The Magic Numbers - The Runaway
As elegant as it is exuberant, album number three from the undervalued four piece not only raises the game, it takes the game, hefts is straight out of the stadium, cracks its knuckles and sets about that pesky rulebook with a chainsaw. The Magic Numbers, never anything less than a charming but invigorating blend of melodic guitar pop, with song writing that documented the travails of the heart with pinpoint poetry, have registered real intent and quantifiable achievement here. No bones. The Runaway opts to rework their existing methodology and frames newfound elegance with lush instrumentation and soaring orchestration. Dazzling, it’s just a beautiful thing. Its ambition, seriously, is almost immodest. Older heads will love the reference points. Scratch – not too hard – for evidence of Prefab Sprout and Brian Wilson amongst the oohs and the aahs (the trademark boy-girl harmonising is, thankfully, still very much present and as sweet as ever.) A blast of The Supremes’ ‘Automatically Sunshine’ comes on the radio as I write and it reminds of how Roddy Frame pinched a snippet for ‘Working in a Goldmine’ from Love, the third Aztec Camera album on which he, very similarly, put down his guitar for soul grooves.
A volley of blazing zephyrs lights up side one. Opener ‘The Pulse’ comes on all quiet with astral strings and chamber precision. It builds like Brindley and ascends like a lark on helium. Unleashing a chorus so luxuriant and liquid you could swim in it, ‘The Pulse’ is one of those album openers that quietly screams “Are you ready?” From the off, standards are raised and ambition goes neon. You think: they’re having a go this time. And how. ‘Why Did You Call?’, a regret-soaked dissection of post-break up contact, Romeo and Angela’s harmonies a-shimmer, melts the heart with a whispery midnight groove. Angela’s own ‘Throwing my Heart Away’ is mesmerising and moody. Aided by spacy, crystalline production from Valgeir Sigurdsson (Bjork, Mum), The Runaway forsakes chiming Rickenbackers and a race for the line for something altogether more composed. In both senses of the word. Credit too for the ever-present string arrangements and a respectful nod to their architect, the late Robert Kirby. (Again, older heads will know him for his work with Nick Drake.) 'Once I Had’ (more gin-soaked regret) might well flash its McGuinn-isms with winning insouciance but we’re some distance from the rocking likes of ‘This is a Song’. It’s perfectly fitting that the band have been taking a string quartet with them on pre-release promotion.
The Runaway is one of those albums that signals not so much a band stomping on the blueprint - there was hardly any need for that - as much as brushing in new shades where even they probably didn’t even know they were needed. If you fell for the likes of ‘She Don’t Love Me’ or ‘Love is a Game’, loved how The Magic Numbers populated their canny guitar pop with a sunny, Haight Ashbury take on the things we do for love, then album number three will surely thrill. Four years in the making, hopefully sense will prevail and the welcome we gave their debut is needed here. If, as is rumoured, 2006’s Those the Brokes was a record company-encouraged rapid follow-up, listening to it again now confirms it to be an underrated lost gem, no less deserving than their popular debut. Even so, greeting their last effort with a half-hearted shrug now speaks so badly of us. Thank god they were in forgiving mood, saw just how wrong we were, gave us another chance. Ambition and love, it’s all here. And wearing boxing gloves? A TMF cohort reckoned this album was delayed (along with accompanying tour) to allow them to “get up to fighting weight.” Cruel? A bit (like they’re bothered any more.) Inadvertently prescient? You bet. The Runaway hits the scales dead on. Ready for the sucker punch, suckers?