Album review: MAGENTA – Masters Of Illusion

MAGENTA - Masters Of Illusion

Tigermoth [Release date 10.07.20]

It seems a while since Magenta’s last studio release – We Are Legend (2017), and much as I enjoyed it, I have to confess it isn’t an album I’ve felt overly inclined to revisit at regular intervals since.  But if I’m honest, there’s not too many albums I have felt that way about in recent years.

In hindsight it sort of feels like ‘another’ Magenta album, and if I was in the mood for a bit of Christina, Rob and Chris, I’d probably be reaching for a ‘classic’ like Seven, or Home. Which is interesting because after making what he considered a ‘contemporary prog’ album, Rob Reed  too was anxious to get back to the original Magenta template  – ‘lots of Moog and guitar solos, 12 string guitar, Mellotrons and bass pedals, but always with melodies. The song is always king!’  I’d have to agree.

So Masters Of Illusion – a 60-minute album consisting of six songs, including the 17 minute title track, finds Magenta turning back the years with a set based on the private lives of six actors who featured in the classic Hammer and Universal horror films of the 1950s and 1960s.

The album opener ‘Bela’ charts the rise and fall of the Hollywood ‘Dracula’ superstar of the 1930s Bela Legosi, ‘A Gift From God’ – Christopher Lee’s lifetime longing for fame as an opera singer, ‘Reach For The Moon’ – Lon Chaney Jnr’s inability to escape the shadow of his father, ‘Snow’ – Ingrid Pitt’s harrowing holocaust childhood, ‘The Rose’ – Peter Cushing’s philandering but utter devastation at the loss of his wife, and the epic title track which unpicks Vincent Price’s prickly relationship with director Michael Reeves on the 1968 set of Witchfinder General.

With just that notion you can begin to see a conceptual theme emerging that dates back to Seven’s seven deadly sins (2004), running through the untimely demise of rock’s infamous The Twenty Seven Club (2013).

And aside from the playful Kate Bush style ‘Snow’ (the band did an unforgettable ‘Hounds Of Love’ final encore at Peter Gabriela’s Real World Studios when I saw them there 10 years ago, but which sadly didn’t make the subsequent live album), all the material here would sit very comfortably in the Seven/Home (2004/2006) era of the band’s back catalogue.  It’s a far less dense style of prog than on intervening outings, and there’s distinct Rice/Lloyd Webber/West End feel to proceedings.  And I mean that in a good way.

Messrs Reed, Booth and Fry are in sparkling form throughout, and for once I have nothing but praise for the ‘new’ rhythm section who I’ve criticised for a lack of subtlety in the past (let’s put it down to youthful exuberance).

There’s also a sprinkling of cameo performances – Peter Jones (Camel/Tiger Moth Tales) adds sax on ‘Reach For The Moon’ and ‘The Rose’.  Troy Donockley also plays Uilleean Pipes on the latter.  But in truth, neither’s contributions add a great deal to proceedings, being somewhat telegraphed vignettes of their own distinctive styles.  John Mitchell adds harmony vocals on ‘A Gift From God’, but unless you listen hard, you’ll miss them.

Naturally, Reed – as is his wont – doffs his cap to aspects of Mike Oldfield, Yes, early Genesis, and even Supertramp, but in wider terms there’s a real sense of melodic ‘flow’ to the set that’s often been missing on more recent outings.

Yes, Masters Of Illusion is Magenta/Reed doing what they/he does best.  It turns back the years without ever being ‘retro’ and I would suggest is comfortably the best Magenta album since Home.  Masters Of Illusion – The Musical, anyone?  *****

Review by Pete Whalley

Album review (Acapela 2016 and 2017)

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