This world is not a perfect place. As we write this review, a brandy-glugging North Korean dictator in platform shoes is on the brink of sending Southeast Asia into a nuclear arms race; in the Middle East nations are gleefully bombing each other into the Stone Age while a God-bothering American President kicks back and waits for the rapture. Closer to home, our civil liberties are disappearing by the day, the Tories are ahead in opinion polls and – most shockingly of all – this writer is no longer allowed to smoke in public places. There’s a concept album’s worth of fury just waiting to be vented in that last travesty alone, but none of this registers in the headspace of The Magic Numbers.
No, because in the world The Magic Numbers inhabit, if the sky isn’t blue, the sun isn’t shining, or your relationship isn’t in trouble, then it’s not worth writing about. There’s nothing wrong with having a permanent grin on your face, of course – that’s why we love new rave so much – but when you go in for variation as little as Romeo Stodart and co do, it gets a bit… well, it gets a bit boring.
At 13 songs and just over an hour long, ‘Those The Brokes’ falls into the same trap as many bands do on their second record, namely, that it’s too bloody long. The Magic Numbers have an unfortunate habit of taking perfectly pleasant, occasionally inspired harmony-drenched pop nuggets that should wedge themselves in your brain crevices and piss off after three minutes, then making them last twice as long as they should – to the point where you await the end as eagerly as a five-year-old child awaits Christmas.
Add to this the fact that, seemingly, the worst fate that can befall you in Magic Numbers land is having a vaguely complicated love life that – hey! – will sort itself out in the end anyway (see more or less every song on here), and ‘Those The Brokes’ begins to drift dangerously close to trivial, parent-snaring fluff.
Thankfully, however, there are a couple of flashes of inspiration. Things actually get off to a pretty decent start with opener ‘This Is A Song’, which fizzes with the kinetic energy and beguiling harmonies possessed of all their best songs. It even contains the (hopefully intentionally) hilarious couplet: “This is a song, and these are the words/But I could be wrong”. Snarking aside, however, it’s one of the best things they’ve ever done.
Similarly impressive are the songs that follow it, ‘You Never Had It’ and the album’s first single ‘Take A Chance’ – radio-friendly hits the pair of them, with the latter in particular sounding like it’s about to trip over itself in a frantic rush to get to the next chorus. Which, given the rather stately nature of the rest of the album, is something to cherish. This is The Magic Numbers at their best – unpretentious, joyous pop music wholly indebted to the summery likes of The Mamas & The Papas and The Lovin’ Spoonful.
From here, however, things go downhill faster than a rollerskating donkey. Take ‘Undecided’, multi-instrumentalist Angela Gannon’s moment in the spotlight, on which she sings lead vocal and plays nearly every instrument. We’re not kidding you when we say it sounds like ’70s jazz-rock behemoths Steely Dan jamming with Kenny G, while the bird from The Beautiful South warbles over the top. We wish we were kidding, though – it goes on for nearly seven minutes. This is the kind of thing that forces our mums to part with their hard-earned cash to buy that biannual CD, but it’s likely to make anyone under the age of 40 lose faith in humanity. Michelle Stodart’s ‘Take Me Or Leave Me’ is better – a folksy, Nick Drake-esque meditation on unrequited love that benefits from a haunting string section and probably the best vocal here, but moments like these are few and far between.
‘Runnin’ Out’ starts out sounding like the bastard child of the Buzzcocks and My Bloody Valentine (brilliant!) for precisely 23 seconds (rubbish!), before settling into the familiar MOR territory that too much of ‘Those The Brokes’ inhabits, although there is at least a smidgin of cloud lurking beneath the perennial silver lining when Romeo snarls, “If I’m gonna burn/All the money you earned/There’s a chance you might find out who you are”.It’s a case of too little, too late, however. ‘Those The Brokes’ isn’t entirely without merit – there are four or five genuinely decent songs on here – but ultimately, as a whole it just feels a little too worthy, a little too overwrought, and a little too formulaic to be worth the 64 minutes and 32 seconds of your life. If, as is sometimes written, all the best bands create their own private universe to exist in, then The Magic Numbers’ is so sickeningly saccharine, you’ll find yourself wishing that Kim Jong-Il himself would send a warhead careering towards it.