Magnum - Here Comes the Rain

Magnum – Here Comes the Rain

Here Comes the Rain is Magnum’s twenty-third studio album, released on 3rd January this year, just five days before the death of the band’s co-founder, guitarist, and songwriter Tony Clarkin. In these sad circumstances, this review will inevitably pay tribute to Tony and I will reminisce about what drew me to the band in the first place, and ponder why their fanbase has remained loyal for the 50 or so years since the band first came to the attention of music fans in Tony Clarkin and Bob Catley’s home town of Birmingham.

I should be clear at the outset that reviewing this album has not just been a privilege but it has also been an absolute pleasure. This is not a band that has been going through the motions, or that has become a tribute to itself as the years have passed. Mr Clarkin and Mr Catley have remained true to themselves and this final album together is of a very high quality. Whilst long-standing fans will lap this up, others who may be drawn to having a listen as a mark of respect for Clarkin should be encouraged enough to delve back into the catalogue.

In the beginning, when Magnum were learning their trade in local pubs and clubs, the likes of Rainbow, Thin Lizzy, Black Sabbath and AC/DC were having huge commercial success with a similar brand of anthemic, hard rock, a version of which would ultimately appear on the band’s eponymous debut album, when it was released in 1978. By that time, having arrived late at the hard rock party, the music scene had been turned on its head by the arrival of punk and new wave. Making a name, and a career, for themselves, in this context, was only going to be possible if the band had something a bit special about them. Tony Clarkin’s impressive song-writing, Bob Catley’s star quality as the lead singer, and the years of experience playing live gave them the self-belief required to establish themselves after signing their first contract with Jet Records.

In a Venn diagram of the time, Magnum were at the crossover point between Thin Lizzy, Status Quo and early Queen. Truth be told, mixing it all together, in a track such as Kingdom of Madness from the first album, was a bold play. Had they shifted musical direction by just a few degrees Magnum could well have been the first of the new wave of neo-prog bands, but despite all the sword and sorcery and the theatrics, their signature sound was based on the foot-tapping, head-banging, rhythms and straight-forward sing-a-long verses and choruses, associated with the hard rock genre.

Magnum 2 was a solid follow-up to the first album, but chart success was elusive and the band focused on live performance for a few years, getting support act bookings on major band tours and performing at the Reading Festival, whilst also releasing live album Marauder, recorded at the Marquee Club in 1979. Raising the profile of the band in this way helped when they released the acclaimed Chase the Dragon album in 1982. That reached number seventeen in the album charts, and the rest, as they say, is history.

The band’s peak period in the ’80s also included the classic albums On a Storyteller’s Night and Wings of Heaven, and although they managed one Top of the Pops appearance, they didn’t achieve a sustained period of commercial success. Whilst they certainly knew how to work and entertain a crowd, they found the excitement of the live experience was difficult to re-create in the studio.

The band re-grouped in 2001 after taking a much-needed break in the second half of the ’90s, and have continued to release albums and tour regularly, a career sustained by a loyal fanbase and their durable reputation for brilliant live shows. I was introduced to Magnum by a friend at university and can vouch that they were a match for any band in concert, at that time. My music taste was pretty eclectic even back then and I loved the cross-overs and the different influences in the songs but I can imagine die-hard rockers, metal fans or proggers not being able to get to grips with the diversity in arrangements and tempos over the course of an album, and this may have been a barrier to growing the fanbase.

Tony Clarkin often used war and its impact on soldiers in particular, and the world in general. The best of which, speaking personally, is the mighty epic Don’t Wake the Lion from Wings of Heaven. This album was released a month before my wedding day in 1988 and it became the soundtrack to those weeks leading up to the big day, which is why it remains a ‘desert island disc’ in my collection.

Without doubt, it’s a fantastic legacy that Tony Clarkin has left us with, and now we should consider how the latest, and most likely the last true Magnum album, measures up against the rest of the catalogue.

As I briefly mentioned at the top of this review, Here Comes the Rain is well worth a listen. Tony Clarkin isn’t one to rest on his laurels and although the songs are, in the main, throwbacks to the sounds of previous eras, they are dynamic and energetic, and have the vibrant spark that the unique combination of Tony and Bob bring to the music. The saddest realisation that I came to was the fact that most of these songs would be sensational performed live. Who knows what the future holds for Magnum, but the Spring tour that had been planned to promote this album would have been a must-see event.

