Remember that band The Magic Numbers? They had a top 10 album back in 2005 and a slew of catchy singles? Well forget about them. This is a new band called The Magic Numbers. Bigger, braver, bolder than the old version, and with a new album that’s likely to impress old fans and garner some new ones who perhaps weren’t too enamoured with the slightly twee, 60s-influenced sound of old.
That’s not to say that this new incarnation of the band – “Magic Numbers Version 2.0” we’ll call them – haven’t drawn on the strengths of their predecessor. Present and correct are the rich harmonies, the well-crafted melodies and the odd key-change. What you also get with this upgrade are songs that go off in unexpected directions, thumping drums, beautiful strings and an epic-ness not seen before.
It seems the four years since their last album, ‘The Runaway’ in 2010, have done the band a world of good. Romeo Stodart (the band’s chief songwriter and singer) has been busy collaborating on other projects and having his first son while his sister Michele (bass player and singer) released a solo record in 2012. The band have also switched label to Caroline since their last effort. These experiences have been brought to bear on new record, ‘Alias’.
The album kicks off with the tale of foreboding that is Wake Up, with Romeo lamenting that “nobody knows this is happening/It’s happening”. The Magic Numbers of old probably would not have started an album with a six-minute builder like Wake Up, but as previously mentioned, this is not The Magic Numbers of old. It is followed by the relatively soothing You K(no)w, which after two minutes shifts gears into a totally different song, before returning the original melody, asking “if you’re disappointed with me, why don’t you come and save me?”.
While The Magic Numbers have always been a band born out of influences, on ‘Alias’ there are some more direct nods to specific acts: Roy Orbison, begins with mournful strings and could have been sung by Dusty Springfield fifty years ago with Michele’s cry of “boy don’t you know that I waited to love you” (not to mind the fact that it’s called Roy Orbison), before bursting out of the speakers, while Thought I Wasn’t Ready sounds like it was plucked off the Fleetwood Mac cutting room floor, and not in a bad way.
Whether the band would like to admit it or not, clearly some more modern influences have also crept into their collective subconscious. For example Accidental Song sounds like Neon Bible-era Arcade Fire with its chorus of “aah aahs” kicking things off before the strings join in. Thankfully, however, the band resist the temptation to just add in a few synth lines as part of the re-invention.
‘Alias’ does flag a little towards the end, with both Better Than Him and Enough failing to hold our attention like the preceding songs, or maybe it’s just that the surprise has worn off by the time we get to them. But then Black Rose immediately pulls us back in, sounding like a more polished PJ Harvey, and finishing the record with suitable aplomb.
Yes, The Magic Numbers are back, but this is not a return to form – it’s a turn to a new form. And a gripping one at that.