Chameleon is the latest album by the Welsh prog band Magenta. It took quite a long time to come up with a follow-up to Metamorphosis (2008). Multi-instrumentalist and founding member Rob Reed (keyboards, guitars, bass, vocals) explains on the band's website what happened after their previous studio album: 'After the release of Metamorphosis I ploughed straight into the next Magenta-album, spending several weeks working flat-out in the studio. I was really happy with what I had written but I got side-tracked with other projects and everything sort of got left on the backburner. Then about six months ago I had another creative spurt and another fifty minutes of great ideas emerged. When I sat back and took stock of what I had before me, I realized that both writing sessions produced distinctive musical styles. The tracks from the first session were quite edgy and more contemporary and the second batch were more traditional, almost like Seven in style. It quickly became apparent that I had written two completely different sounding albums! Then I decided to make each album independently, and also to try a different recording process for the more contemporary songs. Christina (lead and backing vocals) and I also had a few tracks that we had written together that were going to be on future Magenta-singles, so along with the edgier material, we had plenty of pieces that she could start writing lyrics for. We then got Kieran Bailey (drums) into the studio and it wasn't long before we had recorded the drums for eight new Magenta-tracks. Chris Fry (guitars) then came and weaved his magic and before long what originally was planned as a new single, or possibly an EP, had escalated into a great sounding album.'
Hopefully Rob Reed's explanation has been useful for anyone who calls himself a Magenta-fan or a follower. It explains a lot about the music I heard on the new album Chameleon, and about the title which is a metaphor for the many musical styles. On the one hand you'll hear the more poppy side of the band, but on the other hand the orchestral, progressive approach and the more complex material are either present. That really made it difficult for me to get the album into my system or to even review it. Sure, the many trademarks of the older albums are present on this one of which the strong singing of Christina is the most important one. On Chameleon she sometimes reminded me of a musical style once recorded on a single by Cher. I'm referring to the way Cher's voice was recorded in the studio. Well, listen to Guernica and you'll know what I mean.
Another familiar trademark is the fine guitar playing by Chris Fry, which is sometimes influenced by Steve Howe. However, the acoustic guitar parts are very high-leveled as well. The best example is the instrumental piece Reflections on which Fry sounds as a mixture of Steve Howe and Steve Hackett. Rob Reed proves on this album once more to be a gifted keyboard player. The orchestral sounds coming from his instruments are a delight to listen to throughout the album. That also applies to his piano playing and synthesizer solos that are sometimes related to the band's older material.
I won't go any deeper into the songs separately, because that's easier said than done. I found it rather difficult to mention the highlights on Chameleon. Sure, the opener Glitterball kicks ass right from the start and shows Magenta in a high gear. The climax on Turn The Tide with the excellent guitar solo is also worthwhile mentioning just as Red, the closing piece that contains all the music Magenta stands for. Compared to the previous albums by Magenta it was very difficult to rate Chameleon mainly due to the many different styles. Yet they made another strong album, but in my opinion it doesn't equal the high level of Seven. However, it's still worth listening to for every Magenta-fan!
***+ Henri Strik (edited by Peter Willemsen)
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