Magnum’s twenty second studio album, 2022’s ‘The Monster Roars’, came as a welcome surprise. Although huge chunks of the record sounded exactly like the latter day Magnum that fans adored, a few of the tracks took a bit more of a bold move, musically speaking. There were moments where the usual pomp gave way to a bigger rock sound, and on the lead single ‘Steppin’ Stones’, Magnum showed off an unexpectedly soulful edge, proving that the veteran rockers – although often working in a comfort zone – still had a couple of newer tricks up their collective sleeve. In addition, Bob Catley’s vocals sounded stronger than they had in a while. Although the global pandemic had set the band back in terms of promotion, the rest from touring had obviously been beneficial.
Bob sounds even better on the best bits of ‘Here Comes The Rain’. In addition, there are times when the band seem to let their musical instincts take over, rather than lose themselves in a world of bombast, which is very much a welcome move. This is certainly the case with regard to ‘Blue Tango’. Released as a single ahead of the album, the straight ahead rocker has no interest in celebrating the pomp of the “later Magnum sound”; nor does it have any grand intents. Armed with a chunky hard rock riff, Tony Clarkin leads the band through a solid five minute workout that owes more to an old UFO tune, the driving energy of their own ‘Rockin’ Chair’, or perhaps one of the more disposable rockers from the Joe Lynn Turner era of Rainbow. Not that the results here are in any way disposable. If anything, there’s a pure joy in hearing this incarnation of the band cutting loose for the hell of it, and the power shared between Clarkin’s guitar and Lee Morris’s drums suggest a real force; a unified sound that shows how these rock stalwarts can still hold it with the best of ’em. With keys man Rick Benton dropping stabbing piano motifs throughout, and Catley booming away like he’s having more fun than he’s had in a while, it’s hard not to be swept along with the huge sound. A couple of slower moments lose momentum a little, but a couple of listens in, it becomes clear that these bigger, harmony driven moments are vital in providing a stronger musical link with the rest of the album’s material. With the help of a Don Airey-esque keyboard solo and Clarkin stepping up at the eleventh hour for an equally ferocious lead guitar break, ‘Blue Tango’ is elevated from the realms of “fun rocker” to being an album highlight, despite not being entirely representative of the rest of the disc.
Although there’s nothing else on this album that quite captures such a carefree spirit, the best numbers still seem to breathe a little more easily than some of the band’s other twenty first century productions, and ‘Run Into The Shadows’, in particular, also shares a more buoyant sounding Magnum. The perfect choice of opener, it isn’t shy of revisiting the big AOR sounds of the band’s late 80s work, complete with Rick Benton leading the charge with a flurry of bright sounding keys. From there, the band latch onto a solid groove delivered at a mid tempo, but the riffs have plenty of punch, with Tony Clarkin dropping a choppy guitar against a punchy sounding drum. The bouncy verse slides effortlessly into a more sedate chorus, but this – complete with multi-layered harmonies – tips the hat to some of the band’s best pomp from more recent times. In terms of big melodic rock, it shows how Magnum can still hit the mark, but the album actually has a few superior tracks.
More of that bigger AOR sound cuts through the middle of ‘After The Silence’, and right from the moment Rick opens the number with a massive wash of keys, it feels like a welcome throwback to a Magnum past. The use of mechanical rhythms on a stripped down verse doesn’t always lend itself to the creating most appealing sound, but Catley quickly latches onto a great melody which he takes to much bigger excess with ease on a great, melodic chorus. The punchier moments of this number come somewhere close to being peak latter day Magnum, even though Clarkin seems to be taking a back seat throughout, but he more than makes up for it on ‘I Wanna Live’, a massive sounding, mid tempo pop rocker that pushes the guitars to the fore on a huge chorus – conveying a massive, simple melody that sounds as if it were written with live performances in mind. There’s a sound here that’s interchangeable with various tracks on previous Magnum albums, post ‘Princess Alice’, but that doesn’t make it any less enjoyable. The arrangement gives the entire band a moment each in the spotlight: moving away from Tony’s big guitar sound, you’ll find Rick indulging in a huge descending melody during a well constructed instrumental coda, bassist Dennis Ward punching through the wall of sound with an almost funky bottom end in a couple of places, and Lee holding everything down with a hefty drum sound. As for Bob, on this track’s biggest moments, his voice sounds almost exactly as it did in the mid 90s. Although the music doesn’t offer any huge surprises, almost everything here is brilliant. It’s great to hear Rick dropping in a wavering organ that tips the hat to early Uriah Heep, and a pleasure to hear Tony adding extra layers of acoustic guitar over a couple of the heavier moments. In addition, his featured solo is packed with bluesy, melodic sounds that really lift the track, and on an album that isn’t short of enjoyable tunes, this is a definite highlight.
