CD Review of The Magic Numbers by The Magic Numbers

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The Magic Numbers
starstarstarhalf starno star Label: Capitol
Released: 2005
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It’s difficult to know where to begin even describing the Magic Numbers’ debut album. Okay, perhaps it’s not so difficult. Just look at them, fer crissakes. They’re hairy, well fed, not terribly attractive, and about as unfashionable as they come. Dear God, how did they get past security?

Don’t know, but thank heavens someone let them through the front door. At the risk of pigeonholing them as a ‘60s throwback band that worships the letter ‘B’ (Buffalo Springfield, Byrds, Beach Boys), the eponymous debut of the Magic Numbers, two pairs of brother/sister siblings, is the kind of album that the Thrills would sell their souls to make, but even with the devil’s help, they’d come well short of this. The very fact that this album is itself less than perfect tells you everything you need to know about the Thrills.

It begins with the galloping “Mornings Eleven,” a jolly, harmony drenched, banjo driven ditty that shifts gears at the 90-second mark (!) into a doo wop ballad, only to take off again and then shift into a bridge with an altogether different tempo, ultimately leading back to the doo wop part for the finale. This song along is a good example of the things to come. They’re not in any kind of hurry – only two songs are less than four minutes – but there’s a plan and structure to what they do. It will likely appeal to fans of Phish and the Dead, but not exclusively to them, since the Numbers (thankfully) don’t noodle the way those bands did.

Lead singer Romeo Stodart is not the most dynamic lead singer in the world; he has a technically proficient tenor but it falls on the nasal side. Likewise, the female harmonies of Angela Gannon and sister Michele Stodart aren’t exactly the Supremes, but they work surprisingly well together. If anything, Romeo is a more interesting guitarist than a singer, which he shows on “Long Legs,” an Allman Brothers-style jam with the kind of guitar picking that would make both Duane Allman and Jerry Garcia proud. “I See You, You See Me” is a heartbreaking ballad with back-and-forth vocals between Romeo and one of the girls (we’ll assume it’s not his sister). The lyrics may be simple (“I often thought that you’d be better off left alone / Why throw a circle around a man with broken bones / But darling, when I see you, you see me”), but they’re powerful. Ditto “Love’s a Game,” a song that sounds like a Jayhawks outtake circa Tomorrow the Green Grass.

Sometimes, however, one wishes that the band would get a swift kick in the keister and pick up the pace a little. Love songs are great and all, but they seem to lose sight of the fact that they’re a rock band, not the Carpenters. Lose “Wheels on Fire” (you knew there’d be at least one Dylan reference), forget “This Love.” Albums are about checks and balances. When the soft introspection takes over, inertia sets in.

The Magic Numbers is not one of those albums that kicks your ass and takes your name while playing it, but there’s an undeniable charm to it. It’s far from perfect, but doing this album and a collaboration with the Chemical Brothers in the same year suggests that they have grander plans than the album alone would indicate.

~David Medsker