English pomp rock Gods Magnum have had their early catalogue ruthlessly pillaged and repackaged over the years; So much so that long term fans – an army of which I proudly number myself, having bought my first Magnum record in 1983 – will probably roll their eyes and gnash their teeth at the prospect of another batch of cleverly rejigged ‘new live and rare’-type shenanigans.
And whilst it’s true there is nothing here that hasn’t seen the light of day somewhere, somehow over the last forty-odd years, it’s undeniable that it’s very nice indeed to have them all together in one box, even if the collection is signally light-on in terms of explanation or liner notes.
So, what’s actually on it, I hear you mutter, wearily… Disc One features the band’s 1978 debut Kingdom of Madness; Listening back now it’s amusing how similar opening track In The Beginning sounds to the music the band’s US counterparts Kansas were making at the time (although strangely enough the track it most sounds like, Away From You from the album Monolith, actually came out after KoM…), although the comparison at the time was always with names like Queen. But whoever people thought they sounded like there’s no denying that, after tentative early beginnings, the band exploded onto the scene pretty much fully-formed with this album.
Talking of tentative beginnings, disc two here features the band’s early demos and outtakes from the Kingdom of Madness sessions. If this format sounds familiar, it’s because the band’s label, Jet, released them as Archive in 1993. Originally recorded in 1974, the demo tracks are very much of their time, yet retain an inarguable ‘Magnumness’ even at this early stage, thanks in main of course to Tony Clarkin‘s confident songwriting and Bob Catley‘s peerless vocals. Even here, at this early stage, the funky strut of Stormbringer points to a band with plenty of potential.
CD Three is made up of 1979’s pomptastic II and attendant B-Sides; The progress made in terms of arrangements and delivery is evident, but response to the album was relatively muted. Jet responded strangely by whacking out a live album, Marauder; Augmented here on Disc four by the contemporaneous live EP Magnum Live and five tracks taken from what became Invasion Live (a 1998 release dredging up live recordings from a US show in Nashville, 1982, when the band supported Ozzy Osbourne), it’s warts and all nature sees the band’s early canon collected in rousing, primal form.
The final two discs feature what will always be my fave Magnum albums, Chase The Dragon from 1982 and the following year’s The Eleventh Hour. The former saw the band making their first real impression on mainstream consciousness, the latter found a band faltering despite coming up with some of their strongest material to date in the face of poor management and a record company more interested in other artists. Chase the Dragon is augmented by the superb Back To Earth EP and The Lights Burned Out seven inch, whilst The Eleventh Hour features a full Friday Rock Show Sessions and some acoustic takes from the Keeping The Nite Light Burning unplugged album from 1993.
And that’s about it. Yes, if you’re a fan you’ll have heard it all before but this really is a nice starting point if you’ve heard Magnum’s latter day work without really being au fait with their origins, or a complete newbie fresh faced and keen to learn about one of British rock’s most enduring – and fantastic – institutions.
Great Adventure releases on August 25th.