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Magic Pie - Circus Of Life CD (album) cover


Magic Pie


Symphonic Prog

3.89 | 281 ratings

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3 stars Has it moments but falls short.

"Circus of Life" is an ambitious album combining mostly a hard rock sound with classic symphonic. It certainly has its moments and I am comfortable calling it an OK album from a band with potential but I do feel the 5-star dog pile it has achieved is a bit much. On one of our competitor sites known for being more critical of the "flavor of the month" bands, one of the reviewers calls this album "kitsch" and after playing this thing to death I can see his point. Let me run you through the tracks on this briefly:

The album begins with a 5-part suite which is nice to see, nothing like shooting for the stars! "Welcome" opens with the giggles and sounds of children as the positive vibes begin with a lovely acoustic. Then there is some lovely cello and percussion as the vocals begin. This short opener is probably the highlight of the album for me as the melody sounds natural and unforced. At this point it feels like great things will happen but the sentiment won't last long.

"Freakshow" is a heavy riffing instrumental that is an exercise in uninspired futility. I guess this is the announcement that the band can wail on their instruments. There is no denying these guys can play their arses off but if you are a fan of something like YYZ, let's just say that "Freakshow" is not going to usurp YYZ as your favorite rock instrumental.

The first minute of "What If" is another highlight with its dreamy spaciness and perfect guitar..this first minute is an example of the instrumental they could have given us instead of wasting 6 minutes on the previous track. But alas the singing begins along with the pattern of convention that will plague the rest of the album. This is however the best song on the album with its passionate vocals, a sound that I'd describe as a joyous version of Alan Parsons, and the best guitar work both at the beginning and later on with the excellent solo. Sadly, with the opener "Welcome" and this song we have reached the peak of "Circus of Life" and there's still a long way to go!

"Trick of the Mind" is the longest piece at over 20 minutes-wow! It begins with a wild DT-like flurry as the band seeks to assure it has the chops to interest the fireworks fans. After several versus and filler, and towards the end the band will kick it up a notch as guitarist Kim Stenberg proves he can play anything Petrucci can (though they can't match DT in composition.) As this is the beef of their album it is here where they need to grab you but they fail to convince. You essentially have many fairly pop verse/chorus sections that are nice but nothing special, tied together by a few nice instrumental flourishes. It is simply not necessary to spend 20 minutes on this section.

"The Clown" starts like a bit of a hangover from the epic "Trick" but after the reprised Magic Pie chorus it kicks into an upbeat guitar solo and then into a nice ending of vocal harmony.

"Pointless Masquerade" begins with a nod to the Gentle Giant bounciness both instrumentally and vocally though with a bit more of a metalish edge to the guitar. The verse music features a strummed acoustic with some tasteful leads in the background. There are some extended jamming sections in the second half but they are not very memorable, in fact quite generic.

"Watching the Waters" begins with some news soundbites before the upbeat beginning of the Styx-like track on the album, this one has the sound of an outtake from "The Grand Illusion" updated for 2007. Again though the formula is the same with the catchy verse/chorus/verse and the obligatory leads thrown in here and there. And they just couldn't resist one final tired trick: leaving a gap of dead silence towards the end of the track before coming back to finish the song. Puhleeeeze.

"Circus of Life" will please the pop-prog crowd but beware. They have great musical talent but their composition lacks true excitement, truly memorable songs, and authentic progressive spirit. Fans caught up in the moment will likely blast my sentiments but we'll see in twenty or thirty years if anyone remembers "Circus of Life." I don't think they will. Another problem I have with this album are the lyrics which just seem to regurgitate endless sappy affirmations. My favorite, repeated countless times is "stay clean, stay healthy, stay alive, have a piece of Magic Pie." Heavy.

I have tried to figure out what it is about bands/albums like this that so fervently grab so many people with what seems like schlock to some of us. I think it has to do with ease of accessibility. Albums like this are so instantly apparent and pop-pleasant that they excite you, which is not such a bad thing if there is something of substance that will make you care after 100 plays. Other prog albums can take 20 plays before you can even begin to understand the beauty of what the artist is doing and many people won't make the commitment. Magic Pie doesn't require that commitment but perhaps they should think about making their next album more intellectually difficult and more musically stimulating. That isn't meant to be a putdown though of course it sounds like one. These guys have such potential but can never seem to step out of the adrenalin riffing and hokey choruses long enough to truly explore a dark alley. I find this really frustrating. Think about it like this: Many Porcupine Tree fans accept and enjoy Wilson's more pop offerings like Lazarus and Sound of Muzak because they know he's gonna break loose soon and take them places that that are unfathomable and interesting. Magic Pie never does that, they stick with the happy vocals for the most part separated by instrumental sections that are lacking in imagination and depth until they quickly usher you back to the verse so you can sing along again. And even then the sing along parts are not as interesting as better pop music.

Whenever I'm having trouble deciding if my instincts are right about a piece of music I like to turn to my better half for her completely unbiased take on what I'm playing, as she's not obsessed with tunes like we are but still has good taste. On this album, she replied "It's OK. Pretty repetitive. Kinda boring." I had to laugh because she essentially summed up my thousand words in just 6.

Recommended only to people who like stuff like Spock's Beard or similar. If you think an album like "V" is a classic, you should RUN to pick this up. 2 stars to my ears rounding up for impressive chops.

Finnforest | 3/5 |


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