Magnum – “Escape from the Shadow Garden”

April 6, 2014

Review by Martin Leach

Around thirty years ago, I had my first pomp rock baptism. The church was The Manchester Apollo and the preachers were Magnum. Some may call it life changing! Fast forward to the present day – I’m still here and so are Magnum. From the time Magnum released their first album, “Kingdom Of Madness“ back in 1978 they already had six years of touring behind them! Since then, they’ve been producing great albums every couple of years and apart from odd line up change, the happy partnership of Bob Catley’s vocals and the song writing and guitar playing talents of Tony Clarkin is still at the core of the band. And with Mark Stanway joining the band in 1979 to add his distinctive keyboards to the mix, perhaps it’s not such a surprise that their music has been so consistent. Approaching twenty studio albums and countess compilations and live albums later, we come to their latest offering, “Escape From The Shadow Garden”.  Sporting another excellent cover by the legend that is Rodney Mathews, it’s testament to the band’s longitiivity that this album can easily stand side by side with the band’s best works.

The production of the album is top notch once again, and from the outset we’re treated to songs which in many ways mirror where Magnum stand out from the crowd. Some bands produce great albums but when it comes to playing them live, something is lost in the translation. That has never been the case with Magnum. They live and breathe to play live in front of their fans. Thunder’s Harry James on drums and Al Barrow on bass complete the band, and that’s what we have here. A COMPLETE BAND. Every song on the album showcases their musicianship in a storming set of songs. It has been documented recently that the band feels free of any shackles they may once have had, and that Tony Clarkin himself, has basically found his mojo again.

And Clarkin’s work on the album’s opener sets the standard for the rest of the songs. We open with an orchestral arrangement reminiscent of the introductions to the band’s live shows. The keys build up into a crescendo and a classic Clarkin riff launches us into “Live Till You Die”. Six and a half minutes of pure live energy !.  Clarkin’s fret work and expression here is arguably amongst his best works. It is timeless and classic, but still sounds fresh and modern. The melodies are entrancing and mesmerising. “Live Till You Die” pounds along at a great pace, with a storming chorus and a Carpe Diem message; indeed many of the songs deal with issues not uncommon in Magnum’s material. People who say they sound all the same are missing the point. The story behind the album’s name comes to life in this song, with the familiar Clarkin imagery and the melodic arrangements compliment the lyrics amazingly well.

COLOUR PROMO

Next up is “Unwritten Sacrifice”, a song that takes a few listens to worm its way into your ears, but once it’s in there….it ain’t getting out ! Catley’s vocals draw you in and before long, you’re singing your heart out !  Two thirds into the song, the pace cranks up a level and we’re rocking out with great fills from James, probably his best works on the album. The harmonies between the whole band are top class.

“Falling From The Big Plan” showcases Catley’s range and expression. He sounds relaxed and fresh. It’s another big band song, with a great chorus and sing-along-ability ! A touching solo from Clarkin begins and you’re tapping your feet and nodding your head before you realise! Then there’s that live touch again…..Magnum have always known how to bring a song to a close to get the fans on their feet, and it’s a great finish !

“Crying In The Rain” carries it’s own story and the pace of the song ticks away nicely, with some nice aggressive Catley vocals that at the same time sound relaxed and easy. The man’s delivery is immaculate. Al Barrow’s awesome bass drives the song and the band is one again. I love this song. It kind of has a life of it’s own, simple yet effective.

Then as you chill out and listen to the relaxed start to “Too Many Clowns”, suddenly a mighty, mighty old school riff fires itself at you and we’re off with possibly the album’s standout track.  Again Tony Clarkin sounds like he’s been unleashed with a fire behind him that hasn’t been heard for a while.  James’s drums are big in the production and you can’t help but be drawn in. It’s a great song that wouldn’t look out of place in the band’s classic albums of the eighties.

Before you know it, five songs have flown by, a terrific journey, and we find ourselves at “Midnight Angel”.  A song about a lady….of the night. I suspect this will be an integral song in the upcoming Europe and UK tour and I expect it to have a life of it’s when it’s played live. For me, I prefer the more upbeat tracks on the album. At almost seven minutes long, It’s one of those tracks that needs a good few listens, but will ultimately be very rewarding. The arrangement of the song is amazing….how it rises and falls is a pleasure to hear…..

“The Art Of Compromise” begins with pianos and some honest, heartfelt lyrics. It reminds me of some of the classic love songs from “wings Of Heaven”. The harmonies are back and Harry James again gets out the big guns.

Then we reach “Don’t Fall Asleep”. What can I say ? You can take this song, and turn it into anything you like. It’s a slow burner, with Catley crooning at us, like a storyteller of old.

“Don’t fall asleep, and feel the raging storm, just let your magic lantern burn”

A tear jerker. It stops you in your tracks, and turns you upside down and you suddenly put things into perspective. You find yourself swaying and time stands still. Amazing.

Wisdom’s had it’s day is another track that needs a few spins. Piano led before turning into a great song that grinds along. The lyrics weave their story again, and Stanway’s keyboards drive the song. Fewer guitars in the mix here, and a shorter track.

MAGNUM 2013 STREET SHOT

“Burning River” sounds like a good single. Very reminiscent of the “Vigilante” title track, or even “Reckless Man” from the Goodnight LA album. We’ll give the band some artistic license here though, after the odd 40 years ! Another great song !

The album closes with “The Valley Of Tears”, a thought provoking track if ever there was one. Catley sounds awesome here, maybe his standout track on the album ? So fresh and vital. You’re swept away on the Wings Of Heaven and you can close your eyes and enjoy. Before you know it, it’s over and you’re back in the room. Too soon, in my eyes. Another minute or two would’ve been nice. Maybe i’m just being greedy !

So there you have it. Magnum show no sign of stopping, thank god. Not bad seeing as they are in their sixties now. Don’t forget that. Too Old To Rock And Roll ? Time for the Rockin’ Chair ? Not quite !

“Escape from the Shadow Garden” is available now via Steamhammer/SPV Records in the following formats:

Digipak Version
CD
1. Live ‘Til You Die
2. Unwritten Sacrifice
3. Falling For The Big Plan
4. Crying In The Rain
5. Too Many Clowns
6. Midnight Angel
7. The Art Of Compromise
8. Don’t Fall Asleep
9. Wisdom’s Had Its Day
10. Burning River
11. The Valley Of Tears
DVD
Bonus Features
Recorded Over Six Nights In Europe Live Footage
(Black Skies – Freedom Day – All My Bridges – On A Storyteller’s Night)
Extras (On tour Footage)
(Too Many Clowns – Dance Of The Black Tattoo)

Jewel case Version
1. Live ‘Til You Die
2. Unwritten Sacrifice
3. Falling For The Big Plan
4. Crying In The Rain
5. Too Many Clowns
6. Midnight Angel
7. The Art Of Compromise
8. Don’t Fall Asleep
9. Wisdom’s Had Its Day
10. Burning River
11. The Valley Of Tears

LP Version
LP 1 Side One
1. Live ‘Til You Die
2. Unwritten Sacrifice
3. Falling For The Big Plan
LP 1 Side Two
1. Crying In The Rain
2. Too Many Clowns
3. Midnight Angel

LP 2 Side One
1. The Art Of Compromise
2. Don’t Fall Asleep
3. Wisdom’s Had Its Day
LP 2 Side Two
1. Burning River
2. The Valley Of Tears
3. Dance Of The Black Tattoo (live) – bonus track

MAGNUM Escape from the PRINT

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