Christina Booth | click on images to visit artist's website
Almost two full years since our discovery of Magenta and their stunning debut album Revolutions, the band is back with a tremendous masterwork entitled Seven and bonus EP "Broken." The album was launched in Llantrisant at the Cross Keys Hotel on 06 March 2004. Our sincere thanks to the band for invitations to our editorial staff and the time spent with us during and after the launch event. A label-only video made of the gig enjoyed by our staff following the show in the early hours of 07 March 2004 proved that the live performance was polished and deserving of wider critical response.
This feature article reviews the band's new album Seven and the "Broken" single. A review of the CD launch performance is also included. Our update April 2004 article incorporates a new interview with the entire band and reviews live performances in Cardiff and Rotherham. The band's official photographer--Chris Walkden--contributed the images used in this article (slide show). Additional photographs were contributed by Stephen Lambe (slide show).
Magenta is fronted by their stunning lead vocalist Christina Booth whose singing credits include material recorded with Trippa (review) and Cyan. Her voice can be likened to early Annie Haslam. Magenta's music is written by Rob Reed (keyboards) and Steve Reed (lyrics). The lineup is completed by the pyrotechnics of Chris Fry (guitar) and Martin Rosser (guitar), rhythm section Matthew Cohen (bass) and Tim Robinson (drums-recording only) and powerhouse Allan Mason-Jones (drums-live). Each of the musicians is a virtuoso in their own craft yet when performing together the band are as tight as any of the huge progressive acts they derive their sound from--Genesis, ELP, Yes and Renaissance. Seven reveals the true sound of Magenta--that their sound is derived from progressive greats is less in your face than the band's debut release. The "Broken" single contains five great tracks with the title and "Call Me" clearly blending classic Magenta progressive textures with Trippa's accessibility.
Seven. Magenta’s second album (F2Music (UK) 20043, 2004) represents a significant step forward, even after such a strong initial release as the double-album Revolutions (feature). Although it is still not quite a band album--Rob Reed plays most of the instruments, with excellent drums played by session man Tim Robinson, there is a feel of greater cohesion to the piece. At times Revolutions felt constrained by its desire to present four pieces around the 20-minute mark, resulting in occasional moments when the music seemed to drift.
Seven’s tracks seem to have very little padding, despite six out of the seven pieces clocking in at 10+ minutes. Indeed, as a great believer that albums should never outstay their welcome, the 76 minutes of pure progressive content fly by and are best digested in one sitting.
After the tone of Revolutions, which was as a self-confessed tribute to the greats of progressive rock, Seven also reveals the evolution of a genuine Magenta style. While the influence of Genesis and Yes remains strong, the feeling of pastiche has largely gone, leaving a marvellously melodic and lush take on the progressive genre.
The now familiar, 12-minute "Gluttony" opens with some Discipline-era King Crimson-style guitar, before opening out in Yes-mode, with Chris Fry’s guitar prominent and some lovely piano. The song soon kicks in, boosted by some great lead synth. It segues into a slower mid-section, before returning to the main theme, dominated by some half spoken male vocals. This is a highly melodic, confident beginning. The slower, beautiful "Envy" begins in Genesis 12-string style before shifting into something rather more like Renaissance, particularly in its soaring chorus, beautifully sung by Christina. The mid-section becomes a combination of Genesis and Yes, sort of "Entangled" meets "Awaken," with the orchestra prominent for the first time.
The orchestra is also superbly used in the introduction to "Lust," with a delightful extended killer instrumental opening, before the song itself, which begins in triumphant fashion on a fanfare of synths and choral vocals. The song becomes more complex as the story develops. A slower section with some fluent guitar from Chris Fry, leads into the jaunty "confess" section, before another, orchestra-lead instrumental section, reminiscent of "Pirates" by ELP, but including a inspired interlude with synth and guitar swapping solos. Some great lead guitar and Christina’s finest vocal passage on the album dominates the intense final moments.
"Greed," at 14 minutes, is the longest and least immediate piece on the album, but reveals its treasures after repeated playing. Here, the instruments allow the vocals--with the contrast between female and male vocals well presented, to dominate, though there is some fine Hackett-style guitar and some inspired keyboard work.
The fact that the album is made up of shorter pieces (as compared to Revolutions) also allows each song to present a distinct sonic mood, sometimes in quite unexpected ways. For instance, the shorter song "Anger" might be expected to be a loud rocker, whereas it is a quite beautiful ballad, its harp bringing out the longing and regret in the lyrics. "Pride" opens gently, before a great, Wakeman-like synth theme carries us into the song with its wordless opening vocal passage, before the song proper kicks in, in uplifting fashion. There is another wonderful synth and guitar duel before a wonderful vocal and lead guitar passage ends the song.
