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




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