Magnum have nothing to prove. Songwriter and guitarist Tony Clarkin with vocalist Bob Catley will have been at it for 50 years this year—with a five year gap in the middle, but impressive.
They’ve had the hard-to-musically-place years, the successful years and the knowing what they’re good at years.
The Early Years
Those first Magnum albums, 1978’s Kingdom Of Madness, II and Marauder were chock full of ideas, some Rock, some Hard Rock, some Prog and a big dollop of Pomp.
They could sometimes sound like Clarkin has shoved lots of things together, it occasionally sounds like several songs in one track and that’s all to the good.
The Almost Made It Years
They really entered their commercial pomp with 1985’s On A Storyteller’s Night—big, verbose Rock songs as usual with Magnum but with really melodic sensibility and commercial clout.
Clarkin’s writing was beginning to hum. It was the album with which I first encountered Magnum, no going back then—except to the earlier albums, of course.
Their next, Vigilante, had Queen’s Roger Taylor at the production desk and had a softer sound and a commercial sheen. I tried to like it, still don’t connect with the poppy ‘Lonely Night’ but the title track and ‘Back Street Kid’, clustered at the end of the album, married chart with class.
Wings Of Heaven had a good go, charting in the top 10 all over Europe in 1988.
Then it was America’s turn, but 1990’s Goodnight LA wasn’t released in the States and although it did well in the UK, Polydor seemingly were disappointed with the sales.
And After That?
They spilt after one more album.
But what was this? A band called Hard Rain. With Clarkin and Catley. Producing excellent, radio friendly music. Almost as if they’d never been away.
And when they returned as Magnum and ever since then, despite lineup changes, we’ve had seasoned, expensive sounding music with a big belt of melody, using jousting organ and guitar. Every two years or so. Always excellent.
Onto This One Then
Metal Planet Music tell us, ‘Few things in life are as reliable as a new Magnum album,’ and they’re right.
Not to damn with faintly praise, they go on, ‘You always know that what you’re going to be presented with is a selection of beautifully crafted and epic songs’—there’s no difference here.
This Magnum album is The Monster Roars and you might think that with the title and the horned creature on the cover, there would be some roaring raucousness.
We start with a piano and vocal approaching, not a bang of the doors being thrown open, Magnum don’t need to do that.
The song is stately, the guitar sparks a little, but it shows their place as established rockers.
And when the sweet piano for ‘All You Believe In’ and the dramatic ballad plays out, the revered feel is endorsed; although ‘Your Blood Is Violence’ works as an organ-infused Uriah Heep feel, it has real drama and power in Bob Catley’s vocal delivery as the backing attacks with certainty.
Tony Clarkin’s music has always had curves in it though and they throw us one with the single ‘No Steppin’ Stones’, the grand and poppy rock driven along with parping horns. It drops out for a faux classical middle before Clarkin’s solo makes a big, bolshy statement.
And then ‘That Freedom Word’ suddenly waltzes around; they can do this because they’re in control of their music absolutely.
But there’s a friendly Radio Rock feel too, ‘The Day After The Night Before’ has a rollicking chorus but sounds full of good stuff, thick and well fed.
And the rolling home is sweet and lyrical in ‘Walk The Silent Hours’ and then ‘Can’t Buy Yourself A Heaven’ has a Clarkin jogging solo spot to take us home.
The Rockpit commented on its ‘number of Hard Rockers (probably half the album are straight ahead rockers) that will please fans if not exactly upping the bar, though in all honesty Magnum’s bar has always been set rather higher than most’.
And that’s perhaps the issue, this band have been consistently special and sometimes expected to do that on every album, but regular excellence must be celebrated.
As The Rockpit goes on to say, ‘this time Tony has created the perfect storm for Magnum fans—I’ve loved the last few in the main, but this one I’ve fallen for completely.’
This album has a track called ‘I Won’t Let You Down’. Magnum never really have.