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Uriah Heep - The Magician's Birthday CD (album) cover


Uriah Heep


Heavy Prog

3.86 | 566 ratings

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4 stars Uriah Heep was nothing if not prolific in the early '70s and the band managed to churn out its first five albums in the space of only three years. It may seem a bit churlish of me to describe the band's fertility in this manner but by all accounts The Magician's Birthday was something of a rushed job, released quickly due to pressure from the record company. In spite of that it's a great album and as with Demons And Wizards it was certified Gold, although for me it will always lurk in the shadow of its more illustrious predecessor. The other major flaw with this album is that it is too much a clone of the preceding album. Side One of the original vinyl of Demons And Wizards consists of five relatively short songs, featuring a mix of ballads and rockers; Side Two finishes with an atmospheric acoustic song followed by a long multi-part track. Ditto for The Magician's Birthday. The album title and the Roger Dean cover even mirror Demons. That was the desired effect no doubt, but it borders on slavish imitation. Fortunately the chemistry of the previous recording remains in evidence, thus reinforcing this line-up's status as the classic Uriah Heep.

Sunrise opens the album in provocative manner. It begins with a gradual crescendo on Hammond organ that beautifully evokes the breaking of day. Some typically melodramatic choral effects burst forth along with Gary Thain's swaggering melodic bass line, which intermittently acts as the lead instrument. The main song features sharp contrasts in dynamics from subdued, pensive verses to rousing, fervent choruses. What a wonderful song and it's no surprise the band used it to open the Live '73 set. Spider Woman is one of the band's unremarkable rockers, so enough said about that. The next track, Blind Eye, has a memorable tune and features agitated acoustic guitar and an urgent twin electric riff. It's quite different to the band's usual sound mainly due to the timbre of the guitars, and I always think of Wishbone Ash when I listen to this song! Echoes In The Dark features Moog and slide guitar, both played by the multi-talented Mr Hensley. Manfred Mann's guest appearance playing Moog on the Look At Yourself album obviously made an impression on Hensley, as he himself uses the instrument extensively on this album. Echoes has some nice atmospheres and David Byron's vocals are fraught with emotion. Side One closes with Rain, a quietly reflective song with piano, vibes and organ providing the sole accompaniment.

Sweet Lorraine cracks open Side Two with a willowy Moog intro, followed by a superb wucka-chucka wah wah lick from Mick Box. The instrumental section midway through the song features a wispy, thread-like Moog and meandering bass duet. This song is undoubtedly one of Uriah Heep's finest rockers. The penultimate track, Tales, is a haunting ballad featuring gurgling Moog and a guest appearance by session musician B. J. Cole on pedal steel guitar. The 10-minute title track then closes the album in grandiose style. It consists of several different sections including a guitar/drums jam that struggles not to outstay its welcome. Earlier in the track drummer Lee Kerslake actually improvises on a kazoo during the 'Happy Birthday To You' section. The closing section includes a verbal exchange between the magician and his adversary, and features Byron's vocals in unison with Hensley's Moog. Nice effect guys, so why the sudden fade?

I always think of The Magician's Birthday as the companion album to Demons And Wizards; if you own one, you'll probably want both. I wouldn't describe it as essential but it has more than its share of highlights and is certainly worthy of a 4-star rating.

seventhsojourn | 4/5 |


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