Top positive review
46 people found this helpful
on 15 May 2009
When a band releases an album as good as 2007's "Princess Alice and the Broken Arrow", it can sometimes prove a little tricky to produce a follow-up that will please the fans as much. Expectation has been raised, and bands often founder attempting to deliver its promise.
Luckily for fans of Magnum, "Into the Valley of the Moonking" should meet those raised expectations. Whilst the album is perhaps not as instantly accessible as the Princess Alice album, it does prove on repeated listening (I've heard it four times now) to be as good, if not better, than its predecessor.
I think this difference is due to the fact that "Into the Valley of the Moonking" is a more varied album than Princess Alice: it's more varied compositionally and the instrumentational arrangements are richer. These aspects take time to absorb. But worry not, this album has the hallmark Magnum sound alright - great rockers with catchy riffs, power ballads with hooks to reel you in, and impressive musical performances from singer Bob Catley and the rest of the band.
A string-synth prelude ("Intro") leads us into "Cry to Yourself", a fairly standard Magnum rocker (that's a compliment by the way, not a criticism!). "All My Bridges" and "Take Me to the Edge", however, really bring out the fireworks! The pace is raised, Tony Clarkin's guitar really comes alive in these tracks but, even here, the composition is clever, not allowing the songs to become boring. "All My Bridges" opens with a "Pinball Wizzard" style piano run before the high-tempo rock kicks in, then hte verses are sung to a quieter synth-driven backing, before the guitar comes in with a vengeance again for the choruses and the outro. It's ace! Similarly, "Take Me to the Bridge" has some real steel about it - definitely a contender for "track of the album" - superb riff kicking off, lightening up for the verse, back with a vengeance for the chorus. Wow!
The song which is the title track, "The Moonking", is very clever and very good indeed, it's a real "grower". Songwriter (and guitarist) Tony Clarkin has added an extra layer to the normal verse-chorus-verse structure. Here, before the verse, we have an additional section, played and sung in a slow-tempo blues format. The verse and chorus return to more "normal" Magnum styles. So, blues-verse-chorus, repeat, then the bridge section becomes the blues-verse done instrumentally before the chorus comes in. There are some neat musical transitions between these sections. Frankly stunning and well done Mr. Clarkin.
This trio of songs is probably the highest peak of the album. The standard continues to be very high, but these three are going to take some beating!
"No One Knows His Name" is honouring the bravery of the individual soldier, a fine musical tribute it is too."In My Mind's Eye" starts as another "standard" Magnum (more praise!), features a pretty keys&guitar arrangement in the bridge, and goes out with a stonking rock vocal from Bob. Impressive!
"If I Ever Lose My Mind" is another of these good "standard" Magnum rockers, sandwiched by a couple of impressive power ballads. First comes "In My Mind's Eye", in which acoustic guitar is very prominent: the start of the bridge section is very wistful, then there is a slight musical "rest", and you wait with bated breath for the leccy guitar to come swooping in, but no, another Clarkin trick, he delivers a superb acoustic guitar solo. Woof! On the return to the ballad, the electric guitar is there, lowish in the mix - very effective stuff! The other sandwich layer, "A Face in the Crowd", is very catchy, good single material - this would be a great arena sing-along if the band were that big!
Two tracks to go - wham! Raise the tempo! "Feels Like Treason" has all the band in fine form for another pacey rocker! Finally, "Blood on Your Barbed Wire Thorns" (how's that for a title?) leaves me with goose-bumps every time I hear it. It's a great closing number, opening with a super rock-riff, features some fine work on the keys going into the chorus, great bridge section, great guitar soloing - excellent head-banging material here - and then, it just leaves me in pieces on the outro: not quite mirroring the album's prelude "Intro", but very cleverly done, the lush melodic string-synths come in and the piano....the piano...wow!
Now - that's music! Rock on!
A word about the production. I have the CD version of the album - not the Digipack or the vinyl LP - the production sound is very "live" sounding (which I quite like as a personal preference). The bass is quite prominent and you may have to adjust your hi-fi settings and turn the "loudness" button off. I wouldn't call it a bad production however, and the effort getting the sound right is well worth it.
Excellent album! Next, please!!