Produced by Richard Wilkinson
Label – Heavenly/EMI
The Magic Numbers walk a fine line between quaint classic Pop with just the slightest whiff of Indie affectation, and an insufferably twee brand of bedroom mirror melancholia. Their self-titled debut was as near perfect example of the former; timeless nuggets of The Beach Boys meets The Mama’s And The Papa’s sunshine boy/girl harmonies, underpinned by warm accessible tunes, and hiding lyrics of troubled relationships and lost love. Deservedly nominated for a Mercury Prize the band have basked in the sunshine of sell out concerts, a support slot for their mentor Brian Wilson and a double Platinum return for their efforts. The long tours, and constant media haven’t reduced singer/songwriter guitarist Romeo Stodart’s time to write the follow up, and much of “Those The Brokes” has been written on the road during periods of insomnia. One feels that Stodart must have a 36 hour day, as he plays live, writes songs, sleeps, eats and yet, judging by the lines of the songs, still has time to embrace overwrought and complex relationships.
Retreating to upstate New York’s Allaire Studios (which has in the past been used by David Bowie, Ryan Adams and The Strokes), “Those The Brokes” sees the four piece self-produce along with Engineer Richard Wilkinson at the controls. The sound has been broadened on two of the songs by recruiting Robert Kirby and a 9 piece string orchestra. Kirby’s original experience working with Nick Drake on “Five Leaves Left” and “Bryter Layter” certainly adds a classic depth, and is highlighted perfectly on bass playing sister to Romeo, Michele Stodart’s first recorded ballad, “Take Me Or Leave Me”. Her wispy vocals are embraced by a string accompaniment that adds a richness and warmth to her emotional lines, and similarly feels like a latent Drake tune. Kirby also adds flavour to “Boy”, a song that cleverly moves time signals without losing plot, and introduces a sweet symphonic waltz at the bridge, wholly justified, and flowing with vitality.
Other highlights include the shimmering vocal interplay of the opener “This Is A Song” and the first single from the album “Take A Chance”. Songs that remind the listener just why the debut was so strong. Joyous, upfront instrumentation that suffuses intimately with Romeo’s melancholic rhymes. Multi-instrumentalist Angela Gannon takes a fair stab at bleached white soul on “Undecided” and her lead vocal is strong, if not distinctive.
But alas, there are a number of reasons for reflecting on “Those The Brokes” and realising that ultimately, it’s not as memorable as their debut. Firstly, the songs are stretched over an hour, the pace is mostly one dimensional and there’s only so much sugar you can pour on a song before you’re listening to a sticky goo.
The laconic Country lilt of “Slow Down (The Way It Goes)”, and the even worse “All I See” are examples of the band trying to create space for the tune and lyrics to develop and then not knowing when to let go, resulting in a “dragging heels” effect as the song lumbers on. Romeo’s dream of being presented with a song by the late Carl Wilson manifests in the most twee and unnecessary moment of the bands’ career in “Carl’s Song”. A deluded lament to the Beach Boy, childish, laboured, and laughable, neither edifying nor remotely interesting.
“Those The Brokes” is a fair return, whole hearted and unpretentious, still rippling with some fine vocal displays and creditable songs, and, but for a couple of mis-fires will continue to beguile and intrigue.
1.”This Is a Song” – 5:22
2.”You Never Had It” – 2:58
3.”Take a Chance” – 3:32
4.”Carl’s Song” – 5:30
5.”Boy” – 4:01
6.”Undecided” – 6:37
7.”Slow Down (The Way It Goes)” – 6:56
8.”Most of the Time” – 5:09
9.”Take Me or Leave Me” – 4:41
10.”Let Somebody In” (The Magic Numbers) – 3:34
11.”Runnin’ Out” – 5:02
12.”All I See” – 4:10
13.”Goodnight” – 6:51