Exposé Online banner

Magic Pie — Motions of Desire
(Karisma KAR101, 2005/2017, CD)

Magic Pie — Circus of Life
(Karisma KAR102, 2007/2017, CD)

Magic Pie — The Suffering Joy
(Karisma KAR103, 2011/2017, CD)

by Jon Davis, Published 2017-05-05

Motions of Desire Cover artCircus of Life Cover artThe Suffering Joy Cover art

Following on Karisma’s release of King for a Day in 2015, the label has gone to Magic Pie’s back catalog and re-released the first three albums. In 2005 they put out Motions of Desire, and right out of the gate they presented a fully-realized statement of what they’re about. “Change” is a 20-minute epic of several sections, some of which resemble a more poppish Deep Purple, with heavy organ and rocking guitar; other parts are maybe like a more proggish Supertramp, with acoustic guitar and great melodies. Then there’s a section that’s kind of funky, but more in a 70s rock way than R&B — more James Gang than Ohio Players — and an interlude of elaborate vocal arrangements, almost like Gentle Giant. And while the final anthemic section is maybe a bit overdone, it’s a minor misstep in an impressive opus. That’s quite a bold statement for the opening of a debut album. The title track has a slight flavor of an 80s anthem, like a Big Country without the bagpipe melodies and with more keyboards. There are two more tracks topping the ten-minute mark, one of which is part of “Illusions & Reality,” a suite spanning three tracks. At 77 minutes, Motions of Desire is bit much to take in, and their fondness for dramatic melodies with massed vocal parts is over-indulged, but there are enough good parts to warrant a positive recommendation.

2007 brought Circus of Life, which also starts with an extended piece, the title suite, which is divided into five parts totalling 47 minutes. The beginning is subdued, with children’s voices, acoustic guitars, Mellotron flutes, and a soft vocal part. Other sections provide instrumental workouts, reflective philosophical singing, heavy riffs, squiggly synth solos, polyphonic vocal parts, and (or course) a big anthem, which luckily doesn’t kick in until about 30 minutes in. Aside from the title suite, there are two standalone tracks, and the first one “Pointless Masquerade” is my favorite tune on the album. Its nine minutes feature a fair amount of variety, and some really good melodies, along with a sitar sound — something that hadn’t previously appeared anywhere. There are fewer of the overblown anthem sections, and on the whole, Circus of Life is a small but noticeable step up from the debut.

Next came The Suffering Joy, in 2011. All of the chief factors of the previous albums are intact, though in this case, more of the same is accompanied by further refinement, with the writing good enough to not seem redundant. This one features another suite (“A Life’s Work”) and four hefty tracks at or above the nine minute mark. The one short track, “Endless Ocean,” is actually a highlight, a jaunty mostly-acoustic piece with acoustic guitar, piano, and Mellotron flutes backing the vocal parts. Some guest female vocals provide more variety on a couple of tracks. If pressed, I might give The Suffering Joy a slight edge over Circus of Life, but they’re both solid pieces of work.

The defining features of the Magic Pie sound are the provided by the keyboards, guitars, and vocals. Gilbert Marshall favors the classic tones of Hammond organ, piano, Mellotron, and analog-sounding synthesizers. I particularly like the prominent organ parts. The guitar parts by Kim Stenberg are melodic, fluid, flashy, sometimes prone to metal-style rhythm parts, but are not so dominant that they make this a prog metal band. Finally, we have the vocals. Magic Pie has always gone the route of having two co-lead singers — Eirik Hanssen joined on the first two by Allen Olsen and later by Eiríkur Hauksson — along with backing vocals from Marshall and Stenberg. All of the voices are strong and expressive, meticulously arranged and able to contribute in both the quiet sections and the big climaxes. As I’ve said, I find the big dramatic sections a bit overdone, but I know there are a lot of listeners who love this kind of thing. In some ways, Magic Pie could be regarded as a neo-prog band akin to IQ, Pendragon, or Arena, but their fondness for 70s rock riffs gives them a different flavor that I really enjoy. I’m not sure I would recommend listening to all three of these back-to-back as I did (several times!) for this review, but any of them should provide good listening for fans of finely crafted prog-inflected rock of the melodic variety.


Filed under: Reissues, 2017 releases, 2005 recordings, 2007 recordings, 2011 recordings

Related artist(s): Magic Pie

Latest news

2020-02-18
Jon Christensen RIP – Word reaches us today of the passing of Norwegian drummer Jon Christensen, a musician whose sensitive playing did much to help define the atmospheric sound of ECM jazz recordings. His work with Jan Garbarek, Bobo Stenson, Terje Rypdal, and many more was sensitive and varied, adapting to a wide variety of styles while maintaining a distinct identity of its own. Christensen was 76. » Read more

2020-01-21
Gong Announces UK Tour for 2020 – Having spent the last few years touring the world, including dates in Japan with psych legend Steve Hillage, multiple headline European tours and festivals, America’s Cruise to the Edge festival, a South America headline tour, and a headline performance at Tomorrow Festival in China, the band have won the hearts of both traditional and modern Gong fanbases. During this live journey, Gong has delved further into the truly psychedelic, exploratory, and mind-expanding side of the music. » Read more

2020-01-15
Carlos Alvarado RIP – Carlos Alvarado, pioneering composer, multi-instrumentalist and pioneer of progressive rock and electronic experimental music in Mexico, passed away January 14th, 2020 at age 68 after a two year battle with cancer.  » Read more

2020-01-12
Wolfgang Dauner RIP – Pianist Wolfgang Dauner, one of the pioneers of both European free jazz and jazz rock, has died at the age of 84. With his own groups and with the United Jazz+Rock Ensemble, his playing and compositions were a prominent presence in European jazz from the mid-60s until just recently. » Read more

2020-01-12
Michael Allison RIP – Michael Allison, who since 1997 has been recording as Darshan Ambient, passed away on January 9th after a long and brave battle with cancer. He has been at at the forefront of the new ambient/electronic music scene, with over eighteen releases to his credit. » Read more


Previously in Exposé...

Matter - Matter – If you like quirky psychedelic guitar-rock drenched with Mellotron, read on... Matter is pretty much the two man project of Joe Albarran (Chapman Stick, bass, Mellotron and guitar) and Mike Madden...  (1994) » Read more



Listen & discover



Print issues