Posted by: Richard Frost | 10 Apr 2020

The Magic Numbers: Those the Brokes album review

Logo for UK news website In The NewsOriginal publication date: November 2006
Outlet: In The News

In a nutshell
Melodic, Nice, Sugary, Insubstantial, Flabby

What’s it all about?
Let me take you back 17 short months. 25th June 2005. Glastonbury. You’re standing outside the John Peel Stage – waste-high in rainwater, mud and other people – desperately trying to snatch snippets of two-part harmonies and acoustic guitarwork. Somewhere beyond the sea of heads, The Magic Numbers are onstage having just released their eponymous debut album. Lush, melodic and warm, this is the soundtrack of the summer.

Fast-forward a few months and suddenly The Magic Numbers are back in the spotlight for a wholly different reason. They’ve just become the only band in the history of long-running BBC staple Top of the Pops to storm offstage immediately prior to performing. The cause? Richard Bacon, and an ill-judged pun about the *ahem* flabbiness of the performers.

Now we’re back for the follow-up album, Those the Brokes. Curiously for the world’s most summery band, the release date has been buried away in the wintery bleakness of November.

Surely, the stage is set for a radical change of direction? For a move away from eternal sunshine, careering wildly towards spiteful introspection? For songs arousing a sense of indignant fury, with cuttingly sarcastic titles like Roll, Bacon, Roll and Don’t Call me Piggy?

Who’s it by?
The Magic Numbers are a pair of brothers and sisters. Romeo (vocals) and Michele Stodart (bass) perform alongside Sean (drums) and Angela Gannon (everything else). The two halves finally met following a convoluted Stodart family odyssey. Born in Trinidad, a failed military group forced Romeo and Michele to relocate to New York, before finally settling in west London. There, they met their new neighbours, Sean and Angela, and quickly began to write their first fledgling melodies.

But as with so many bands, The Magic Numbers’ roots show most glaringly in their musical support roles. Warm-up slots for The Flaming Lips, Travis and Brian Wilson point exactly to where the band is coming from.

As an example…
“But then you dance, dance, dance with the woman that’s let you / How’s it gonna feel until I catch you? / What you gonna do when she turns around / And says you broke another heart that was broken down?” (Take a Chance). Like every Magic Numbers song to date, Take a Chance sees gnawingly infectious melodica offset by unrequited love in the lyrics department.

Indie-rock band The Magic Numbers' second album Those the Brokes

Likelihood of a trip to the Grammy’s
Well, they’ve got previous of sorts. It was a nomination for the prestigious Mercury Music Prize that cemented them in the nation’s hearts. And two of them lived (briefly) in New York, so they’ve maybe got connections. Oh, who are we kidding? The Magic Numbers are never going to trouble Bono in the Grammy-magnet stakes.

What the others say
“It worked once, so they’ve done it again” (Q4 Music)

“When you go in for variation as little as Romeo Stodart and co do, it gets a bit…well, it gets a bit boring” (NME)

So is it any good?
The jibes of a certain pork-based former Blue Peter presenter should really have inspired them. But, alas, Richard Bacon remains unscathed on an album that focuses exclusively on those lyrical staples – unrequited love, loneliness, sadness and heartache. In other words, pretty much exactly the same furrow ploughed by their last album.

Except that Those the Brokes is a far patchier effort than their self-titled debut. Sure, there are good points. At times, this LP reminds you of that fuzzy warm glow you felt when first listening to Love Me Like You or Love’s a Game. This is a Song, Runnin’ Out and first single Take a Chance all bury themselves deep inside your cranium, resting there, lurking, ready to burst into summery life when you’re scrabbling for consciousness in the dark wintery mornings.

And, appallingly, there’s even some shoots of musical growth tucked away in the middle of the album. Undecided sees multitalented Angela Gannon try her hand at an improbable Arethra Franklin impersonation. It’s daring, disconcerting and provides a welcome aural depth to an album that all too frequently runs for cover behind a wall of oohs, aahs and laments from a man called Romeo.

For the majority of the album, though, The Magic Numbers revert to type. Indeed, the sheer underwhelming safeness of everything is plain for all to see. Ask anyone over the age of 40 who’s playing on the radio and I bet they’ll swear blind it’s The Mamas And The Papas. If pressed further, they might mutter something about The Beach Boys or a professional Love impersonator. Now, these are all good bands, but do we really need them again?

Those the Brokes disappoints. But what has gone so terribly wrong? Maybe it’s the stomach-turning sugariness of it all. Or the refusal to challenge anybody through daring songsmanship, discordant melodies or celebrity-baiting lyrics. Or perhaps, ultimately, it’s the fact that Those the Brokes fails to engage your attention over the course of 60 elongated minutes (that’s 3,600 seconds, by the way, of which I felt every single one).

Don’t tell Richard Bacon, then, but maybe…just maybe…The Magic Numbers really have become a bit flabby.

5/10


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