Issue 2017-033: Magenta - We Are Legend - DPRP Inter-review
This week sees the release of the seventh studio album from British progressive rock band Magenta. We Are Legend features just three songs – two 11-minute tracks and a 26-minute epic.
Here, lead vocalist Christina Booth, outlines the story behind the three tracks and offers an insight into how the band goes about composing their music. She also selects her three desert island discs and reveals whether the band will ever play the new album in full as part of their live show. Patrick McAfee, Theo Verstrael, and Andy Read ask the questions.
Following the interview, we offer one of our popular Round Table Reviews of We Are Legend.
Photos courtesy of Magenta.
[Christina] Firstly thank you & I am very pleased that the performances have shone through. The only thing that was different, was that I had more in-depth information from Steve Reed regarding what the songs were about. There was more for me to work with. The three songs are all very different, with unique story lines, and it gave me a lot of scope to develop ‘characters’ for each story.
Again thank you for the compliment. I think for me the most satisfying thing about performing progressive music is that it gives me the freedom to give a much more ‘exaggerated’ performance than I would be able to give in a conventional pop or rock band. The genre lends itself to allow artists to do things that maybe perceived as being out of place if done within the conventional music scene.
The most rewarding aspect of being part of the progressive music scene is the acceptance that is given to being ‘older’. What I mean by that, from a female artist’s point of view, is that you don't have to be a beautiful, nubile 20 year old to be appreciated. Which is lucky, as I am neither! You are credited and appreciated for having the ability/talent to sing or play an instrument and/or write music.
Trojan is a great concept from Steve. It is very visual, with giant Robots coming out of the oceans, filled with a banished people. The Trojan horse story is how I see it. I think Steve has a very unique way of looking at life. Steve said the opening music reminded him of old Japanese animation. I do always try to get into ‘character’ when I sing, as I see it is a form of ‘acting’. When you sing a song, you are trying to get the listener to believe in what you are saying/singing and trying to get them to visualise the story you are relating.
Legend is about zombie vampires. What more can I say? I love vampire themes. It's something that has always fired man's imagination. It's a great song to perform and is quite melancholic in parts. The original story was based on the last man on earth (The Omega Man/I am Legend) but Rob shortened the song, so it was adapted into the vampire/zombies hunting themselves into extinction, once all the humans had gone. It is a great song to sing, as it's got all the emotions flowing through it: fear and sadness, with even a smattering of hope.
Colours is about the tragic but magical life of Vincent Van Gough. Again it's a great song to get my teeth into, full of angst, with shades of madness throughout. There is a conspiracy theory, where it is said that because of the angle of the bullet wound, Vincent couldn't have shot himself. Steve theorises that Vincent's brother, Theo, may have pulled the trigger.
We have already done some shows and we are actively looking to do more live shows. The new album definitely lends itself to a live performance, especially with Jon and Dan gelling so well. The plans are to play the whole album. We do Colours and Legend in full, so it's just Trojan left to do in its entirety.
Plans are afoot to do a new solo album and ideas and raw demos are underway. It will be very different to the last album, as I have come out of quite an emotionally charged time! I exorcised a lot of demons on the last album.
Rob will come up with demos that already have vocal melody ideas, and it's his brother Steve Reed that writes the lyrics. The demos with Rob singing the melody lines are very … interesting. Only a few people have ever heard them, though! Sometimes he will have to change the keys at the demo stage, to suit my voice, but once the recording starts, we can't change it much. There's a certain amount of freedom to interpret Rob's melodies, so I do interpret the vocal lines a little to suit my voice; Sometimes Rob will say: "Okay" and other times he'll say that he wants something sung exactly as it was written. I think the same is true for Chris; Some of what he plays is written by Rob, but he does get to express himself with solos.
That's a very hard question. I am very proud of the songs I wrote with Rob in our early days of Trippa. There is a song called ‘Never Gonna Be The Same’ which I wrote for the sister of my boyfriend at the time. She had a beautiful little girl, Jessica, who was born with a condition that meant she wouldn't live past the age of around five. I wrote it the day after her funeral; When I listen to it I can see her smile. I sent the song to her mum and I think she was so pleased that the memory of her little girl would be ‘immortalised in a song.
