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Progressive Rock CD Reviews


Brand New Morning

Review by John Pierpoint

After several years on hiatus, Birmingham rock band Magnum returned with their comeback album Breath of Life in 2002. Unfortunately, it was a less than stellar performance. To my ears it was very reminiscent of the last few albums they produced before the split – a diluted version of what Magnum were capable of producing at their best.

So I was very surprised to listen to the 2004 follow-up Brand New Morning. This seems to be a throw-back to their early days, capturing the distinctive sound and feel of their first few albums (particularly Kingdom of Madness and Chase the Dragon). Guitarist Tony Clarkin’s song-writing is on top form on this outing. It’s as though he’s rediscovered the vein of inspiration that he mined back in the 70s. Magnum spent so much time trying to break the US market in the 80s that they forgot that their greatest asset was the very English quality of their sound – a strange almost folk-like earthiness that combined well with heavy rock riffing, and a knack for producing memorable songs. Thankfully, that undefinable something in their sound is back on this disc, probably helped by recording the album in Wolverhampton, rather than some more exotic location. Joining the returning members Clarkin, vocalist Bob Catley and keyboardsman Mark Stanway are the new rhythm section of Harry James (from fellow Brummie rockers, Thunder) on drums and Al Barrow on bass. These guys are superb, giving the bottom end the “welly” it deserves. All in all, for a long-time Magnum fan like me, hearing this felt like “coming home,” putting a tear in the eye and a lump in the throat. It really is that good.

This review is available in book format (hardcover and paperback) in Music Street Journal: 2013  Volume 3 at

Track by Track Review
Brand New Morning

The title track sets out the band’s manifesto. It’s arguably the best track on the album, but that doesn’t mean that there’s no point listening to the remainder! Synths fade in, followed by a nice chunky guitar riff, then a key change and anthemic synth arpeggios – classic Stanway. Then: bang! – an addictive riff crashes in! We’re motoring.  The vocals come in, Catley sounding slightly croaky, but even so, it’s as though the years have rolled back and we’re back in 1978 again. The chorus is pure Clarkin magic – catchy and heavy at the same time. I could listen to this for hours! And I’ll be humming it for days. 

It's Time to Come Together

A rich piano begins to a bright up-tempo beat. There’s a barely-audible voice-box guitar in the background. This would easily count as the best track on any number of their previous albums, but here it’s just one of the crew, as the standard is so high. Pin-sharp changes demonstrate the band’s skill and attention to detail. I’m in awe.

We All Run
The pace slows on this one, but it’s still heavy and well-written. There’s a certain “rightness” to the way Clarkin phrases his lyrics, which Catley interprets so naturally. Again, there’s a catchy and anthemic chorus. A brief but workmanlike guitar solo makes an appearance. Clarkin doesn’t give himself enough solos, but when they come, they’re worth the wait.
The Blue and the Grey
Synths drift in and out, with delicate, almost Japanese-sounding notes. This is a bit of an odd start for a song about the American civil war! But then a mournful wailing lead guitar melody intrudes (with another quieter one in the opposite speaker) over a jangling twelve-string acoustic. Now we’re firmly embedded in Americana. This song features lots of guitar layers – lovely.
I'd Breathe For You

After a punchy intro, chugging bass and cymbal-rich drums come in. There’s nothing particularly standout about this one, but then they can’t all be the best! There is a fine guitar solo just coming out of the Middle 8, though.

The Last Goodbye

Another classic grand piano piece from Mr. Stanway introduces this song, and then the whole band crashes in. It has a massive uplifting chorus, with a guitar counter-melody proving very effective. The vocal line on this chorus is very much like that of “Two Hearts” (from On a Storyteller’s Night).

Immigrant Son
Evil-sounding, curling synth notes introduce this one. It’s a dark, moody piece. Yet a slight Bee Gees feel to the chorus lifts the mood, with a jubilant guitar break on the last chorus.
Hard Road
There’s a moody, evil-sounding intro, built on a chromatic chord sequence; but this time we’re whisked into some upbeat, motivational verses. The choruses refer back to the intro. There are some nice multi-tracked vocals at the end. It seems to fade out to some tasty backwards guitar, but then a new section comes in to finish it off, leaving us with that backwards guitar again, trailing off into the sunset.
The Scarecrow
Well I probably lied when I said the first track was the best. This is the best, too! I couldn’t put a cigarette-paper between the two tracks – what an excellent way to close the album. A very brief bass solo introduces this song. Then Barrow gets into his chugging groove, while the piano and synths lay the groundwork. They take their time over this, but eventually a fantastic pedaled guitar riff comes in. We’re right home in “Kingdom of Madness” territory here – oh, bliss! This song must have been written during the same self-discovery session that Clarkin used to channel his younger self into the title track. It’s a thing of beauty. It drops back to glowing synths with accents from the rest of the band, while barely definable sound effects tickle the ears. Like the title track, the simplicity and power of the riff will stick in your head. Surprisingly, two-thirds of the way through, there’s a jaunty bar-room piano interlude, but then there’s another shift, and we’re back into rocking land, as Clarkin fires up the slide guitar. Just when you think it’s over, there’s a whole new section at the end, a bit out of place maybe (sounding tacked-on and incongruous), but at least it ends the song (and the album) on a high note.


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