Friday 12 January 2024

Magnum - Here Comes the Rain (2024)

Country: UK
Style: Hard Rock
Rating: 8/10
Release Date: 12 Jan 2024
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For fans of classic British rock, the second week in January every other year has become when the new Magnum album will drop and they delivered once again this year, following 2018's Lost on the Road to Eternity, 2020's The Serpent Rings and 2022's The Monster Roars. Sadly, this year's album was overshadowed by the death of founder member and perennial songwriter Tony Clarkin a mere five days before its release date. He's been a fixture throughout my musical life, as Magnum were one of the first bands I heard when I stumbled onto rock and metal in 1984 through The Friday Rock Show and, courtesy of their album Chase the Dragon, then a fixture on that show, were also one of my early favourites.

That was their third and this is their twenty-third, if we exclude the two by Hard Rain that Clarkin and Bob Catley released during the brief gap between the two incarnations of Magnum, but it's a strong one, from the very beginning. I gave its two predecessors an 8/10 and this is an even easier 8/10, surely my favourite of the three. It touches on each of the things that Magnum do incredibly well and so it works not just as an album but also as a reminder to anyone who hasn't heard them in far too long that they can still do everything they used to do and just as well.

The first three tracks highlight that wonderfully. Run into the Shadows is a lively rocker with just a hint of edge to Clarkin's guitar and highly recognisable melodies in Catley's vocals. I enjoyed it on a first play but it's grown on me nicely with more listens. The title track grabbed me immediately, though, with that slow but powerful groove that's pure Magnum and the effortless way it prowls forward is quintessentially them too. Some Kind of Treachery slows down further as a ballad, led by Catley's glorious voice. It's not as crystal clean as it used to be way back in the day; the passage of decades has added a little grit but that doesn't hurt his delivery of ballads because it gives him a little more emotional emphasis.

I liked all three of these, the title track the most, and I liked After the Silence too, another rocker, after them, but the album elevated for me with Blue Tango, which is when I knew this was likely to be another 8/10. There are ten tracks here all told and they fall naturally into sections of four, three and three for me. Those first four are a strong way to kick off the album, reminding us of what Magnum do and do better than anyone else. The next three serve as serious emphasis, upping the ante a little with magnificent effect.

Blue Tango is an obvious highlight, a heavy song for Magnum built on a glorious driving riff that's right out of the Deep Purple playbook. It's rooted in good old fifties rock 'n' roll, not just bulked up by guitar but also the keyboards of Rick Benton, who channelled Jon Lord for this one. I love heavy seventies organ and it's great to hear it deepen a song like Blue Tango. The Day He Lied is another emotional song relying on what has always been their strongest aspect, how they set slow grooves effortlessly into motion and build them with characteristic melodies. This riff is exquisitely simple, just a few notes but, when Magnum play it, it's like the hills and valleys of a whole nation distilled down to its purest essence.

And then there's The Seventh Darkness, just about defeating Blue Tango to be my favourite song here. It's certainly the jauntiest on offer, kicking off with a sassy trumpet by Nick Dewhurst which continues to punctuate the song for an elegant sense of emphasis. That's a highlight but so is the saxophone of Chris Aldridge that duets joyously with Tony Clarkin's guitar in the midsection. It's a pristine rocker, this one a little faster than usual, albeit not as driving as Blue Tango.

And then there's the final set of three songs that I believe stand alone, just like every track here, but also fall into what feels like a thematic section. Broken City begins with distant explosions, as if we're in a war zone, and its story is told mostly through voice, the guitar replaced by strings and a tasty harp. There are no clues in the lyrics as to which city Catley is singing about, which is surely deliberate, as it continues that way through the final two songs, I Wanna Live and Borderline. It's all of them, even though the latter opens with a middle eastern flavour.

I Wanna Live is quintessential Magnum pomp with another earworm chorus and a wonderful solo from Benton's keyboards late in the song. Borderline is punchier and oddly seems reminiscent of Oasis in the vocal melodies, but, appropriately enough, it has some excellent and prominent solos from Clarkin on what may well be the final track that we'll ever hear from him. It wasn't planned, of course, especially as I believe his passing was sudden and unexpected, but it's touching anyway.

I have no idea if Magnum will continue without him. Musicians have come and gone over the years and that's par for the course for a band who have been around over half a century, but it's hard to imagine them without either Clarkin or Catley, who have been there throughout. Given that most of their songs were written either entirely or primarily by Clarkin, it's especially tough to imagine what new songs might sound like without him at the helm. However, if this is it for new material, I have to say that they've left a magnificent body of work for any new fan to discover. RIP, sir.

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