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Progressive Rock CD Reviews


Princess Alice and the Broken Arrow

Review by Mike Korn

This CD has really reawakened something in me that has been dormant for a long time. After immersing myself in the world of pure heavy metal, especially of the more brutal variety, I think I forgot how powerful pure melodic rock can be in the right hands. Long-lasting British act Magnum not only has the right hands, they have the master's touch.

Magnum has quite a history in British rock and their album On a Storyteller's Night is considered a classic. They are often labelled as progressive rock and while I wouldn't argue with that, Princess Alice... sees a very focused band at work, one more concerned with coming up with catchy, compact songs as opposed to lengthy technical explorations. A couple of cuts here go past the seven minute mark, but for the most part, the tunes are in the four to five minute range. Since they are packed full of good hooks, tremendous musicianship and strong lyrics, the length hardly seems to matter.

A very strong attraction here is the quality and emotion of the lyrics. The elaborate fantasy cover art would suggest a band dealing with outre subjects, but Magnum instead focuses on universal human feelings of wistful longing and haunting memories of the past. The songs "When We Were Younger" and "Inside Your Head,” in particular, are extremely moving and will surely strike a chord with anyone approaching middle age. Bob Catley's vocals are reminiscent of a less strident Rod Stewart, but are perfectly for transmitting the kind of longing the lyrics relate. If you're tired of buzzy black metal, trite pop songs and endless testosterone, let Magnum show you how good British rock can still be.

This review is available in book format (hardcover and paperback) in Music Street Journal: 2007 Volume 3 at

Track by Track Review
When We Were Younger
This starts the LP not with bombast and fury, but with a subtly building epic. Mark Stanway's keyboards dominate the early going and the track gradually adds layers of sound until it becomes a strong rocker, kind of like a cross between Asia and Whitesnake. The lyrics really drive this cut, as Bob Catley wistfully remembers a vibrant youth and muses about an uncertain future. Nobody who has a few years under their belt could be unmoved by the heartfelt and oh-so-true words here. This is a haunting, wonderful song.
Eyes Wide Open
A chugging guitar riff from Tony Clarkin kicks this track off, which soon throws in some tasty acoustic work. This is another song that has an almost perfect balance between intense hard rock and poignant, melodic pop. You won't hear me invoke pop much, but the songcraft here is just so strong. This tune has that melancholy feel that permeates much of the record.
Like Brothers We Stand
An already strong album kicks up another notch with this fantastically catchy song. Mellow new age synths give way to a superb acoustic guitar riff. Catley really sounds like a young Rod Stewart here. Eventually, the acoustic becomes electric and the song morphs into an anthem with an unforgettable chorus - absolutely perfect! The lyrics here seem to be inspired by Tibet's struggle for independence: "We died for this land, so pray for us all / With pictures in sand, they're closing the door / Hearts have been bled and crash to the floor / Like brothers we stand, they fooled us once more."
Out of the Shadows
This crunchy rocker is perhaps the only song here I would call heavy metal and it's awesome. How do you these guys come up with riffs that are so simple and so classic? Think the opening chords of Yes' "Owner of a Lonely Heart" and you'd be in the ball park with this one. There's a kind of cool squealing guitar fill that adds a neat touch to the main riff and Stanway's keyboards again add depth without weakening the powerful guitar. It's also worth mentioning the thunderous drums of Jimmy Copley, who hits really hard! There's a bit more of a prog feel in the mid-section but the track wisely returns to that classic riff and ends with some blinding guitar wizardry from Clarkin and another anthemic chorus - killer!
Dragons are Real
The momentum continues here with a powerful guitar based rocker. Somehow, Magnum has the ability to inject a feeling of sadness and mystery into the most elemental compositions. The main guitar hooks here are hardly complex but they are extremely strong and the chorus is just wonderful. It will not leave your head ever once you hear it. "Dragons are real, I see them fly out of the sun / And all the fools will disappear once they move on / Go, take me away, take me away/"
Inside Your Head
Usually there are few things I hate more than a sappy piano ballad - not this time. This is about as close as I have come to crying during a song. The lyrics are so emotional, so poignant that they will touch many very deeply. I won't even describe them, but there is hope at the end. This is a truly beautiful, timeless piano melody, greatly bolstered by a strong chorus. I never thought a song like this would ever move me, but Magnum made it a reality.
Be Strong
The first tracks on this album rank with the greatest "first half" of any release I've heard. The second half is not quite so awesome, but it's still pretty good. This song combines a kind of funky rock feel with a pompous prog approach to good effect. The lyrics here urge the listener to keep the chin up when things get rough. After the melancholy "Inside Your Head,” the placement comes as kind of a relief. I really like Clarkin's down and dirty bluesy solo in this one.
Thank You For The Day
Something about the rolling piano riff here reminds me of the great pop rock of the 70's. It's a little bit like a cross between Journey and John Lennon, if you can "imagine" that. Again, the band's facility with simple, memorable hooks is demonstrated. In the late 70's and early 80's, this thing would have been all over FM radio like stink on cowflop. I think it may be just a tad too simplistic and easy and maybe a little too long, as well.
Your LIes
This tries for a much dirtier, rockier feel with a growling guitar hook to kick things off. Here, though, Stanway's keyboards do kind of neuter the dark feel of the song. The dichotomy between smooth pomp rock and mean bluesy rock doesn't totally convince me. It's still an enjoyable track, but in comparison with "Out of the Shadows" and "Dragons Are Real,” obviously inferior.
Desperate Times
This dreamy, laid back pop tune again returns to the album's theme of approaching old age and the good and bad of that monumental change of life. The track bulks up considerably on the chorus, which is huge and powerful in the best classic Brit-rock tradition. The lyrics are once more extremely personal and moving and more than a little sad, but the music itself is rather uplifting. "We contemplate the past / We all remember well / It's disappearing fast / But only time will tell..."
You'll Never Sleep
Synth and piano sets a mysterious, dream-like tone for this tune, the most complex on the disc. Things soon pick up with a brisk pace and a hard-hitting guitar. The song constantly seems to swing like a pendulum between the restrained and the overbearing. There's more tremendous vocal lines delivered with authority by Catley. It's hard to tell if the album is ending on a positive or foreboding note lyrically, but it's fitting that the proggiest cut puts the cap on this outstanding album of melodic British rock.
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