The Magic Numbers, Saint Etienne, John Legend, The Red Thread 2005 David Bennun
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The Magic Numbers/
Saint Etienne/
John Legend/
The Red Thread

[The Mail On Sunday, 2005]

Brighton Concorde 2



THE MAGIC NUMBERS have so far generated one single, and a great deal of fuss. If you've heard only the former - Hymn For Her, a wispy, moss gathering ballad - you'd be entitled to wonder at the latter. See them live, and everything is explained.
 These four endearingly dumpy bundles of hair and woollens appear to have wandered in unsupervised from 1975. They bear no musical relation to anything that's happened since - excepting Prefab Sprout, with whom they share a dedication to intricate songcraft, and New Order, whose basslines they occasionally borrow.
 Their set also calls to mind early T Rex and the meandering, pastoral English rock of Robert Wyatt - it's with some trepidation that I currently detect a whiff of old Albion in the air. No need to fear The Magic Numbers, though. They are, there's no point denying it, absolutely charming; and not just because they could pass for hobbits.
 If The Magic Numbers showed any less faith in their novel blend of far from-novel influences, they would be no more than quaint. But they're so sweetly adamant about their peculiar idiom that they carry it off. This is an unlikely pleasure arriving from a surprising direction.
 Few bands since Roxy Music have displayed such a self-conscious ideal of style as headliners Saint Etienne. Their immaculately mannered electro pop is sometimes better in theory than practice. It's a shame that tonight they don't play Avenue, which perfectly captures their vision of leafy suburbia as a modernist paradise.
 I may be the only man in the audience who doesn't dream of eloping with Sarah Cracknell. She's an arthouse Kylie, an alluringly genteel hybrid of Kraftwerk automaton and Magpie presenter, whose gift it is to sing as if reciting from a recipe card.
 That most tacky, stale, oleaginous and overemoted musical form, the R&B ballad, has a saviour at last. The modestly named John Legend sounds set fair to live up to his billing with an album of sleek, measured and refreshingly schlock-free songs. Others have explored this territory - notably Maxwell - but have come up with records that say more about lifestyle than love. Deftly veering around the genre's banalities, Legend steers Get Lifted to the heart of things. It never grates or bores, and in the standout Used To Love U, boasts a classic of understated soul.
 In describing The Red Thread (Bay Area songwriter Jason Lakis), It's impossible not to mention The Thrills - simply because the two acts are, sonically, twins. Both draw almost exclusively on the same source: American West Coast guitar pop. But where The Thrills tend towards the heavy handed, The Red Thread is heavy-lidded. Tension Pins has a slumberous delicacy that makes it easy on the ear. It slips rather than drags by, leaving behind tunes that flicker unexpectedly in the memory.

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