If Jon Bon Jovi was belting out “So let it Rain” in that raspy, dog-eared voice of his to a swarm of horny middle-aged housewives some New York City morning on the “Today” show, the Twitter universe would be abuzz with news of the blow-dried superstar’s newest surefire hit single. As it is, the sweeping, big-hearted anthem – one of many here – with the sing-along chorus from Magnum’s latest opus, On the 13th Day, will go largely unheard, and that’s too bad. That track and others on the exhilarating new record deserve a better fate.

The less cynical among us might actually weep openly when Magnum singer Bob Catley, doing his best Roger Daltrey impersonation, wringing out a range of emotions in delivering the line, “You know that I don’t give a damn/I’m only me, that’s who I am,” while a deluge of keyboards and guitar pours down on his proud face. It’s a song of empowerment and gritting one’s teeth as reality prepares to do its worst to a true underdog story, not so different really from John Parr’s emotional – some might say, “Cheesy” – reading of “St. Elmo’s Fire (Man in Motion).” And like that ‘80s touchstone, it doesn’t seem to fit in with what’s trendy and happening right now in music. That’s okay with Magnum; the old British progressive-metal warhorse never concerned itself with such things anyway. Even in their salad days, when Magnum’s pop-infused hard rock once had Europe all agog for the melodic fare of records such as On a Storyteller’s Night and the Roger Taylor-produced Vigilante, the band’s art-rock sensibility was a hard sell in America, the promise land for any metal-related acts of that time.

These days, it is the alliance of Catley and songwriter/guitarist Tony Clarkin that holds Magnum together, and although some might find the big emotional swings of On the 13th Day a little heavy-handed – “Putting Things in Place” being a prime example of Magnum at their most overwrought – only the most hard-hearted corporate raider could fail to be moved by the working-class sentiments of “Shadow Town” and its giant chorus. An uplifting epic carried on broad-shouldered synthesizers, luxurious piano and magnificent guitar ascents – interrupted for a stretch by some elegant and agile soloing – “Shadow Town” talks of the closing of factories, greed and the misery of the poor with all the poetic righteousness and fervor of a Springsteen. And yet, Magnum will never in a million years see that kind of critical acclaim.

Undeterred, Magnum carries on, perhaps wondering if their propensity for crafting irresistible – if occasionally clichéd – melodies and generating overwhelming sonic force would find sympathetic ears in Europe’s burgeoning power-metal movement. What could be more attractive to that crowd than the tumescent string movements marching through “Didn’t like You Anyway” like a symphonic army? How, indeed, could they possibly ignore the majestic phalanx of clean-burning guitars and silvery synthesizers that provide the rocket-booster thrust to the 7:20 opener “All the Dreamers” needed to drive it skyward or the street-tough, switchblade hooks of “Blood Red Laughter,” a rousing song that absolutely has Survivor’s “Eye of the Tiger?”

So what if On the 13th Day seems like a throwback to the unabashedly earnest songwriting of the ‘80s. There are enough wonderfully complex piano parts, rising synth swells and clever little guitar puzzles here to appease hardcore prog enthusiasts looking for classically inspired passages and envelope-pushing musicianship, and when the spirit moves them, as it does on “Dance of the Black Tattoo” and “Broken Promises,” Magnum can swing a hammer with the best of them, slamming down heavy riffage and crunching rhythms. Indifference from the world at large may disappoint Magnum, but it’s gratifying to see them still plugging away. Maybe these underdogs will, again, have their day.


Label: Steamhammer US (purchase in CD format)