The Magic Numbers “The Runaway” – Album Review

Review: Natalie Salvo

  They say you can pick your friends but you can’t choose your family, so where does that leave a group like The Magic Numbers? The band is made of two lots of brother and sister pairings (Sean & Angela Gannon and Romeo & Michele Stodart for those playing along). They first entered the limelight back in 2005 when they released a successful eponymous debut. The following year would see “Those The Brokes” dropped with breakneck speed but it would also cause the group friction, both familial and otherwise. Now at album number three, “The Runaway”, the quartet initially had to take some time out (read: pursue side projects and make guest appearances) before they could regroup refreshed and ready.

The four always had an ambition to have their own studio and it was their tour manager who would come up trumps. Finding an abandoned one in Wilesden, North London, they quickly moved in and filled it with the instruments Romeo had accumulated while on the road or had won off eBay. This meant the guitars that had been the mainstay of their previous works were relegated to second position in favour of experimenting with electronic textures and unfamiliar sounds. Thankfully, it was this process that helped them rediscover the joy and sparks that had initially flown all those years ago when Sean and Romeo first started playing together (an act only improved when their sisters Angela and Michele joined in).

Across 12 songs The Magic Numbers produce a patchwork quilt of sounds referencing a vast assortment of colours, fragments, layers, walls of noise and some genre hopping. Ultimately, it’s all about pop songs and hooks; with some like chicken soup for the soul and others brain food for the mind. At times the lyrics hint at regrets, apologies and the darker side of things, but this is not before whisking the listener away from mundane reality and lifting them up to the light above. After all, even though the clouds may be grey to our own eyes, up above the sky is always going to be blue.

“The Pulse” may introduce the record but could very well be the pinnacle of it. It asks the listener what it is to love and feel with a sound that’s a little Flaming Lips, a touch Mercury Rev and even hints at The Beatles’ “A Day In The Life”. A soft ballad with a large sonic landscape and a meaningful theme, it is made all the more poignant when you discover it’s string arranger Robert Kilbey’s epitaph. Kilbey (Nick Drake) had worked his magic over the song but sadly passed away shortly after completing the collaboration.

Elsewhere (“Hurt So Good” and “Sound Of Something”) see the group perform some shiny pop in a similar vein to Fleet Foxes and Bon Iver, with the former boasting plenty of wistful reverb. There’s also some sultry pop (“Why Did You Call?”); some The Verses-meets-Fleetwood Mac sheen (“Once I Had”); and some old time Hollywood glam-meets-innocent woodland creatures in the aptly titled, “Dreams Of A Revelation”. The closer, “I’m Sorry” has a hidden element and plays like a movie score full of instrumental, orchestral music – think xylophones and plenty of strings lifted almost straight from a Nick Drake record (apparently, it helps to have an arranger who has had a hand in previous masterpieces).

The Runaway” is at times catchy and bopping and at other moments about quiet contemplation and introspection. It finds the right balance between meaningfulness and fun, between the masculine and feminine and also between traditional storytelling and more modern and fleeting song writing. While it may not capture the highs of their debut, it is still a solid effort that is endearing thanks to its sweet and easy-on-the-ears pop and heart-on-their-sleeves soul. Part movie soundtrack, pop record and with a folksters heart, you simply cannot say there isn’t obvious amounts of effort and attempts and greatness on here, for better or worse.

Review: Natalie Salvo