First thing anyone needs to know is that this album has a weird (some might say “morbid”) concept, with every track being dedicated to a talented musician who (eerily) died at the ripe “oh-so-young” age of twenty-seven. And there are more people who fall into that category than I originally thought. Again, eerie. But oddly enough, the album (though fraught with some emotional lyrics at times) is neither dreary nor depressing, but hopeful and (most often) upbeat when it comes to the overall melodies and musical arrangements.
Regardless, Magenta picked up the concept and ran with it, dedicating each of the six tracks on this album to one of those tragic individuals. Granted, because each track is dedicated to one musician (all with different “sounds” associated with them) that doesn’t mean the song sounds like it was created by that individual or that it even sounds in the least like something that individual would have produced had they lived past their twenty-seventh birthday. Nope. What it does mean is that Magenta, when writing the lyrics to the tracks, when creating melodies and adding instrumentation, did so with that individual in mind. So please know, the music itself is PURE Magenta! All the grandeur, all the same Yes, Genesis, etc. influences remain intact, all the catchy melodies and instrumentation and vocal excellence (when it comes to both lead and background) that fans have come to expect from this wonderful band are on full (and magnificent) display. The concept proved a complete and utter success, driving the band forward in various and often-exciting directions.
So what do we have on offer here?
The first track, the twelve-minute “The Lizard King,” begins with a wickedly wild intro in the vein of Yes (with female vocals, of course) meeting a Prog-Metal band. Truth be told, this intro initially rocked me off my seat and I had to momentarily wonder if I hadn’t been given something other than a Magenta track, since the opening section was a bit more “metal” than the band usually delivers. But it was indeed Magenta, with the ultra-rich “Chris Squire-like” Rickenbacker bass lines thumping along my spine, and the resulting track is nothing but spectacular, adding a whole new dimension to the Magenta sound-picture. The track is dedicated to Jim Morrison (no shock when it comes to the title), and it’s a masterpiece of (again) a merging of Prog-Rock and Prog-Metal. The softer verses are so melodic and well-orchestrated (a Magenta strong point) and the choruses, middle and ending sections are absolutely riveting and grandiose. Basically, during the middle of the track, the song breaks into a different section (a second song, a Part 2, truthfully), which is basically the “edited single version” of the track. But for those of you who have not experienced the opening section, I encourage you to listen to the track in its entirety. Majestic instrumentation, outrageously grand arrangements and orchestrations, riveting lyrics, and Christina’s spot-perfect and spine-tingling vocals reign supreme. Damn, I defy any fan of the genre not to deem this one of the most terrific pieces of Prog-Rock in recent history.
“Ladyland Blues” (dedicated to Jimi Hendrix) is, frankly, a ten-minute Yes-like extravaganza. All musicians are doing their best to imitate Yes at their most creative, exciting peak in their history (with a touch of Genesis for good measure). And, damn it, the band pulls it off…in spades. Terrific.
To be frank, the track “Pearl” (which is, no shock, dedicated to Janis Joplin) brings tears to my eyes every single time I hear it. The often-sedate track has such an absorbing melody and instrumentation, it’s hard not to get emotional. And the lyrics are wonderful, especially the passages that begin with the words…
“I gave my all, the end will bring me down,
All alone, starting again the search for love.
I gave you my voice, I gave you my soul,
Tried to fit in, ’til I get old…”
The lyrics, sung over a sparse, heart-wrenching piano/keyboard landscape?…well, I get chills down my spine each time I hear the section of this track. Christina Booth’s delivery of these lines, of what Janis herself might have actually thought regarding what drove her career and her reflections on her tough upbringing and tragic life in general, is both gut-wrenching and shockingly truthful. Needless to say, this eight-minute track is my favorite off this album, and probably one of my favorites within the entire Magenta catalogue. Utter perfection, a song crammed with angst and passion and perfectly executed! Bravo, Magenta.
On “Stoned” (dedicated to Brian Jones), Magenta delivers eleven minutes of (again) some Yes-inspired riffing throughout, along with delightfully catchy melody lines, outstanding background harmonies, and solos galore.
“The Gift” (dedicated to Kurt Cobain and, at seven minutes, is the shortest track) begins with orchestral strings driving another heartfelt and memorable melody from Christina. Symphonic Prog at its most effective regarding emotional impact. Soon, the song delves into a hard-driving escapade of Prog-Rock splendor, with pianos, guitars, and rhythm section delivering some rich accompaniment to Christina’s dramatic vocals, bringing to mind the most emotionally intense tracks by the band Renaissance. An abrupt, shocking ending of instruments leaves only a dreamy piano passage before the song fades into twilight.
Finally, “The Devil at the Crossroads” (dedicated to Robert Johnson, guitar legend in blues circles, and the longest track at nearly fifteen minutes), is yet another Yes-like driven piece of intense Prog-Rock, with Christina again delivering an emotionally charged performance of “what might have beens” among some Steve Howe-inspired guitar solos, numerous time changes, some acoustic (quite sad, blues-inspired) guitar pieces, and elegant mood shifts that will leave Prog fans feeling utterly, breathlessly fulfilled and reeling, demanding more and more from this fantastic band.
To sum up, this is one MONSTER of an album. Magenta has always been a favorite of mine, with me rating just about all of their releases (both albums and singles) a full 5 Stars at various music-review websites. But when it comes to this particular release, were I to somehow be able to “cheat” on different rating scales, I would rate it a perfect 10! Yep, that’s how much I love this album. Since I purchased it nearly two years ago, I have not gone more than several weeks without listening to it…indeed, it has been on both my I-Phone and I-Pad (not to mention my main computer) since the day I purchased it, and I will not even dream to replace it for anything else, damn the “lack of memory” I-Phone warnings I occasionally receive. Jaw-dropping!