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Magenta - Revolutions CD (album) cover





3.56 | 167 ratings

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James Lee
Special Collaborator
Honorary Collaborator
2 stars Classic prog sounds meet neo-prog simplicity in this amiable but forgettable double-disc debut from MAGENTA. "Revolutions" is nothing revolutionary, but it is comfortable and pleasant and has something to offer anyone interested in a woman's voice atop a skilled band doing the classic prog sounds.

After a less-than-promising sampled vocal round, the overture begins; not quite a trip back to the 70s, but at least to the better parts of the 80s; crystal clean production allows us to hear the details of the sweeping, rolling epic that is "Children of the Sun". GENESIS and YES are definite influences, but the narrative is more straightforward- more operatic than poetic in presentation, although the tone seems more in keeping with a Norse epic (or a more classy Conan film). The instrumentation is also less experimental, taking the basic sounds from classic prog rock (buzzy analog synth leads, organ comping somewhere between KANSAS and "Watcher of the Skies", piano arpeggios, overdriven bass a la Squire or Wetton), adding a smooth 80s lead guitar tone and the occasional sampled strings. More attention will likely be paid to the vocals, and RENAISSANCE comparisons abound mainly because there are so few female singers in prog. Christina Murphy lacks the waifish undertone which moderated Annie Haslam's theatricality, reminding me more of Maggie Reilly (from MIKE OLDFIELD'S "To France") and, disturbingly, Olivia Netwon-John. The male vocalist does his part well enough, although the harmonies never quite mesh properly. The song itself is very nicely paced, even if the tension generated in "The Battle" never really earns the anthemic climax on "Thanksgiving". The use of recurring motifs is quite well done, managing to keep a common thread throughout 19 minutes without too much repetition. It's very slick and pleasant prog- not in an ALAN PARSONS PROJECT way, but more like classic 70s prog without as much virtuosity, complexity, jagged edges and muffled mystery.

"Opus 1" is a nice little classical guitar piece. It can't compete with "Mood for a Day", but it's not bad either.

"The White Witch" is a bit more moody, allowing Ms. Murphy the chance to wail a bit more; her tone, like the guitars, have a little more blues in them this time around. The drums are also a little more prominent (for better or worse- there are some nasty Jan Hammer-style synth toms) and we even get a little imitation-Mellotron thrown in. There's a voice-over narrative in "The Plague" that further illustrates the directness of the storytelling, but even without it there's little difficulty grasping the concept (this is neither mystic Jon Anderson nor metaphoric Gabriel lyricism). "Reflection" opens with a tinkling passage that strongly evokes GENESIS' "Entangled", at least until the vocals come in. Is she giving thanks again? Whatever else MAGENTA may be, they're grateful. A bit of reverse vocal trickery heralds the final movement, "The Spell", which is almost too much for me- the repetition of the incantation at the beginning grates on me, and the guitar solo is rather uninspired. Again, the obvious climax to the suite seems forced rather than, well, climactic.

Having done the fantasy thing twice now, MAGENTA turns towards sci-fi for "Man and Machine". They start out with a brief, jazzier element, the vocals and piano bouncing lightly against a bass counterpoint (maybe I have "Trick of the Tail" on the brain tonight, but this reminds me a lot of the title song's verse). "War" brings us back to the rock with a sad guitar lead (is he not in tune? something sounds off here) and the occasional industrial synth noise- to illustrate the 'machine', I presume. The vocal harmonies blend a bit better on this track than elsewhere, but still tend to remind me of "Xanadu" (not the RUSH song, the Jeff Lynne- produced, Olivia Newton-John sung OST). Hmm, the jumpy octave riff under the Numan-esque synth solo sounds suspiciously like the jumpy octave riff from the second part of "The White Witch". Maybe that's MAGENTA's 'thing'. The lyrics begin to approach laughable as they describe our growing servitude to machines ("from mobile phones to laptops/ the wonders never cease"..."internet and email/ let us worship you and praise"), and the anthemic style really doesn't allow for much emotional variety. Am I supposed to be concerned, scared, outraged or uplifted when she tells me the spy cameras are watching me? And what are the fireworks/ gunshots and church bells at the end of "Lightspeed" all about? Luckily, the classic alien deus ex machina appears at the end to save us (maybe with the advanced technology that MAGENTA has spent the last 20 minutes warning us about?).

"Opus 2" the way, opus generally means a work of paramount better than "Opus 1" but still not that impressive.

"Genetisis" rounds out the future half with a piece about genetics (of course). I'd say the title also referred to their GENESIS inspiration, but just to mess with us this song suite sounds much more YES-inspired (mainly the post-classic but pre-Rabin version); there's some Howe-ish guitar playing, some Anderson-ish vocal backgrounds and Wakeman-ish synth solos, and some odd meters (in case anyone was still unsure that this was prog). There's even a less-than-subtle "Heart of the Sunrise" riff that exemplifies MAGENTA's position as more than a tribute band but somewhat less than a unique entity. I lost track of the storyline somewhere between the new race of genetically engineered supermen and the religious turn at the end, but I have a feeling someone ended up thanking someone else for something.

"The Warning"...what are they warning us about? Long, pointless guitar solos, for one thing, with neither classic prog's experimentation nor prog-metal's virtuosity. This song has some interesting chord changes and some tumbling GENESIS keyboard arpeggios, but sounds unfinished.

Okay, I'm being more negative than this album deserves; the musicians are all skilled players and the performances are tight and beautifully recorded. There is a dedication to the sound of classic prog and an accessible quality that reminds me of later CAMEL and the neo-prog bands (especially PALLAS, but without as much heavy guitar). Ms. Murphy has respectable control and range, and provides the band's main hook- let's be honest, with a male lead singer this band would be significantly less interesting. As far as vocal quality goes, her clear and assured delivery suits the slick sound nicely without adding much distinctiveness . Someone compared her to Stevie Nicks...though I'm not a big fan of hers, I'd have to say that Christina's voice posesses absolutely none of the same instant recognition potential. And that pretty much sums up the band- the classic prog and neo-prog fan will be comfortable with the sound while discovering nothing new or even remarkable. One star (for bland lack of originality) or three stars (for a pleasant and competent performance, and also for debuting with a double album without much filler) averages out to two stars. Try it- it's completely safe, and you may find value I missed.

James Lee | 2/5 |


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