I would also take The Light off my solo album of the same name, as it is a song about hope, and hope is what makes us ‘human’. The final song would be I'm Alive. I love the melody and how the chorus opens the song up, and of course I am very glad to be Alive.
Magenta - We Are Legend - Round Table Review
This is album number seven from Magenta, and again features the core trio of Reed (keyboards, guitars), Booth (vocals) and Chris Fry (lead guitars). Reed has modelled the format (if not the music) of We Are Legend on 70s albums like Close To The Edge and Relayer with one side-long epic and two shorter tracks on side two (had it been released on vinyl that is).
Clocking in at just over 26 minutes, Trojan is Magenta's longest single piece of music to date. The opening sequence is sublime, with Reed's ambient synths and chimes reminiscent of the music Vangelis performed for the flight scenes in Blade Runner. It is the lull before the storm however, as Fry's full-throttle guitar storms over the horizon. it is very typical of those rampaging instrumentals that Steve Hackett does so well (think Clocks – The Angel Of Mons). This is no instrumental however, as the velvet tones of Christina Booth testifies. The angelic purity of her voice may seem out of place in a a prog-rock environment, but like that of Annie Haslam, it works perfectly, especially when you factor-in the Jon Anderson-style, two-syllable phrasing (à la Siberian Khatru).
I've long been an admirer of Fry as one of the best (and most overlooked) guitarists in the UK, and he excels throughout Trojan. In addition to the fluid style of the aforementioned Hackett, he captures the nervous energy of Steve Howe, and during a moody Pink Floydian mid-section, gives David Gilmour a run for his money. A reprise of the "Hackett instrumental", with Reed's 80s-style synth skimming across the surface, brings the opening epic to a satisfying conclusion. Special mention should also go to bassist Dan Nelson and drummer Jonathan Griffiths, who provide sterling support throughout.
On first hearing, Trojan may seem a little too fragmented to fully succeed as a long-form piece, comprising as it does a series of interconnected songs. However give it several plays and it all falls into place. Clocking in at around 11 minutes each, Colours and Legend are less ambitious, but equally praiseworthy.
Colours is distinguished by Fry's tasteful, blues-inflected soloing and a powerful finale, with Christina giving-it-all-she's-got. Legend benefits from a similarly emotive performance from the singer, rarely has she sounded so good on a Magenta record. The song and the album concludes with a cinematic choral section, that's up there with Magenta's best moments.
Given that Magenta have never released a bad album, comparisons between We Are Legend and its predecessors are perhaps unnecessary and purely subjective. For the record, Home / New York Suite (2006) remains my personal favourite but not everyone would agree. I was also very partial to 2008's Metamorphosis (Magenta's Topographic Oceans) but my DPRP colleagues were not so enthusiastic. Listen to We Are Legend and make up your own mind. I don't think you'll be disappointed.
That brings us to We Are Legend, and right from the start of Trojan, the 26-minute, epic opener, I heard the spark that had been missing from recent Magenta releases. The song seemed to recapture that earlier sound and style, and as I continued to listen, the same could be said for the album as a whole. It doesn't come across as regressive by any stretch, but the material did remind of why the band made such an initial impact on the prog scene.
Trojan is one of those epic tracks that just works. It is an effective mix of electric and acoustic moments, complex chord changes and truly sweeping elements. Coming almost four years after their last album, this song reintroduces the band in grand fashion. Containing great work from both Rob Reed and Chris Fry, there is an urgency to this piece of music, and that shows both in the performances and the overall production. Successful epics need that ingredient, and the results here are compelling. Vocalist, Christina Booth meets the complex demands of the song head-on, and gives one of the finest performances of her career. The same could be said for her work throughout the entire album. She definitively proves why her talent gives Magenta its very distinctive voice, in more ways than one.
We are Legend is also similar to Magenta's debut, in that it consists of all epic-length tracks. There is a consistency here that ultimately feels very proggy. Whatever the reason, the band seems to be securely in their comfort zone on this release, and their enthusiasm for the material shows.
