I wonder if I'm going to annoy fans with this review, because it took a while for me to warm to this album. Don't get me wrong from the outset, it's good stuff from one of the legends of hard rock in the UK who have kept on going through the highs and lows that come with industry trends and never stopped putting out good music. It's just that fans simply raved about this one and I had no idea why. It's a good album—that's obvious—and I enjoyed it from my first listen. But it isn't an On a Storyteller's Night, let alone a Chase the Dragon. I left it wondering what fans were hearing this time out that they didn't hear on The Serpent Rings almost two years ago to the day.
And I'm still wondering after a few more listens. Sure, Magnum songs tend to be good initially but grow on multiple repeats because they have a flow to them and we don't know that flow first time through. Each listen helps it seep a little deeper into our soul. Sometimes it's clear from the start, like on I Won't Let You Down, which has a strong beat, a stronger hook and some wildly supportive orchestration to bolster that flow, but usually it takes a few listens to really appreciate the flows, such as with the title track that opens the album. It's a grower of a track, just like Remember and All You Believe In after it.
But not everything is growing for me here. The Present Not the Past doesn't properly engage for me. It's decent stuff, but it's sandwiched in between the immediate I Won't Let You Down and the vibrant No Steppin' Stones, which feels like it's a live track and benefits from a major horn section. The Present Not the Past does what Magnum do and I enjoyed its riff and its flow, but I've heard a lot of songs like this one on a lot of Magnum albums and this one doesn't stay with me, especially with more obvious bookends like those.
In fact, No Steppin' Stones turns out to be one of the highlights of the album, building on its early vibrancy with some clever vocalising over neat basswork from new fish Dennis Ward. It also leads nicely into That Freedom Word, the first song of the second half, which opens with teasing guitar from Tony Clarkin. I like what fellow founder-member Bob Catley does here too. This band is half a century old this year and he initially sounds like his age is showing. He still sounds good, but there's more than just experience in his voice. It feels like there's a little tremor there too, but he only builds from there and, almost a minute in, he's rocking like he's still in 1978 touring for the debut album. He sounds as great as ever, with just a little rasp and tremor to underpin the emotion.
Rick Benton gets to introduce Your Blood is Violence on keyboards, which elevates the song early, but I'm not as fond of the songs that come after it. Walk the Silent Hours is good at what it does, but what it does is that slow Magnum song that's not quite a ballad but plays far closer to it than normal. Those power chords are quintessential Magnum but, like The Present Not the Past, it's a song that I've heard too often before and it doesn't stay with me. Most of the late tracks fit much the same bill, solid and reliable and things I've heard before, The Day After the Night Before the exception that proves the rule, carrying a pristine hook.
In fact, listening to this album, which I think does enough to warrant an 8/10, prompts me to revisit The Serpent Rings, because I remember that being better. Otherwise, I think I may just have to put this on pause for a while and haul Chase the Dragon back out again. I know it by heart but still. So, while this isn't a the killer Magnum album for me that it seems to be for a lot of fans, it's another really good one. They're knocking out albums in startlingly regular fashion, every other January (or close to it) since 2014, so we can almost check our clocks by them, and they've been really good for a while now. This is not a band resting on firm past glories. They're growing old exactly how an excellent hard rock band should and so rarely does.