Issue 2006-033: Magenta Special
Round Table Review
Magenta - Home
Tracklist: This Life (2:30), Hurt (5:35), Moving On (6:02), My Home Town (Far Away) (3:56), Brave New Land (1:02), The Journey (6:21), Towers of Hope (2:10), Demons (5:16), Morning Sunlight (2:43), Joe (11:14), A Dream (1:11), The Visionary (6:00), Journey's End (7:41), The Travellers Lament (1:15), Home (4:13)
Magenta - New York Suite
Tracklist: Arrival (10:58), Home From Home (8:07), White Lies (8:43), Truth (10:52), This Life - Reprise (1:21)
Bart Jan van der Vorst's Review
Magenta's third took a while to crystallise. Originally planned for a summer release in 2005, as a double album, it arrived in June 2006 as a single album. Or is it a double album after all?
In order to create a more concise concept album Magenta mastermind Robert Reed cut out four songs to reduce the running time to under seventy minutes. The remaining four songs were however too good to remain unreleased, so it was decided that these four would be released separately as New York Suite. But in order to confuse matters, the initial release of Home contains both Home and New York Suite in a slip-case. There are plans to release New York Suite separately later this year, and to make the double album version only available for a limited time.
Once again Robert Reed wrote, arranged and played most of the music, and produced the album. Although Reed plays most of the instruments the entire Magenta live band appears on the album: Chris Fry and Martin Rosser on guitar, Chris' brother Dan on bass (replacing Matthew Cohen) and Allan Mason-Jones on drums. Furthermore there is quite a collection of guest musicians that play on the album, including regular collaborator Martin Shellard on guitars and Iona's Troy Donockley on Uillean Pipes. Rob's brother Steve Reed is once again responsible for the lyrics. After two albums with a somewhat Christian approach to the lyrics, the concept of Home is much more down to earth.
Following good prog tradition the story follows a troubled protagonist, a young girl, on her way from Liverpool to the USA. Across the pond she falls in with the wrong kind of people, drugs, booze and prostitution, before finding redemption and returning 'home' again.
The story is set in the seventies, which matches the style of the music perfectly. The musical style is as we have come to expect from Magenta: very heavily influenced by classic Seventies prog. Some people may find the music of Magenta too derivative. I have uttered this criticism as well when I reviewed their debut album. And while this is once again true for this new album, the fact of the matter is that by now you could say that Magenta has made it their own sound to play stuff heavily influenced by classic prog. And besides, Home is no more derivative than, say, Dream Theater's latest. Reed mixes the best ingredients from classic Genesis, Yes, Mike Oldfield, and throws in a healthy dose of Floyd, Camel, IQ and The Flower Kings, which boils down to a very tasty result that is Home.
The album opens with the piano/vocal piece This Life, which may be off-putting for those expecting a big prog feast, as it more resembles the likes of Elton John or Kate Bush. Hurt however kicks in as genuine neo-prog with a very IQ-style rhythm coupled with a Roine Stolt guitarsound. Midway it changes gear towards a dreamy Pink Floyd mid-section, which resembles the track Anger of Magenta's previous album Seven.
Moving On has a leading role for Christina Booth. Her fine voice literally carries this ballad to another level. Halfway there is yet another beauty guitarsolo (there are about 25 of them on the two discs combined, so forgive me from repeating myself in the rest of the review, as I find it hard to pick one favourite) and the song changes into a more bluesy tune which includes an unexpected saxophone solo, courtesy of Lee Goodall.
Another favourite guitarsolo comes in the next track, My Home Town (Far Away). Rob Reed is a big fan of Mike Oldfield and he never made a secret of it. The double guitarsolo and the accompanying arrangement at the end of this song could have come straight of an Oldfield album, and it is just so utterly beautiful, it bring tears to my eyes every time I hear it.
In between the longer tracks there are several little ditties. The one minute Brave New Land is a dreamy piece where Christina's vocals are slightly distorted. It serves as an introduction to The Journey, which is a great Yes-inspired track, with typical harmony vocals and Steve Howe style
Towers of Hope is another short in-betweener. Christina's vocal melody is revisited several times throughout the album, with different, though similar sounding lyrics (moving on, waking up, reaching out etc). The following track, Demons, is another highlight of the album. The long instrumental intro resembles the solo work of Steve Hackett. After only a few lines of lyrics the song ends with a firing guitarsolo by Chris Fry, which is my favourite of all that can be found on the album - More influenced by the likes of Steve Wilson than Hackett, Rothery or Howe this one.