That is certainly true of Colours, another entertaining epic that builds to a wonderfully dramatic finale. It is an eleven-minute song that flows so well that it actually seems much shorter. Legend is ever so slightly less rewarding than what came before it, but is still a strong track and an effective closer to the album. The darker, heavier moments of the song don't work as well for me. Mainly because it is a style that I don't think suits Magenta well. These slight challenges aside, the song is nonetheless, an artistic success.
The bottom line is that this is easily Magenta's best release in at least ten years. A must for fans, and a good place for those unfamiliar to start. It is rare to say that about a band's seventh studio release, but We Are Legend is definitely a return to form and a very entertaining listen.
Yet after quite a few spins, I can only conclude that, yes, some things are different but I see those primarily more as marginal than as dominant. There are modern, almost clinical keyboard sounds. There are fierce and powerful, almost metal-like guitars. There is some blues feeling and there is more percussion to be heard. But the overall typical Magenta signature of complex, intelligent, emotional and attractive prog, with excellent vocals by Christina Booth and superb musicianship by all, hasn't changed at all. And that is reassuring.
The new album consists of three epic tracks. Trojan starts with some quiet keyboard sounds opening up for Chris Fry (who is again in optimal form throughout the album), stumbling into the album with a fierce guitar intro. The song gathers pace and evolves into an energetic prog epic in the best sense of that word. Fluent vocal sections, with subtle keys and guitar, are followed by driving sections built upon and around Fry's omnipresent guitar.
Halfway through there is a two-minute relaxing, quiet break, with slow and assuring acoustic guitars supported by subtle-yet-lush keyboards and the heavenly voice of Christina. It is almost necessary to build in such a quiet way, in order to be able to digest the intense music that the song offers. This section is followed by what seems to be some radio fragments (I didn't have the booklet available and I have no idea what it's about), after which the music floats into another guitar-driven section that introduces another ballad-like break with acoustic guitar. And suddenly there's a percussion-led break, reminding us that Magenta's rhythm tandem, consisting of new drummer Jon Griffiths and long-time live band member Dan Nelson on bass, is also of an exceptional level. Their energetic playing, especially in the last section of Trojan, gives the music some extra power.
The next track, Colours, is a slower, more bluesy number with numerous breaks, flute-like keys, pumping bass playing by Nelson, and Fry's electric guitar all over the place. Halfway through, the energetic song almost comes to a halt, with only Reed playing quietly for some time. It proves to be the introduction to the grande finale, with very powerful vocals by Christina, backed by fierce guitar playing and intense drumming. It all ends nicely, in a beautiful keyboard chord.
The title track starts with some busy, city-like noises but soon Fry picks up the central theme. It evolves into the most conventional of the three tracks, in the sense that it has a verse-chorus build-up, yet without being predictable. After some five minutes, the melody starts to sound a bit out-of-tone, which contributes largely to the intensity of the song. It gets a bit weird musically, but soon the band rests, as Christina sings on over a beautiful piano and all seems okay again. Towards the end, the music develops into a lazy-sounding coda, with nice harmony singing behind Christina's lead vocals; It is an appropriate end to a phenomenal musical journey.
With three long and very complex songs I Am Legend is not an easy album to digest. But was Magenta ever an easy listen? I don't think so. Their music always has to grow, has to become familiar over many spins, and only then it will reveal its magic.
With this new album it is no different. The good things remain. Christina's voice is as strong as ever, the harmonies with Reed and Fry sound great, while both these musicians and the rhythm section prove their craftsmanship all over this varied album. While Reed is responsible for all music, his own keyboard playing is always a bit in the background (subsidiary to the music as a whole) while the vocals and guitar are up-front. It works perfectly.
With several new sounds and somewhat more percussion, this album may become what Passion was for Pendragon: a firm choice for a somewhat different direction, without losing their characteristic musical style. Trying new things has not been not a bad idea at all, albeit probably a bit superfluous, as Magenta's music was already full of originality and complexity. This new music will appeal to those who were attracted to their former album, The Twenty-Seven Club, as well as to those who still cherish their debut Revolutions.
After some 17 years, Magenta proves again to be in the lead position in the super league of 21st century prog. This is a highly recommended, superb album, and another gem in their impressive discography.