Magnet - On Your Side
In amongst the genius pop moments like Talk Talk, It's My Life and Life's What You Make It and the turning of their backs on chart success to record increasingly fragile music, Talk Talk frequently turned a phrase or two from their lyrics into dramatic moments of music. Never were they better at this in the fourth track from The Colour Of Spring, April 5th, in which Mark Hollis sings, "Waiting for the colour of spring" at the moment in which, musically, the clouds part and an acoustic guitar hastens the sun through to shine.
When music has the effect of breaking through background noise and, instead, grabs an image so clear as that presented by Talk Talk, it can be remarkable. Although now gone, Talk Talk had an effortless ability to have music talk directly to one's memories and emotions and whilst Magnet are no Talk Talk, though how few are, the autumn-browned sound of On Your Side recalls the drifting seasons of The Colour Of Spring. From the ease with which Everything's Perfect opens the album to the clash of rhythms and sounds of Smile To The World that draws On Your Side to a close, Magnet have released an album of songs sung beautifully and with such tender emotion that it's hard not to be swept along by it, listen after listen.
Magnet, otherwise known as Even Johansen, lives in Bergen, Norway and between a pair of EP's, including a cover of Lay Lady Lay, which was released earlier this year, Magnet slipped this album out to little interest from the public but to enthusiastic reviews wherever it featured. Featuring song titles that wound not be out of place on a Talk Talk album - Last Day Of Summer, Where Happiness Lives and Nothing Hurts Now - Johansen adds to his country rock with twisting slide guitar, warm piano and his own voice that's clear, a little world-weary and perfectly matched to the beautiful arrangements of his music.
Lay Lady Lay remains the best song here but, as it's also amongst Dylan's best songs, that is no shame on this album nor to Magnet. When the swinging opening chords drift in and Even Johansen takes the first verse, stepping back to allow Gemma Hayes the second, so this most flirty of Dylan's songs sounds like a couple discovering love and seducing each other. So graceful is the bump of the rhythm and so light the vocals that Magnet's version could be added to the small list of covers better than the originals and the pair make the song their own as much as Johnny and June Carter Cash tear into John Sebastian's Darlin' Companion to make it their own At San Quentin.
With the album's one cover version out of the way, Magnet call time on the more melodic rock songs and, beginning with Overjoyed, begin to play with their sound, subtly adding string arrangements, heavier drumming and, with Even Johansen adding 'laptop' to his list of credits, many more samples. The best of this set of songs is the last on the album, Smile To The World that, like The Blue Aeroplanes ending Swagger with Cat Scan Fever, uses drones, Middle Eastern influences and a rash of samples to create a daring rock song that's a world away from the rest of the album and suggests how Magnet could follow up this album.
On the first listen, On Your Side doesn't sound that impressive and little different from last year's Aqualung album, which was itself indebted to Coldplay. After a third, fourth or fifth listen, like Talk Talk, the small moments that make this great begin to reveal themselves and, be it the wide-open rock of Where Happiness Lives, the warm electric guitar of Nothing Hurts Now or the moment when My Darling Curse soars against Johansen's, "If I don't lose my nerve, we'll get what we deserve". This is a great album and although Magnet will remain slightly outside of mainstream pop, there's enough here to come back to time and again as signs and sights within the music come back to mind.