Another short ditty with only acoustic guitar and vocals, Morning Sunlight, leads to the longest track on the album Joe. As this is the longest track on the album, it also contains the longest guitarsolo on the album, played by Hywel Maggs. A second solo is played by Magenta regular Martin Shellard. The song also contains several
keyboard solos, which are somewhat absent on the rest of the album.
The Dream is yet again a short introduction to the most commercial sounding song on the album: The Visionary. Once again Steve Hackett is the name that pops up to describe the guitar work in the opening, though the rest of the track is more in a different vein. Kate Bush with more guitars might be a way to describe it.
Journey's End is working towards the big climax. The first half is a piano-vocal ballad with a beautiful, bluesy guitarsolo. Gradually more instruments are introduced. It then quickly turns into something more uplifting and up-tempo, with Christina's best performance on the album and a great, catchy, recurring keyboard solo.
Troy Donockley provides a little resting point with his beautiful Uillean pipes in The Traveller's Lament, before the big climax comes with the title track of the album. Christina reprises the lyrics of Towers Of Hope, Troy Donockley reprises his Uillean Pipes solo. A beautiful conclusion to an excellent album.
New York Suite may be the nothing more than a fancy 'outtakes disc', but it contains some of the best and certainly most proggy bits of the two albums. Rob Reed wanted to make Home a more concise album, so when he axed some of the songs for time constraints it is obvious that the most lengthy tracks got slashed. A pity perhaps, but leaving those songs in would have made Home quite a big chunk to chew on in one go. So by making the songs available on the New York Suite EP you have the choice to listen to Home as a single disc album, or to chuck the songs on your iPod and play them in the originally intended order as is suggested on the Magenta website.
Opener Arrival may well be the best track of the two albums. It is certainly the most proggy track with many tempo changes and keyboard- and guitarsolos aplenty. Think IQ meets Flower Kings.
Home From Home reminds of the songs Magenta released on their two singles. It is a bit heavier than the rest of the album and also quite poppy. Not without the keyboard and guitarsolos though. MTV far this is not!
White Lies reminds of mid-eighties Marillion and is also the song closest to Magenta's work on Seven. Not in the last place because of the extensive use of a string section. Truth is another track that is full of keyboard solos and seems to go back to the band's first album Revolutions. It contains a guitarsolo which is quite similar to Pink Floyd's Dogs.
As a final track for New York Suite Robert and Christina recorded a reprise of This Life in order to bring this part of the story full circle, even though it was not originally part of the concept.
So to answer the inevitable question that rises in everybody's mind right now: No, there is absolutely no reason why you'd want to buy the single-disc release of Home, the gems on New York Suite are more than worth the extra cash for the double disc edition.
Christina Booth certainly deserves an extra mention for her stellar performance. Her beautiful voice (think Kate Bush meets Annie Haslam) carries the entire album and is what actually gives Magenta's music its identity and what makes it so special. After all, this genre is not particularly known for its good vocalists!
With Home Magenta have delivered yet another excellent album. Though the music contains perhaps more non-prog influences than its two predecessors, I rate the new album as a step up from Revolutions and Seven. A strong contender for album of the year!
Geoff Feakes' Review
Some albums can take a while to grow on the listener, often requiring several hearings to be fully appreciated. Others are instantly accessible, seemingly having an almost universal appeal. This new release from Magenta for me falls into the latter category, and it's not hard to see why. The songs are in the melodic neo-prog vein, with strong instrumental hooks and memorable choruses. Combine this with the smooth instrumental work and inspired arrangements and you have an album that belies the fact that this is the bands third only studio release. They have actually been around since 2001, which I guess in the grand scheme of things makes them a relatively new name. Prog albums are often the creative result of a single mind, or as in this case two minds, brothers Steve and Rob Reed. Steve wrote the lyrics whilst Rob is responsible for the music, production, backing vocals, keyboards and other assorted instruments. The rest of the band comprises dual guitarists Chris Fry and Martin Rosser, drummer Allan Mason-Jones, bassist Dan Fry and vocalist Christina Booth.
