the mike davies column february 2018

Released last month, JAMES SUMMERFIELD has his most accessible album in some time with Doubt, one that draws on the classic West Coast sound for such numbers as Nightingale, a lush, strings-laden song inspired by becoming a father, and the lyrically impressionistic Hotel Marrakech with its fuzzy treated vocals.

By contrast, Out Of The Zone is all pulsing druggy psychedelia with stream of consciousness lyrics about identity and our lack of control over life and, in similar musical vein, but with added pedal steel, Another Country Duet addresses getting older and shedding those things and people that were bad influences.

There’s a gentler melody line rippling through The Golden Token, a song about an area of Tokyo with references to video games and Japanese girl group AKB48 while, making an early bid for the (not so) festive market, the brass-burnished I’ll Try Not To Ruin Christmas is a presumably personal number about someone who doesn’t want their depression to ruin the celebrations for everyone else.

Things take a sunnier turn with another personal song, the redemptive lullaby to a simple life that is SLO while once again parenthood informs the mid-tempo look up the years country-pop jog The Best I Can before ending with the reflective five-minute pedal steel and cello led instrumental Hotel Marrakech Lobby brining to a close an album that is both melancholic and uplifting, a journey from dark into the light.

Lost On The Road To Eternity (Steamhammer) finds MAGNUM reach the 20thalbum mark, their recent burst of renewed creative energy continuing in molten form, opening with the juggernaut rolling Peaches and Cream, at one second under five minutes, the shorted track, Tony Clarkin laying down the narrow-focused riffage while Bob Catley’s multi-tracked vocals are as commanding as ever.

The album marks the debut of new recruits Lee Morris on drums and Rick Benton replacing long standing member Mark Stanway on keys. His work is well evident inShow Me Your Hands, another insistent rolling hard rock groove that doesn’t forget the value of a chorus hook.

Storm Baby’s the first to remind that one of the band’s constant strengths is their soaring balladry, building to throaty vocals midway as it heads to the inevitable crescendo. The same holds true of the eight-minute progrock Welcome to the Cosmic Cabaret with its quiet/loud passages and Benton’s midsection almost jazzy showcase and, riding Morris’s rumbling drums, the anthemic stormer Without Love.

The title track is something of a surprise, opening with a massive intro courtesy of the Wolf Kerschek orchestra, it’s sung by guest vocalist Tobias Sammet from Avantasia, an outfit with which Catley collaborates, but, carried along with strings, it unfolds as unmistakably Magnum.

Clarkin is in blistering form throughout, his muscular guitar work afforded several spotlight solos, notably on Tell Me What You’ve Got To Say, the album heading into the final stretch with the classic melodic midtempo Magnum surge of You Wanna Be Someone, Catley supported on backing vocals by bassist Al Barrow and even featuring a handclaps break, the steamrolleringForbidden Masquerade with some bluesy guitar towards the end, a mood that carries into the war and social injustice-themed big ballad Glory to Ashes before, the orchestra back in force and with more bluesy Clarkin licks, finally ending with the seven-minute King of the World.

Despite a 46-year history, Magnum don’t always get the recognition they deserve as one of best prog/hard rock bands this country has produced, although, with the album scoring their highest chart position, at 15, since 1990 and becoming their first German Top 10 hit, it’s patently clear that their audience continues to grow. 2020