“Nostalgia isn’t what it used to be…” – anon
“Remembrance of things past is not necessarily the remembrance of things as they were.” – Marcel Proust
Should we look to the past for inspiration when it comes to music? The whole point of progression is to move forward surely? To a certain extent, I would agree but we all sometimes like to listen to an album from those sepia tinged days gone by, don’t we?
Perhaps we use it as a point of reference, maybe it brings back great memories, I don’t know? Also, the flip side could be true, we might not have liked that music at the time but, as we have got older and matured, we now come to appreciate it more.
One of the bands I grew up with, and was a big fan of, was the British rockers Magnum. I always felt they had a bit of a progressive tinge to their music on tracks such as ‘On A Storyteller’s Night’, ‘How Far Jerusalem’, ‘Kingdom of Madness’ and the like.
The core of the band has always been main songwriter and guitarist Tony Clarkin and vocalist Bob Catley, whose dulcet tones must be one of the most recognisable in rock.
Their success peaked in the late 80’s and early 90’s with the albums ‘Vigilante’, ‘Wings of Heaven’ and ‘Good night L.A.’, records with more of a hard rock and metal approach. The band seemed to fade away, for me, after this until the release of ‘Princess Alice and the Broken Arrow’ in 2007, an excellent return to form and they have produced four classy albums since.
2015 sees the release of the latest chapter in Magnum’s long history, ‘Sacred Blood, Divine Lies’, delivered by the band’s now stable line up of Tony and Bob plus Mark Stanway (keyboards), Al Barrow (bass) and Harry James (Drums).
Tony Clarkin started working on the resounding new album even before ‘Escape From The Shadow Garden’ crashed into the UK Album Chart at 38. Clarkin was inspired to write 25 new songs during and after the subsequent triumphant European tour, the most outstanding 13 of which were selected for ‘Sacred Blood, Divine Lies’.
Title track and opener Sacred Blood, Divine Lies sets the tone for the rest of the album, a really good, dynamic rock track. The first riff on the record is pulsating and driving and the drums hold everything in place, giving the rest of the band free rein to really rock out. Bob Catley’s vocals are as good as ever, the catchy chorus showing that his forty years plus at the front of the band has not seen the power of his voice wane a jot. This is a real ‘in your face’ rocking track and one which you can’t help bouncing along to, the ‘air guitar’ even came out for a dust off on Tony’s scorching solo. An impressive start to the album indeed, Tony goes as far as saying he thinks it will join the ranks of the great Magnum classics! The thundering riffs continue on Crazy Old Mothers but not before a more gentle piano led introduction. A slower paced track with a heartfelt vocal performance on the verse, the chorus drives on like a marching force and the whole track has a nostalgic feel. Mark Stanway’s piano playing gives a softer feel on the elegant verse but then Tony’s guitar hits you with a staccato riff on the chorus, all powered along by the superb rhythm section of Al and Harry. This couldn’t be anything other than a Magnum track with Bob’s trademark vocal key. Another great, if short, solo from Mr Clarkin and things are complete.
Tony Clarkin wrote Gypsey Queen after being inspired by a concert in St. Petersburg, a city which deeply impressed him with its unique atmosphere. This anthemic masterpiece begins with a mellow and laid back synth led intro, Bob’s vocal taking on a pleading tone before the drums kick in and the riff hoves into view, powerful and direct. The chorus is forceful and charismatic with a real addictive note and I’m hooked, a superb song gets better with another blistering solo from Tony’s guitar. One thing I’m noticing is their seems to be a real plethora of fiery guitar highlights building up as we move further into the album. An absolutely belting song and one that I am finding really hard to get out of my head but, when it is this good, why bother? Princess In Rags (the Cult) is another fast paced rocker that gets you up on your toes with its infectious riffing and energetic drums. The pulsating, edgy verses are highlighted by some great keyboards and then it opens up and flies off with the lively chorus, another welcome Magnum hallmark. This breathless song really does move at an electric pace as if it can’t be held back and the fluid solo is just as intense, a really full-on and red-blooded musical experience.
Now onto the first ballad-like track on the album, Ballads are another thing that Magnum excel at and Your Dreams Won’t Die is no exception. “To me, the title and lyrics have an almost religious depth,” says Clarkin of the song. “There’s a saying that somebody is not forgotten if their name is remembered.” The intro is slow and measured, lulling into a relaxed mood. Bob’s vocals begin emotive and sincere and the strings in the background give everything that poignant feel. The chorus is stylish and memorable and really moves you in only the way that a Magnum ballad can and, let’s be honest, who doesn’t like a really good rock ballad? A resounding riff-heavy introduction sets up Afraid of the Night, a song with really dramatic, almost operatic feel to it on the verse. A slow burning chorus opens into something really vivid and elemental. This track dances across your mind like a musical storyline, a clever and inventive track but one that doesn’t lose the power and dynamism of a proper rock epic.
A Forgotten Conversation has a subtle and understated introduction with Bob’s hushed vocals the highlight. The tone changes with the persistent drums, commanding guitar riff and stentorian vocals on the chorus and the interplay between the lighter verse and potent chorus works exceedingly well. Tony delivers one more trademark solo that really gets under your skin, another hard rocking addition to the album. The pulsating introduction to Quiet Rhapsody sets you up for the pounding riff that hits you like a ten ton weight, possibly the most assertive on the album. It spurs the track on with bulldozing force as each striking of the drum knocks you back in your seat. The chorus softens this slightly but only just, Bob’s voice has a forcible tone to it and you just get caught up in the irresistible force, one that is emphasised by yet one more superb solo.
Another elegant introduction opens Twelve Men Wise And Just, a haunting piano note adding to Bob’s great vocals before everything kicks off big style as the blue touch paper is lit. The pace increases tenfold and the energy and dynamism go off the scale. A track reminiscent of the great Magnum releases of the late 80’s, it wouldn’t have been out of place on ‘Wings of Heaven’. The whole song is captivating and addictive and I just found myself tapping my foot and singing along. A nicely judged harmonised section lets you get your breath back before the headlong rush begins again, another classic in the making. So to the final track on the album, Even Tony Clarkin was surprised by Don’t Cry Baby from the start, “Although I initially didn’t have a lyric, the melody kept going through my head, as well as the chorus with acoustic and e-guitars plus piano. We even kept the drums from the demo version because our drummer Harry James liked them so much. He said: “I love it the way it is. We shouldn’t change a thing about it”.” A really gracious track that begins with a warm and rounded vocal and rhythm section before the tempo increases and the vocals take on an unfeigned sincerity and passion that bleeds into the general feeling of the song. There is a superb piano section that makes the hairs on the nape of your neck stand up and you feel a little melancholy note rise in the vocals. Tony throws in some delicate, yet intense, guitar work and the song fades out to a close.
This is the sound of a band back at the peak of their powers, confident in their own ability. ‘Sacred Blood, Divine Lies’ takes me back to a time when Magnum were at the height of their popularity and should be a must for any fan of the band. Superb from start to finish, I take it Mr Clarkin has already started the next album and I, for one, can’t wait!
Released February 26th 2016