Category Archives: The Magic Numbers

Those the Brokes – THE MAGIC NUMBERS – 2006

The trouble with being contrarian is that it becomes tiresome for others. Even if you’re not willfully so, you risk resentment from the conforming majority. In music, contrarianism is usually reactionary and aggressive. Think punk as the antithesis to prog, or thrash as the antithesis to glam. But what about the Magic Numbers? When they came along, they were the polar opposite to gangsta-rap, most of which is a mine-is-bigger-than-yours debate with beats. The surprising thing was that they were contrarian by being cute: Four slightly overweight individuals with vintage instruments being unashamedly emotional. It was a potential revolution. But now, they have to live up to that milestone by being constantly innovative and not have the interest in them shift back to the cock-swinging mainstream. And Those The Brokes is their weapon of choice. Does it work?

Well, to begin with, its slightly less upbeat in tone, with slightly slower rhythms, which are nevertheless just as busy as on the first album. A round of drinks to the drummer, who manages to coax a genuinely ‘romantic’ sound from the drums. That means his sound has a simple, fairly uncompressed bass-drum and snare combination, with an emphasis on the watery shimmer of cymbals, helped along by the almost fatuous tambourine playing fourth member, who I shall henceforth refer to as ‘the appendix’.

I’m glad the band incorporated female vocals into these songs, and expanded on the number of duet songs, with good results on “Slow Down” and “Most of the Time”. There is even an attempt at a full female led song in “Take me or Leave Me”. It has nice lyrics, but is spoiled by overindulgence in string arrangements. Wanting some Bach-nookie is all well and good, but it spoils what I think should’ve been a stark and hollow auditorium of a song. I’m not sure whether the appendix was involved in these songs, but I’m sure I heard two female voices. Wikipedia and The Magic Numbers’ website offer no suggestions as to who it was.

A friend of mine was kind enough to tell me that the first album was the best. I told him that I’d give the Numbers a chance and judge the rest without any bias. Well? Unfortunately, on the first hearing of Those The Brokes, I can’t help but agree with him. I like the groove and the waltzy section on “Boy,”, and “Take a Chance” is a great song through and through, but the compelling song structures and memorable melodies aren’t really around. Throughout the album, I was struggling to catch a whiff of something to latch on to. Call it over-expectation after a great debut. Several songs started fetchingly, such as “Undecided”, but fell flat, with only the occasional resurfacing of the unexpected structures and mid-song hooks that made the first album such a refreshing listen.

The problem, I suspect, is that the band simply didn’t work hard enough to move the sound forward, perhaps in fear of alienating a very specific fanbase. Yes, its slightly more mature sounding, and slightly more Baroque in its arrangements and lyrics. But in the failing to gently coax the goalposts into new territory the way the first album did, the overall impression may be sufficiently summarized in the following phrase: Wimp Rock.

It might seem seem a little harsh to condemn the album this way, but only “Take a Chance” really made an impression on me. It is the only song I’d like to come back to. Those The Brokes shows some signs of development, but they are way too fetal to justify a whole new album. Contrarian it ain’t. Try again Romero Stodart and Co. This doesn’t sound right.

- El Bajista



The Magic Numbers – THE MAGIC NUMBERS – 2005

I first came across the Magic Numbers a few years ago, on the telly (or maybe YouTube) while at home, and frankly, didn’t think much of them. Fat-bearded man with a guitar singing about love. How original. But I liked the ‘niceness’ of the sound at first go, and it was a great of a change from the genuinely horrid “I Wanna Fuck You” by Akon that was on heavy rotation those days. The change in tone was refreshing. But that was it. I left it at that. Now, in search of new and interesting things to listen to, I’m back to searching things that I might have dismissed earlier.

I’m quite glad I did. These guys are good, and for the most part, manage to forge a relaxing medley of intimate singing, interesting songwriting and a genuine ear for a good song as a whole. Right off the bat, I found myself tapping my foot to the giddy and actually quite intense rhythms of “Mornings Eleven” and “Forever Lost”.  The latter song is especially fun, with its predictable-but-still-enjoyable chorus, and that small but surprising clapping section towards the end. That’s what I like about this band. You’d expect them to be too lyrics focused at the cost of being a bit boring otherwise, appealing only to such people for whom bearded-man-with-guitar is adequate. Urgh. But no, there is genuine skill here, especially in arrangement. One can tell a lot of thought has gone into this. The gently dark “The Mule” is testament to such thinking, with great lyrics (“Why is it you have to turn out all the lights/ Before you hold me”…ouch!), and a buildup to a genuinely nice little guitar solo at the end.

I’d like to hear more of the female vocals, though. The girl singer seems to be exactly what the lead guy singer would be, had he been a woman. The tone, the style, it’s all there. In particular stand out the lovely bits in “I See You, You See Me” and “Wheels on Fire”. More duets, perhaps? And what of the lead singer? He’s damn good, and for those who care enough, the particularly intimate sound he gets from his voice is achieved by singing ­right into the mic, so every little vibration and air and sliver of spit is hardwired onto disc.

I’d like a bit more edge in the music, as a happy-bobblehead clap-happy sound might eventually get cloying

Problems? Yes. Well, I’d like a bit more edge in the music, as a happy-bobblehead clap-happy sound might eventually get cloying, though this album stops short of that. “The Mule” toes that line in its sedate pace and darker tone, and is my favourite song off the album as a result. Basically, more light and shade in the sound would be much appreciated.

But overall, this is excellent stuff. It’s full of heartfelt lyrics, the quality of the songs doesn’t drop as the album progresses, and the arrangement and musicianship is full of little pearls of headphone candy. This sounds right.

- El Bajista




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