Elsewhere, ‘Broken City’ presents a heart wrenching ballad regarding the casualties of war and its effects upon the children, which finds Catley in full croon against a blanket of keys and plucked strings. The stripped down arrangement ensures the listener is drawn to the lyrical content throughout, and with the soaring vocal melodies calling back to some of Magnum’s very early work in a slightly grandiose way, it feels like the band have come full circle. That’s not to say this is an easy rehash of past glories, of course; it’s been a while since the band offered anything so stark, and the fact that they have the confidence to do so this late into their career speaks volumes about Clarkin’s abilities as a songwriter. On another of the album’s more interesting arrangements, Tony’s bluesier tones cut through the intro of the title cut, increasing expectation for what’s to come, but the band quickly takes a detour into stripped down semi-acoustic strums and lilting melodies. Such a shift shows how a great Magnum song is never hacked out, but its blend of AOR and pomp is perfect for Catley, who takes the wavering melody and sells a big hook with confidence. Obviously, his voice ensures this is easily recognisable as a Magnum tune, and its pomp driven chorus – loaded with layers of vocals and kind of melody that invites crowd participation – balances the quieter verses perfectly. Against the likes of ‘I Wanna Live’, it takes a little longer to make an impression, but once it does, it feels like a Magnum tune you’ve known forever.
‘The Seventh Darkness’, meanwhile, revisits the kind of melodic punch that sat at the heart of older albums like ‘The Eleventh Hour’ and ‘Storyteller’s…’, but updates a classic Magnum sound with a warmer bass and a slightly more mature sounding vocal. It’s always good to hear Tony locked into a groove, and this track’s mix of chunky rock sounds, acoustic interludes and fat lead tones comes as no exception. The brass sounds on the verse take a little adjustment – especially when one of their chosen riffs sounds like the theme from a 70s police drama – but, in time, that actually becomes one of the number’s biggest musical hooks. A bold saxophone solo adds another unexpected twist, and soon enough, the multi-layered tune actually becomes one of the album’s most interesting. With the help of a couple of aggressive lead flourishes, a strong core melody and a middle eight loaded with harmonious counter-harmonies, it’s a bit of a kitchen sink affair, but a few listens uncovers something that really works, and is a cut above the predictable fare shared by other older melodic rock acts. In closing, ‘Borderline’ blends huge sounding rock sounds with an 80s lilt. Many of the track’s best features will sound familiar at this point, but that doesn’t make it less enjoyable. For the long time fan, could even be an asset, and between one of the records heavier riffs, a massive drum sound, some well placed harmonies and a lead guitar break sharing a rather dirty tone, it gives this album a really strong finish. A couple of Rick’s chosen keyboard sounds – leaning towards a 70s infused parp – are slightly jarring, but the good firmly outweighs the bad here, and he makes up for those by finishing off a grand arrangement with a flowing piano riff that’s very much in the classic Mark Stanway mould. As the last notes fade, there’s a feeling of a job that’s very well done.
‘Here Comes The Rain’ is distinctively recognisable as another Magnum album, but whether they are approaching grand sounding melodic rock, or cutting loose on a couple of stomping rock tracks, the melodic rock stalwarts sound genuinely inspired throughout. It’s safe to say that many dyed in the wool Magnum fans will love it, but there’s also a melodic heart to the material that might just pull back in a lapsed fan or two. At their best, the songs shows off a great ensemble approach, but it’s often Clarkin’s guitar work that steals the show with its sweeping, melodic style, which if anything, seems to have grown with the band’s sound over the past few years. It might take a while for a couple of tracks to click, but the immediacy of ‘Blue Tango’, ‘The Seventh Darkness’, ‘Run Into The Shadows’ and ‘I Wanna Live’ ensures that time spent getting to grips with any slow burners never feels like a chore. Accepting that Magnum will never make another album that sounds quite like like ‘On A Storyteller’s Night’ or ‘Wings of Heaven’ – both powered by perfect 80s production values – ‘Here Comes The Rain’s best tunes are among the band’s strongest in several years. After the enjoyable ‘Monster Roars’, that’s something of an unexpected feat.
Buy the CD here: MAGNUM – Here Comes The Rain CD + DVD