It took me a long time before I succumbed to the first Magic Theatre record London Town. A concept album about time traveling lovers split between the late nineteenth century and the 1960s with an orchestra and choir embellishing the mainly soft and subtle melodies. Well it is enough to send a boy haring off to find his Sonics albums.
But I stuck with London Town and in time became obsessed by it. Those stunning orchestral arrangements, sometimes ridiculously over the top, but mainly beautifully understated and those intoxicating melodies won me over.
Three years on from that seminal debut and the band are back with its follow up – The Long Way Home. And once again it took time for them to win me round.
That is because the record was preceded by a pair of singles in I Got The Secret and It Was Glorious, which, while boasting eminently hummable tunes, seemed to be a little too close to the cheesy end of late 60s Euro pop. Covering Vicky Leandros‘s Love Is Blue, which is also featured here, only seemed to confirm what seemed like a rather baffling new direction. What had happened to those slightly bonkers Scott Walker -esque romps?
Of course I needn’t have worried. The Long Way Home is every bit as its good as its predecessor. The odd thing is that even though London Town was a proper concept album, with an intriguing story to match, The Long Way Home seems to just hang together better. Maybe Dan and Sophia had a clearer vision of what they wanted to create this time round. These are songs that are not supposed to be listened to via playlists or compilations but in one sitting as an album.
The band hasn’t totally jettisoned the Victoriana either. Opener, The Sampler, which tells the story of a young girl struggling to finish her embroidery in time for her birthday (now where did I put those Sonics records?) has a whirling Tales Of The Unexpected style string arrangement complete with a music box melody and a soaring chorus. It is beautiful.
Similarly track three, Festival Of Fire, is built around an very nineteenth century eastern sounding string motif. Ok so later the band add a driving beat and even a snatch of house piano, but it still sounds rooted in an era that is way outside of the standard parameters of twenty first century pop. Needless to say it is a work of absolute genius.
Almost as good is Cathedrals Of The Mind, a list song which includes some of humanity’s greatest achievements (think New York, The Beatles and err Stewart Lee) before flying off into a glorious Windmills of Your Mind style soaring chorus.
Just as on London Town where the slower tunes Out There and Rowing Boat Love Song, stole the show, it is The Long Way Home’s ballads that you will keep coming back. Your Hated Armchair boasts a stunning melody that the band gradually takes to a string and drum driven crescendo. The title track is just as gorgeous. And then there’s I Want To Die By Your Side – perhaps the most perfect piece of music the band have created so far. A stunning slowie with a wonderfully understated string arrangement, it is an Eternal Flame for this decade – without the cheesy keyboard and Mills & Boon inspired video . In some parallel universe this gets played at everyone’s wedding.
The Long Way Home then is a wonderful album. If you were smitten by London Town, you really will love this.