The release of Magnum’s twentieth studio album, Lost On The Road To Eternity (SPV/Steamhammer) is no mean feat, considering twenty-five years ago, the band were releasing the aptly named and wholly underwhelming Sleepwalking (Music For Nations) while struggling to find a foothold in a musical environment that had no room for them.
Their original legacy of high-quality prog-and-folk tinged rock had culminated in the seminal On A Storytellers Night (FM), before Polydor had pushed them through the polished, mainstream AOR rock door with the splendid Wings of Heaven, but by the early-to-mid Nineties, they had lost their way, even though the bluesy and more experimental Rock Art (EMI, 1994) had many quality moments, the general populace no longer wanted to know and the group took the decision to disband.
To the credit of the heartbeat of Magnum, guitarist Tony Clarkin, when he reformed the band in 2001 there was no heritage market to tap into, and the intention was to forge forward, not to look to rely on days of future passed. The band would be focusing on new material, no longer prey to the whims of major (or otherwise) labels, pressuring them towards trying to write chart hits. Magnum could now do what Magnum always did best; write great rock songs, with the propensity to explore different avenues.
Since their return, and beginning of a long-term partnership with SPV/Steamhammer at the turn of the millennium, Magnum has once more become a by-word for quality. Lost On The Road To Eternity, I am delighted to say, continues this proud tradition, and, much like The Force Awakens did, introduces new lead cast members (Rick Benton on keys, former Paradise Lost sticksman Lee Morris on drums), and makes enough nods of the head to a glorious legacy while still standing proud by its own merits.
Lost… is, perhaps, less folky and has fewer Prog leanings than some of Magnum’s canon, as an hour’s worth of effortless, melodic rock emanates from the speakers with an organic feel to it. It serves up an updated version of pieces of their history, stitched together into a seamless present, happy to drop the shoulder into quirky moments, or step up into a lifting chorus – opener ‘Peaches and Cream’ could have been lifted from Magnum II (Jet), and is one of a number of examples of layered, class rock songs that the band specialise in.
Where Lost… delivers its best moments is in a superb mid-section run of four songs. ‘Welcome To Cosmic Cabaret’ is where business picks up, an expansive, heroic eight-minute piece of light and shade, and vocalist Bob Catley’s shining moment on the album. This is followed by an epic title track that hints at Queen, featuring an impressive guest slot from Tobias Sammet returning the favour, in spades, for Catley’s great work on the Avantasia sagas. ‘Without Love’ has a warmth and connection that Def Leppard don’t, while ‘Tell Me What You’ve Got To Say’ could have been lifted from Wings of Heaven.
Catley is Galaxy hot chocolate smooth, his distinctive, velvet voice warm and enticing, flawless, switching from storyteller (‘King Of The World’) to sage advice giver (‘Ya Wanna Be Someone’) to cheerleader (‘Show Me Your Hands’); always delivering a memorable and welcome chorus while Clarkin’s natural blues-rock licks are perfectly understated. Rick Benton’s transition into the sound is seamless, his keys ever-present, always enhancing, while Lee Morris’ replaces Harry James, no small task, like several of his drum patterns, with minimal fuss and maximum effectiveness.
Twenty albums and over forty years as a band (even allowing for a six-year hiatus) is a special achievement. But then, despite perhaps not being bestowed with the deserved plaudits, Magnum is a special band, and Lost On The Road To Eternity is another great addition to their library of quality albums.