The dynamic rhythm section provides a solid base for Rob's impressive keyboard work. His sophisticated orchestral embellishments and solo piano contributions provide a layer of gloss to the whole proceedings. The sympathetic guitar work is exceptional throughout, adding colour and depth, with several notable contributions from guest musicians. The icing on the cake is Christina's beautiful, crystal clear vocals. In the more mellow moments, her voice combined with Rob's piano and strings is a strong reminder of Annie Haslam's work in Renaissance. To fully appreciate the concept behind the songs I suggest you check out the bands website where it is explained in detail. Suffice to say that musically this is a rewarding journey that starts and finishes on a note of reflection.
Disc one is book ended by two of the most beautiful songs I have heard so far this year. The moving opener This Life has a simple but none the less effective arrangement with Christina's plaintive vocal doubled by piano with string synth backing.
Hurt bursts into life with ringing guitar, explosive but precise drumming, and thundering bass. The prominent staccato riff bears more than a passing resemblance to the intro to Yes' Perpetual Change. In Moving On, Christina's moody vocal adds depth to a song that would not be out of place as the theme to a James Bond movie. It develops into a not so typical funky, almost bluesy rhythm, with powerful saxophone from Lee Goodall. The superb harmonies lend a Texas style pop sensibility to the memorable chorus. The acoustic guitar and organ driven The Journey is an excellent song with an upbeat Yes style feel throughout. The stately guitar is reminiscent of Topographic Oceans era Steve Howe, with magnificent harmonies and a nimble bass solo bringing Chris Squire instantly to mind. The pivotal and emotional Towers of Hope is over all too quickly, but the striking melody returns in the shape of the closing song Home. Demons is a guitar lovers dream, from the bombastic instrumental introduction to the harmonic main melody with overtones of Andy Latimer. A searing Dave Gilmour style solo develops into a grandiose sound before cutting unexpectedly to a simple piano and vocal refrain to close.
Joe may be the albums longest track but with so many inventive ideas it seems to fly by. The strident piano and orchestral opening sounds like something straight out of West Side Story. Again, this song features many Yes flavoured moments, from the expressive synth work and Wakeman like piano flourishes, to the complex vocal gymnastics. A suitably uplifting choral refrain provides a glorious conclusion to a rich and memorable song. Journey's End starts with muted Fender Rhodes, bluesy guitar and a yearning vocal, before lively piano and acoustic guitar signals a sudden change of mood. It develops into a powerful mid tempo song with driving orchestral keys, soaring guitar and infectious vocal harmonies. This would have made a perfect album closer, but there's more to come. The Travellers Lament provides an all too brief moment of Iona style atmospherics with guest Troy Donockley's Uilleann pipes against a symphonic backdrop. The aforementioned Home provides a fitting finale featuring a gorgeous vocal melody introduced with orchestral keys, piano and gentle guitar backing. Rolling percussion heralds a grandiose instrumental section with Uilleann pipes and soaring guitar interplay that once again recalls the work of Iona. Wisely, the climax is not overstated and concludes with a gentle repeated piano motif.
The second disc New York Suite proves to be more than a collection of outtakes, as is clearly evident from the opener Arrival. This lengthy piece is one of the highlights of the entire set, due in no small part to the striking combination of synth strings and guitar, a hook that punctuates throughout. This song, along with the following Home From Home, introduces elements of Genesis and Marillion, notably in the organ chords, synth soloing and lyrical guitar work. The tracks are generally lengthier on this disc allowing the music more space to breathe. Following a U2 style guitar introduction, White Lies is driven along at a brisk pace by some inventive drum work. The rich orchestral keys style is reminiscent of 90's Camel. In the penultimate Truth, the presence of Yes once again looms large as is evident in the bass and lead guitar playing, and in particular the Jon Anderson influenced vocal imagery. The closing This Life - Reprise is exactly what it says, with Christina's heartfelt vocal bringing the set full circle in fine style.
This is an album that I can heartily recommend to everyone, it excels on every front and doesn't put a foot wrong. If there were such a thing as a prog super league then this release should certainly propel Magenta into that bracket. I also strongly suggest that you invest in this double limited edition. I have spent some time listening to each disc individually and can confirm that they both stand up very well in their own right. Together they make a formidable combination. In fact I could not detect one dud track on the entire collection, not bad for a release that has twenty songs, clocking in at over 100 minutes. In my opinion this is a hot contender for album of the year.
