite alongside ‘Crazy Old Mothers.’ This track would have been my pick as the opening single – it works harder and does more in three minutes than ‘Without Love:’ A song hard not to react to on first listen.
‘Storm Baby’ opens as a classic gentle ballad, but delivers attitude and some heavy grit for the chorus. The song is more interesting for this contrast and almost feels like a marriage between late 80s Magnum ballads and their heavier, more direct sound of recent albums. A strong track, crowned with a great, expressive guitar solo from Tony Clarkin.
The title track thunders in with an almighty boom! Complimented by an orchestra and a guest vocalist, ‘Lost On The Road To Eternity’ is the album’s head turner and a new opus from the band to add to an already impressive archive of classics, such as ‘Storyteller’s Night’, ‘Days of No Trust’, ‘Les Morts Dansant’ and ‘Vigilante.’ The title track defines everything about Magnum at their best at this stage in their career. A version with just Bob’s vocals would also be nice.
‘Without Love’ follows, a radio-friendly drum loop and their opening single. For me the song works much better in the context of the full album as a change of mood to the songs before and after – and it’s much better in its full six-minute album length. Maybe the band should have gone for an audacious ‘Bohemian Rhapsody moment’ and issued a six-minute single!
‘Ya Wanna Be Someone’ is another highpoint on the album – one of those crisp, melodic and rousing songs that Magnum do best – in the tradition of ‘Midnight’, ‘Maybe Tonight’, ‘Too Much To Ask and ‘Heartbroke And Busted.’ That said, this song sounds fresh, natural and true to the band’s sound today. And it’s proof enough Magnum are just as able to knock out a great melodic tune as they were in their arena-filling Polydor days. Yet another live favourite in the making.
With ‘Glory To Ashes’ we see a more vulnerable side to the band during the verses – like ‘Valley of Tears’ – coupled with powerful, almost yearning choruses. Thoughtful, reflective and powerful in equal measure.
One thing Magnum are masters at is creating album closers that hit you between the eyes and wanting more. ‘King Of The World’ took a few listens to get, but I have a sense that alongside the likes of ‘Don’t Wake The Lion’ and ‘Valley Of Tears’ this song will become a real grower.
Throughout the album, Bob Catley’s vocals are crisp and have an impressive range. He still has distinctiveness as does Tony Clarkin’s guitar work and it is this enduring combination that makes them such a powerful partnership. And given the band have brought in a new keyboard player and drummer, they have managed the transition very well. The band sounds tight; many of the songs feel like they could be live studio performances – yet the new band members bring new, subtle flourishes that mark the album out as having a freshness to it. Al Barrow’s presence in the bass department is felt throughout, a real anchor for the new project.
In summary, the album is unmistakably Magnum but it is perhaps their most complete studio album of the current phase in their story. After 40 years, the band has nothing to prove beyond a hunger to create music and improve on their last album. The music making feels natural and one senses a good chemistry between the band members – still in the music business and making music for the right reasons. It shows in what you hear on the album.
In some people’s eyes, Magnum are a band that have never quite had the big commercial break they deserve. I would argue they have actually climbed the most important mountain there is to climb. Their music has demonstrated the power to endure. 40 years on, they are more prolific in the studio than many hungry young bands; they tour more than many old bands. And on the merit of their shows and the grapevine they now play to grandparents, parents and children in the same audience – a band that has never lost that sense of connection and intimacy with the fans that buy the albums, t-shirts and turn up to a show on a wet winter’s evening. The biggest achievement of Magnum is their power to cross boundaries, to transcend generations and to outlive fashions. Theirs is the power to endure and – far from lost – the band’s music will probably live on forever. They have booked their place on the road to eternity.
‘Lost On The Road To Eternity’ is released on 19 January. Pre-order the album
Magnum Radio Hour Special!
Tune in to my drivetime Friday rock show on Friday 12 January 7-8pm (airing on MeridianFM.com) for an hour special with the band, when each band member picks and discusses their favourite song from the Magnum catalogue and we review the new album. We’ll also be playlisting the title track and ‘Show me Your Hands for the next month.
Listen Again archive
The forthcoming radio interview will be the fourth hour special with the band over each of the last four years. Listen again to the previous three features here:
2016 Hour Special
Feature interview ahead of the launch of ‘Sacred Blood Divine Lies’