|Bob Catley Spirit Of Man||Frontiers Records|
There was some uncertainty about the next solo album for Magnum frontman Bob Catley, after it was confirmed the architect behind his last solo album – Paul Hodson - would not be participating in this record.|
Given the fact that was Bob's first album after a long partnership with Gary Hughes, there was some concern over who would fill in the void from two very gifted musicians and songwriters.
On one count Bob has laid all concerns to rest, but on the other count the jury is still out.
Into the Catley fold comes British songwriters Dave Thompson and Paul Uttley – both already known for their work in their band Lost Weekend.
The duo has written the bulk of the material for this release and should be very proud of their efforts. I heard the whispers of some questioning what the pair could deliver, but on a songwriting front they could not have done much better.
They have captured the essence of Bob Catley the artist and delivered a set of songs that blends his heavier solo sound with some more traditional Magnum elements.
Bob's guitarist Vince O`Regan also steps up his role in the band by supplying three songs for the album.
I think Bob has recorded some good albums. I also think he has recorded some great albums. I think the same for Magnum. Combined they have provided some of my favourite British hard rock songs of all time. But both are capable of turning in the odd disappointment.
Bob Catley's last album When Empires Fall was genius. Perhaps the man behind the songs and sound (Paul Hodson) deserves the credit there, but Bob certainly sang his ass off.
The sound of the last album was also the best of all Catley records to date and even better than the last few Magnum releases.
So with that in mind, what has Bob and Co. got in store for fans this time around?
Spirit Of Man is an interesting release. There are some very strong elements that long time fans will be pleased to hear. But it has a couple of weaknesses also.
At the end of the day I don't think this album it matches the quality or intensity of When Empires Burn – mainly because I really thought that was a classic album.
My biggest issue with Spirit Of Man is the sound quality. This is an area I am getting increasingly frustrated with. Right across the spectrum, sound quality varies from release to release. Fans need to be able to rely on their favourite artists – and especially the big names like Bob Catley – delivering the same reliable quality each and every time.
When Empires Fall featured a near perfect sound. But just on album later and I am faced with an issue that takes away some of my enjoyment of this album.
Yes, this is a nice big rock record, but some of that impact is lost with a sound that is thinner than it should be.
What is hardest for me to understand is why this album is hard to listen to at high volume. Let's face it – we all want to crank the volume, but when doing so here, the frequency hurts my ears. Sonically this album has a tinny edge to it that makes it near impossible to crank loud with comfort.
Strangely enough, I found myself stating this very same fact in regards to the last Vince O'Regan produced album – Pulse's World's Apart – an album that was virtually ruined by poor production and mastering.
On Spirit Of Man I find the rhythm section is sometimes too low in the mix and even Bob's lead vocals sometimes don't seem as powerful as I know they are in real life and play second fiddle to the music.
If you can set aside the sound issues and look at the songs that make up this album, you will get more satisfaction.
Spirit Of Man sees the music split in two directions. Some of the album follows the harder rocking path set by When Empires Burn and the other half of the album steps back into a more melodic field that fans of classic Magnum will most certainly appreciate.
Track By Track:
Heart Of Stone is a high energy album opener which ranks as one of Catley's hardest rocking tunes to date.
Moment Of Truth retains the uptempo pace, but adds more keyboards and a very melodic chorus which fans will love. It harks back to the sound of the first couple of Catley solo records.
In The Name Of The Cause is a track I can't seem to warm to. It suits Bob's style and voice and indeed, the album as a whole, but I'm still struggling to like the melody.
Blinded By A Lie is a song which I don't love the chorus for, but the song itself is still effective and catchy.
The big ballad Last Snows Of Winter is a new Catley classic. This is one of a few very Magnum-esque tracks and a song I have a lot of time for. The chorus has that epic Magnum feel and treads familiar ground. One of the album's strongest tracks.
Spirit Of Man is another track I'm struggling with. I think there is far too much going on at times within the song. Perhaps it is the poor mix and not the song itself. With a lead guitar riff, a rhythm guitar, swirling keyboards and layers of vocals, one must ensure the mix is absolutely perfect and here it isn't. The Fire Within Me is another Magnum friendly track and one which rolls along at a great pace. The chorus is also another high quality example of what works perfectly for Bob Catley.
Judgement Day has a Magnum feel during the verse and then rocks through the chorus.
Lost To The Night is another favourite from the album. A monster chorus and a very melodic verse see Bob delivering a great emotional vocal.
Beautiful Mind is one of those haunting keyboard dominated Magnum style tracks which have that old-school appeal and one long-time fans will love.
Walk On Water suffers again from a very thin sound and loses impact over what could have been.
End Of The Story is one of the album's best tracks and real credit to it's writers. In typical Magnum fashion, this is an epic to close out the record. The style of the song is also very close to the sound of On A Storyteller's Night, so I know fans will appreciate this one.
The songs are great, but I know the album would have been even better – possibly rising to a rank close to When Empires Burn - if a better production effort was made more a priority. For whatever reason, I haven't seen any other review that makes this point. We should expect the very best of the biggest names in this scene and more consistency from album to album.
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