Tom De Val's Review
Magenta have been, for me, one of the surprise success stories of the prog world over the last few years. I originally imagined they'd be something of a cult act along the lines of main man Rob Reed's Cyan project, yet somehow they have become more than this – due in large part to both the wonderful vocals of Christina Booth, and the fact that they have developed into one of the more exciting live acts on the circuit at present. In addition, whilst their first album Revolutions, although not without merit, was something of a cut-and-paste of Reed's influences, its follow-up Seven was an assured and well worked album which saw the band develop and hone their own style. The regular issuing of EP's (not to mention a live album, Another Time .. Another Place .., and The Gathering DVD) has been a useful device both in giving the band an outlet for their shorter and more direct material and in keeping them in the public eye during the lengthy gestation period for Home.
Originally intended as a double CD, Home has now been slimmed down to a more manageable sixty eight minutes, although the 'special addition' of the album (which I'd certainly recommend as the one to go for) comes with an additional CD, New York Suite – material apparently considered not to fit with the flow of the main album, but still linked in terms of lyrical content.
Now, reading some of the reviews already posted on the web, the consensus seems to be that Home presents a less 'progressive' take on the band's sound (with the more 'proggy' stuff pushed onto New York Suite). I'd have to take some issue with this. For a start, this is a concept piece (telling the trials and tribulations of a young woman emigrating from the UK to the US in the early 1970's) and has a unifying feel to it, with many recurring motifs and themes, both lyrically and musically. Secondly, although many of the songs are shorter and, in some cases, perhaps more musically straightforward than on previous albums, the instrumentation used and style of the material is very much in the progressive vein.
In fact, this leads to my major gripe with the album, which I'll get out of the way now. As I mentioned earlier I felt that Revolutions was hampered by featuring sections that were a little too close to comfort to those featured on some of the classic prog albums of the 70's; unfortunately, after the far less reverential Seven this issue seems to have reared its head again with Home. Now, we all know that many of the current crop of bands in the progressive rock genre (and in fact any genre you might care to mention) doff their caps to those that have come before, and equally Magenta have never made any secret of the fact that they are heavily influenced by many of the greats such as Yes, Genesis and Mike Oldfield. However, on several passages on Home the similarity between the material here and that of the aforementioned artists is simply too close to ignore, and it does rather distract from one's enjoyment of the music. I'm not going to go down to individual song level, but suffice to say if you're familiar with albums such as Nursery Cryme, Tubular Bells and (perhaps the main reference point) Dark Side Of The Moon (and I imagine most readers of these pages are) then you might find your eyebrows raising at certain points!
Having got this gripe out of the way, however, it has to be said that, once again, Magenta have produced a very enjoyable, high quality album. Home is much more of a slow burner than Seven or Revolutions; after the first few listens, for instance, I was ready to write the album off as something of a disappointment; having listened to it more regularly and with more concentration for reviewing purposes, however, I must admit that Home has quickly crept under my skin. The band have always had a knack of coming up with strong melodies and choruses, of course, and this carries through here, with the likes of Hurt, Moving On, Demons and The Visionary coming across particularly well. What really impresses here, however, even more so than on Seven, is the variety of styles and moods that the band have embraced. Leaving aside the fact that Magenta probably start a few too many songs in the standard vocal-with-balladic- piano-backing vein, where they then travel to leads them to some interesting places – Moving On, for instance, has a very soulful vibe, Brave New Land features atmospheric chanting and strong harmony vocal work, whilst Joe opens aggressively and theatrically, invoking the kind of vibe captured by Kate Bush on her The Dreaming and Hounds Of Love albums. Many of the songs work as well individually as they do as part of a suite, and all are carried along by Christina's wonderful voice, which sounds as good as ever here, and covers an ever wider range of moods and emotions. As ever she's ably backed by some fine instrumental work, with Rob Reed's varied keyboard work and Chris Fry's expressive lead guitar – the latter particularly impressing with some fine Hackett-inspired solo's on Demons – being particular highlights.
Overall then, despite initial misgivings (and the ongoing ones detailed earlier!) I'd have to say that Magenta have once again produced a very fine progressive rock album that is certainly recommended to all fans of the genre, particularly those who are a sucker for the female voice.
(As an aside, whilst I will leave the detailed review of New York Suite to my DPRP colleagues, I would say that it is certainly worth getting hold of the edition of Home that includes this, as it is another fine album – not quite of the same standard as Home in my opinion, but it will certainly find favour for those who (mistakenly in my opinion!) find Home too 'pop' orientated!)