The album kicks off with Run into the Shadows and it sets the tone with its catchy verse/chorus structure and bouncy rhythm. The outro features Tony’s guitar layered with keyboards and underpinned by bass and drums, and Bob throws in some trademark vocalisations. It’s a solid enough start to the record and it would make a great live set opener to warm everyone up.

Tony introduces track two with a simple melody and adds some more great guitar flourishes as the song develops. This mid-tempo title track also has orchestral keyboard passages that come to the fore in the second half. It’s a theatrical arrangement for a simple song that is a great illustration of part of the magic of Magnum’s music. I have to say that the instrumental breaks are not as bold or imaginative as they once were, and certainly not as progressive, but the band retains the knack of painting pictures with the music, and drawing the audience in with its musicality and their sheer enthusiasm.

Some Kind of Treachery suffers from the sequencing that puts the two mid-tempo songs on the album next to each other. In contrast, it features the piano accompanied by the orchestral backing, but it essentially ploughs the same furrow as the previous track. The pace is picked up again with After the Silence and the orchestral keyboards return, but it’s Bob’s fine vocal performance that hold’s the song together. At this stage, I admit that I was having my doubts about the way the album was going, but fortunately the opening single release Blue Tango shakes us up, opening with the sound of a jukebox kicking into life and launching into a blues rock party. There is even a brief Hammond-esque solo and the outro features a fine guitar solo.

Follow that? Hell, yes. The Day He Lied is one of the more progressive tracks, dramatic and emotional, and a satisfying mix of stirring vocals and impressive instrumental breaks. Classic Magnum, in fact. The Seventh Darkness ups the ante again. The brass accompaniment won’t be to everyone’s taste but it’s all smiles when the saxophone links up with Tony’s screeching guitar for a rousing finale.

Broken City is a heartfelt anti-war song, acoustic with the focus of attention being on the raw, expressive, and evocative lyrics, delivered with passion by Bob Catley.

“No more sleep through the night
No light through the dark
That’s not rain on the ground
Smoke and fire will leave its deadly mark.”

Whilst Bob’s voice has held up remarkably well over the years, the impact of the song is heightened by the frailty that surfaces at the edges of his vocal range. The right song, at the right time.

Coming towards the end of the set, I Wanna Live has an uplifting but hugely poignant message.

“I wanna live
I wanna shout
I wanna tell the world
Just what it’s all about
I wanna live
My one desire
Come on and take my hand
And walk me through the fire.”

This track showcases all members of the band in turn. Whilst the lyrics and melodies are uncomplicated, Magnum has always had the happy knack of lighting up the mood by embellishing the songs with energy and joy. It’s such an impressive and effective feat of song-writing.

In the circumstances, this would have been a great finale, but we are treated to an encore with the set closer Borderline. Tony Clarkin offers up one final guitar solo before a shift in tempo and atmosphere at the end of the track, with a piano melody slowly fading out, and with that, the curtain closes and the journey ends.

I have said it before, but this is a brand-new album that could have been played in full on the proposed tour and fans would have been more than happy to miss out on a few of the classic tracks. It would have been a joy to hear this band, at this time, playing this new music. That is our loss, but it is nothing to the sadness that Tony’s family and friends, and fellow band members, are feeling at this time, and our thoughts are with them.

In an era when we are losing our heroes, the pioneers of rock music, we can only be grateful for the music we have enjoyed and experienced together, music that will endure and be enjoyed by generations to come. It has been a pleasure, rest in peace Tony Clarkin.

01. Run into the Shadows (5:22)
02. Here Comes the Rain (4:37)
03. Some Kind of Treachery (4:28)
04. After the Silence (4:34)
05. Blue Tango (5:26)
06. The Day He Lied (4:34)
07. The Seventh Darkness (4:41)
08. Broken City (4:39)
09. I Wanna Live (5:29)
10. Borderline (6:16)

Total Time – 50:09

Bob Catley – Vocals
Tony Clarkin – Guitar
Rick Benton – Keyboards
Dennis Ward – Bass
Lee Morris – Drums
Chris ‘BeeBe’ Aldridge – Saxophone
Nick Dewhurst – Trumpet
Liam Doherty – Backing Vocals
Brendon Riley – Backing Vocals
Kyle Lamley – Backing Vocals

Record Label: Steamhammer Records/SPV
Country of Origin: U.K.
Date of Release: 12th January 2024

Magnum – Website | Facebook | X