Friday, 12 February 2016

Magic - Pulling at the threads

It feels strange to pull at the threads of something that's perfect and complete.  By perfect I mean 'as I wanted it'. Even though that's not strictly true, there's loads about it I'd change.  But 'Magic' as an album worked like no other in Urban Fox's back catalogue.

Every band member had input into the creative process by means of a set of lyrics here, a guitar riff there or an idea that set a song rolling.  'Magic' was full of atmosphere but in the days of analogue (well, digital was around but we couldn't afford digital) it was more atmospheric, muddy, hissy and a bit crackly in places.  Using a four channel desk connected to a one track tape machine meant everything that could be sequenced was, and everything that couldn't be sequenced was played live.

The atmosphere behind 'Magic' (Yamaha PSR-90)
A great example of that is right at the beginning of the album where the first minute and a half of the instrumental Magic (a prelude) was played live before the sequenced part kicked off and live playing continued over the top.  Once the music was done, it was  bounced to another one track with vocals dubbed over the top. Every track was sung start to finish in one take (as was everything pre-1997), no retaking a note in the chorus or punching in to correct the awful 'sacrilege and larceny (fear) became a part of me' in 'Magic' the track.

Written in 1996, we obtained new technology in 1999 and attempted to go back and update the main tracks.  The results were cold, mechanical and empty so they never saw the light of day.  The only song from the album that we ever played live was 'I Ran', but even then it was Version 2 which was more accessible than the desolate and haunting version on Magic with Ian's original lyrics. 'I cried and I cried until I couldn't cry anymore; then I cried'.  The only other song we've got anywhere near re-doing better than the original is 'Forty Fields' and that's only because it's a straight up, out and out pop song with no complications.

Rerecording the album has made me realise why we've never really done an update sooner. One, we've never really had the technology to do it and two, the songs are really complex.  More than I realised.  You make something and while you're making it, you're inside it and you're chipping away building.  Only when you step back and look at the entire thing you tend to take it on face value and forget about all the interesting background frills that you don't notice unless you're looking for them but without them, the thing sounds kinda empty and wrong.

Pulling at the threads has opened my eyes to what makes a concept album work.  Especially one where you can identify the concept in each song.  It's in the moving bass lines which never resort to background accompaniment.  It's in the synth reeds over 'Another place to hide' and the minor 7ths and 13ths of the church organ intro to Magic.  It's in the growling polysynth underneath Darkside and the electric bass of I Ran. Signatures. Hooks. Lyrics with depth. 'Same star, different sky.' The 'boom' in boom. Squeezing everything I could out of the horribly limited PSS-790.

This was used to write: Fear, Fear 2, Impressions, Reflection, Citadel, The Message, Intermezzo, Citadel 2 & Vicious Sky
Pulling at the threads of something perfect, seems wrong and it still might prove to be wrong but stepping back inside that cathedral you built, inspecting the craftsmanship and admiring the hand carved statues you don't see from the outside, is like getting back in touch with an old friend and talking for hours.

Re-imagined so far :

1. Magic (Prelude) - Nuttall
2. One more sunrise - Hunter/Nuttall
3. When the rains come down - Hunter/Nuttall
4. Another place to hide - Nuttall
5. Boom! - Nuttall
6. Magic - Nuttall
7. Forty Fields - Nuttall
8. The pleasure behind death - Nuttall

Still to do :

9. New Fear - Nuttall
10. Goodnight - Nuttall
11. Face to Face (Version 1) - Nuttall
12. Face to Face (Version 2) - Nuttall
13. Save me - Hunter/Nuttall
14. I Ran - Forbes/Nuttall
15. Maybe - Nuttall
16. Darkside - Nuttall