Magical Thinker 2021
Masters of melody and melodrama venture towards the end of days to bring back hope and glory
It’s been almost a decade since Geoff Downes and Chris Braide embarked on a joint journey which, charting the course between pop and prog, brought the two to the here and now, where their fourth studio record, issued after a stock-taking concert album, is poised to signal a new chapter in a duo’s saga – only this offering feels a tad off, befitting the state of affairs in our world. Sure, nostalgia played an important part in the little ensemble’s oeuvre from the very beginning, but sorrow seems to be at the fore of “Halcyon Hymns” whose cover – the brightest of all the band’s platters and displaying the bluebird of happiness: Roger Dean’s artwork a lengthy feature on a bonus DVD – will contrast the songs inside. The songs as alluringly brilliant as they are somber – and conceptually cinematic, too.
There are snippets of poetic spoken word prefacing a few pieces that stress the overall gloomy experience, set in motion by the haunting baroque balladry of “Love Among The Ruins” in which tender strum and shimmering ivories paint a spectral panorama, while Braide’s vocals lays down a harmonies-honeyed elegy, a eulogy to a withered affection waiting to be reborn, with Dave Bainbridge’s guitar providing a Phoenix-like soaring. Even more keening, “King Of The Sunset” will bring a sense of adventure into the drift, though, violin and mandolin pitching hope against pain of the cut’s instantly memorable refrain, whereas Marc Almond’s gentle lyricism and supple voice enhance the piano-driven vulnerability of “Warm Summer Sun” – a number so sublime it can be seen as the entire album’s pivot.
Still, despite the detailed grandeur behind “Hymn To Darkness” – a brief, if solemn, acoustic filigree – dirge doesn’t belong on the album, so “Your Heart Will Find The Way” exorcises misery through a punchy groove, Downes unfolding an orchestral backdrop for colors to enter the black mood, and “Beachcombers” caresses nocturnal magnificence with hypnotic polyphony. More so, the sky-wide “Holding The Heavens” is immensely sweet, its folksy vibrancy translucent and touching, the rocking “Today” is finally full of spiritual light, and “She’ll Be Riding Horses” is brisk and graceful. And then there’s a panoramic epic “Remembrance” to invite the listener for a trip into utopia, not the past as one may presume.
Because, you know, the golden days should lie ahead, too. “Halcyon Hymns” is a valiant attempt of reminding us about it.