(All Album Reviews by maribor)
I've been aware of the name Magrathea for quite a long time and I've heard quite a bit of their music from the samples on their website, so I finally decided to take the plunge and give a chance to an entire album. I already enjoyed the samples immensely and thought that this band had a lot of talent, but bands often put their best material on display, while the rest of the music can sometimes be pretty weak. So, I was cautious with Magrathea. But there was really no need. The minute I heard the first piece on In Search of the Crystal, I knew Magrathea was the real deal.
Magrathea is nowadays a duo made up of Glenn Alexander on vocals, keyboards and drums (programmed?) and Gary Gordon on guitar and bass. At the start of their recording career their line-up also included a drummer and a guitarist (in those days Gordon played bass), now it is just the two of them. Judging by the quality of the material, they are doing just fine on their own.
It would be easy to lump Magrathea together with so many other newer bands that try to recapture the spirit of the 70s symphonic bands, but there is a big difference. Magrathea's music can be very dark and sinister at times, as can the lyrical matter, which is also very clever. That is why I would consider Magrathea to be in the same league as bands like Arena and IQ, which also have intriguing lyrics and often the music is pretty dark as well.
It is clear from the start of the album that Magrathea draws on the influence of Genesis quite a bit. I know of several bands that do this, but Magrathea really do it with style. The music is very tasteful. Although the sound may remind of the 4-man era of Genesis, the compositions are pretty original. The first and the last song on the album could go down as classic epics with nods to several of the big 70s names, but the middle part of the album is made up of catchy songs with truly great hooks. Naturally, there is a lot of soloing on the keyboards and guitar, but the song structure is pretty basic (except for the two Ľepicsę). In a way, this melodic quality of the music reminds me of Arena, where they also put an epic or two on their albums, combined with more melodic songs. Besides the Genesis influence, there is also an obvious ELP vibe in a couple of places and I noticed some Yes elements as well. All the influences are there, but it is important that Magrathea know how to utilize this. And they do this masterfully, with the end result being a crafty collection of songs and epics that put many bigger (more popular, to be precise) bands to shame.
Magrathea is indeed one hell of a band. Both guys obviously have a great deal of expertise playing their instruments, but they don't show off too often. They use their talents to make better music. Glenn is great on the keyboards, with many nice organ and synth solos. Gary also does some terrific guitar work, ranging from softer to hard rocking. Glenn also takes on the vocal duties (I'm pretty sure he's also the lyricist). There's something Fishy about his voice (I mean the ex-Marillion singer not the aquatic vertebrate). His voice is soft and mellow and very distinguishable. Thatís also one of the features I miss in singers nowadays. They all sound the same. Glennís voice is quite unique, even if his styling does sometimes resemble Fishís. I think the only slight problem might be the drumming. Itís usually okay, but on one or two occasions the programmed drums (Iím assuming theyíre programmed) sound too fake. If the drums are programmed, they are done extremely well because most of the time they sound very natural, except on a couple occasions, as Iíve already mentioned.
One of the key features that distinguishes this band from many others of the same (or at least similar) ilk are the lyrics. Glenn Alexander's lyrics are highly intelligent and insightful, with just the right dose of British humour. That's what I've been missing in newer bands Ė the humour that the 70s bands were so good at. Glenn Alexander's lyrics are very profound and so is his humour. It's not just telling dirty or cheap jokes, you really have to think what the joke is about and that is exactly the reason why the joke doesn't get old as fast as with some other artists (like Zappa, for example).
Magrathea should really be a lot more popular than they are. They should be playing at the same venues as the likes of Arena and IQ. However, I have a feeling that this band will find it hard to break away from their status, which could be described as cult, but they could also be described as fairly obscure. In order to get more fans, they would have to go on the road, but in order to do that, you have to invest a great deal of money and it is a huge risk. I would love to see what Magrathea would be capable of doing live, but I understand why this might never happen. As long as they keep producing the goods, like on this effort, I guess I'll have nothing to complain about. Fans of neo and new symphonic should really get a kick out of this band. As far as I'm concerned, they are very much in the same league as Arena or IQ and better than The Flower Kings or Spock's Beard.