"Sloth" ends the album atmospherically. It commences with a genuine feeling of stillness--piano, orchestra and a single vocal introducing the song, before the band comes in, building to a stunning climax with an aching, Gilmour-style solo from guest guitarist Martin Shellard, and some spine-tingling, vocalise from Christina.
Throughout, Steve Reed’s lyrics are a particular strong point. Ignoring the obvious clichés, he here presents a slightly abstract take on the seven deadly sins. The album’s centrepiece, "Greed," for instance, is a satirical contemplation on celebrity, while "Pride" is a love song to his daughter and "Sloth" a hymn to the dignified inertia of the Native American. Elsewhere, "Lust" continues the story of "The White Witch" from Revolutions in chilling fashion.
Like Revolutions, the album also benefits from the wonderful and distinctive vocals of Christina, and, for the first time on (nearly) a whole album, the inventive lead guitar of Chris Fry, while Rob Reed astonishes once again with his virtuosity and compositional skill. In fact, the whole album is a testament to his astonishing talent. Even better than Revolutions, Seven will comfort, move and delight progressive rock fans worldwide. It is a remarkable piece of work.--Stephen Lambe in Cheltenham, England and Russ Elliot in New York, USA
Broken. The "Broken" (F2Music (UK) 200406S, 2004) ep is also a triumph, and presents a very different take on the Magenta style. It also gives us the full 6-piece band on CD for the first time. The title song, with lyrics by Christina, is a wonderful four minutes, punchy, with a great hook, combining the best progressive edge of Magenta with Trippa's accessibility.
Alongside Chris Fry's concise lead guitar and some soaring synth from Rob Reed, special praise should go to Matthew Cohen for some mobile bass playing. "Call Me" is a lovely ballad, again combining Magenta and Trippa textures that builds delightfully into a wonderful guitar solo, and gives Christina the opportunity to stretch her vocal chords.
Originally recorded for a Finnish compilation, "Lemminkainen's Lament" the 2004 Celtic Remix version, made so with a uillean pipe part, is a progressive masterwork with plenty of tempo changes and a lovely theme sung by Christina. Rob Reed's "Opus 3," though wandering into pastiche territory--this time solo Rick Wakeman with its church organ and Mini Moog--is impressive; used to introduce the band at the launch concert, the classical allusions are tremendous The EP closes with an interesting but delightful curiosity--"Sloth" remixed for piano, voice and orchestra only. When purchased with Seven the EP is available immediately. Its release is scheduled for later this year.--Stephen Lambe in Cheltenham, England and Russ Elliot in New York, USA
Live at The Cross Keys Hotel, Llantrisant, Wales - 06 March 2004.Magenta played a special hour-long set in front of a small invited audience as part of their launch party for Seven. Those invited were not only given a unique opportunity to see and hear the band but to interact with each of the members, one-to-one, and were treated by the label as valued participants of the band's promotional engine.
Opening on reasonably safe ground with "Gluttony," already road tested and familiar from the pre-release mp3, it became immediately clear that there is no loss in the chemistry that the band demonstrated the first time we saw them live at Rotherham in the summer of 2003. Rob Reed held the band together from his keyboards to the right of the stage, while Christina provided a delightful focus for audience attention. A well-orchestrated slide show behind drummer Alan-Mason Jones added further interest and humour to the show.
The slower, gentler "Envy" followed. As with "Gluttony," the lush orchestration of the album version had been stripped down a little without any discernable loss in quality. The band were able to rock out more on the four minute single "Broken," before the complex "Pride," with its extended instrumental introduction, closed the main set. The band returned with their tried and trusted live version of "Children of the Sun" from Revolutions.
Once again, Chris Fry astonished with some great guitar playing, and Rob Reed's brilliant keyboard work seemed effortless, but the quieter members of the band should not go un-heralded. New man Allan Mason-Jones seemed to be fitting in well on drums, while Matthew Cohen demonstrated some complex bass patterns and second guitarist Martin Rosser went about his business with great effectiveness.
Though there were moments of hesitancy on the new pieces, the thought of a longer set on tour in the spring, when the band will have more rehearsal time under their belts, is mouth watering indeed!--Stephen Lambe in Cheltenham, England and Russ Elliot in New York, USA
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