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Magenta - The Twenty Seven Club CD (album) cover





3.84 | 225 ratings

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4 stars Rob Reed is a much-maligned prog wunderkind, putting together quite a career with Cyan, but kicking it up a notch with the ongoing Magenta collaboration with Christina Booth and Chris Fry. Last year, Rob stunned the prog world with the incredible Kompendium adventure, a Celtic masterpiece that carried a cast of superstars from progland = Steve Hackett, Steve Balsamo, Nick Beggs, Francis Dunnery, John Mitchell, Nick Barrett, Jakko Jakszyk , Dave Stewart, Gavin Harrison, Mel Collins and Troy Donockley. The Welsh multi- instrumentalist has always shined on keyboards, especially piano but his guitar work was quite tasty as well. I have noticed that lately his bass guitar talents have gone through the roof but with 'the 27 Club', it borders on low end genius!

I have enjoyed Magenta's past catalogue with the exception of 2011's Chameleon which just did not seduce me in any noticeable way. In fact, I still consider 'Seven' to be their peak achievement but it may get a run from 'the 27 Club'! Obviously, a concept album based on rock stars dying at the age of 27 is not a huge surprise yet no one has done it yet and I must say, it is a compelling story line. I personally do not believe in coincidence, as it appears to be a moral balm for the young and naive and like religion, loaded with convenience and simplicity. Truth is that the human condition is particularly frail and achieves its zenith of confusion and identity search between the ages of 20 and 29, where (let's be honest) 95% of all our mistakes are made! So, obsessive mindsets like rock stars are often victims of their delusions, fueled by drugs, alcohol and easy sexual access, leading the weaker ones down a path towards perdition. What a surprise! Janis Joplin, Jim Morrison, Jimi Hendrix, Kurt Cobain, Brian Jones (Stones) , blues legend Robert Johnson and lately Amy Winehouse are all prototypical disasters waiting to happen, inner conflicts eating away morbidly at their sense of caution.

'The Lizard King' may be the finest track here, a compelling 12 minute tale of the ebullient and riotous character that was Mr. Morrison and the multiple delusional Doors he kept going through (pun). Slight Oriental atmospherics, whooshing torrents of keyboards and a heady beat characterize the speedboat style adopted here with Christina doing some vocalizing that searches for some utopian ideal. Bruising, brooding and brazen, the mood is mosaic of various styles where the eccentric, ecstatic, slightly manic all congeal into one. Watch for the glorious Reed on bass and Edwards on drums interplay! Fry sheers of a few sizzling solos that hint at Howe's mastery of slicing riffs and searing flights. The chorus is instantaneously recognizable as typical Magenta from past efforts, a buildup of emotion that scores on multiple levels. This track is a total winner and a jot to listen to.

'Ladyland Blues' is the bass-heavy, Yes-influenced epic complete with high treble Squired bass, zinging Howish guitar strolls and bashing drums from the incredibly endowed Andy Edwards. Even Christina comes across as an Anderson daughter, soaring high and mighty. Chris Fry just rips through the piece, as befitting a guitar legend that Hendrix was and is, in memoriam. It does not get better than this, a densely compact, effusive and positive eulogy to a guitar legend without any gratuitous photocopying, staying rather true to the Magenta sound, including some fine acoustic sections as well as lovely harmony vocal sections. Fry displays rather fluid tendencies with the occasional use of wah-wah pedal, tastily expressed by the soloist and wisely adorned by the band. As such, this piece segues very nicely from the opening masterpiece.

The sedate 'Pearl' obviously refers to Janis, a meteoric career cut short by sudden death caused by the demonic duo of the early 70s, alcohol and heroin. Reed has wisely opted for a more solemn sound as opposed to the bruising and rollicking sound Joplin was famous for and as such, the song reigns totally supreme. Subtle organ ruffles gently in the background while Christina Booth supplies her finest vocal performance ever, even better than on Seven's 'Envy', the bass holding down the beat as Fry unleashes a crisp yet bluesy axe solo , very much in the early 70s style with some early picking , followed by a magnificent slide lead. No cheap thrills here, all is quite reverential and heartfelt, surprisingly so for a prog band, I guess! A forlorn piano bring this gorgeous ballad to rest.

'Stoned' is another midnight rambler, 11 minutes of inspired progressive rock that conjures up images of those early days of rock music when everything was open season and all kinds of social and musical taboos were addressed and some even dispatched. If you are expecting a hint of gathering moss, you will be happy to note that Magenta applies their own veneer to the proceedings. Personally, I am famous for my deep dislike of the Rolling Stones, feeling they have done nothing since Brian Jones was found floating in a chlorine- flavored swimming pool in 1969. But the music here is highly evocative, with numerous time changes, acoustic flavors and a deeply pained vocal from Booth, who again shines on this entire album. Fry stings his fret board convincingly, twirling and swirling freely as he releases a whopping solo. Reed then supplies a breezy synth solo to close the deal, corseted by a guitar finale.

The controversial Kurt Cobain is in the spotlight for 'The Gift' , a gentle yet inspired short piece that has little Nirvana , yet a lot of sadness within the grooves, another inspirational 2 album wonderchild who just could not deal with the exertions of life. Orchestral strings usher in a forlorn ballad, with just Christina manning the mike stand and delivering a surging performance. The initial brooding mood explodes into a full-fledged explosion of symphonic splendor, with bass, drums, keys and guitar in tow. Reed shows off his considerable piano talents, delicate and ornate in adorning the piece with some reverent class. Fry slouches little by delivering a sublime guitar solo, simple, direct and evocative.

Robert Johnson was a Mississippi guitar legend who allegedly tried the Dr. Faust thing, willing to sell his soul to Mephistopheles in exchange for fame and fortune, by choosing a deliberate path at a crossroads. Perhaps fate intervened to foil the devil's plot because Johnson died poor and miserable, perhaps poisoned by a jealous husband. Eric Clapton and many others consider him the greatest blues singer ever. Magenta once again provide the ideal backdrop for the mythical drama of the Devil swaying innocent souls to perdition. Booth sings with intense fire while the crew solidly back her exaltations with superlative measure. Fry in particular squeezes our some bluesy delta licks which fits the piece perfectly. A fine ending to a thoroughly enthralling musical package.

Brilliant cover and artwork, booklet and packaging, this is a welcome high point in Magenta's career and fine return to form. Fascinating subject matter that has surprisingly not been addressed by the story-obsessed prog community even though it's all very contemporary and relevant, what with the recent demise of the highly effusive Amy Winehouse. As with the exalted Kompendium project, it must be said the Reed is flying high and soaring with successful prog masterstrokes. Plus he is way older than 27!

4.5 exploding supernovas

tszirmay | 4/5 |


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