Review Summary: This is my first review, so any feedback, negative or positive, is greatly appreciated.
"The Magician's Birthday" is the fifth release of the very talented and very underrated band Uriah Heep. This was the follow-up to their breakthrough album "Demons and Wizards." Out of the many different incarnations of the band (over 30 different musicians), this is the best line-up they ever had. It contained Mick Box (guitar), Ken Hensley (keyboards, organ, synthisizer, guitar, and main somgwriter), David Byron (lead vocals), Gary Thain (bass guitar), and future Ozzy drummer Lee Kerslake (drums).
The opener of the album is "Sunrise." It's the perfect opener for this album since the song pretty much sums up the mood of the whole album: very dark and spooky. This is definitely one of Heep's best songs. It starts very softly with Ken Hensley's organ which chromatically builds up. Then suddenly, out of nowhere, you are bombarded with Mick Box's very heavy yet very simple guitar riff (very Tony Iommi-esque) accompanied by singer David Byron’s signature shrieks. When I first heard the intro of this song it just blew away. The relationship between Byron's shrieks and Box's riff sounds awesome. Then it eventually leads into a very anthemic section and ends one a very strong note from Byron. "Spider Woman" is one of the two songs, the other being "Sweet Lorraine," on the album that don't have that dark vibe. Right off the bat Mick Box starts the song with one of his many great slide guitar riffs and his slide playing pretty much carries the song all the way through to the end. Good song, but it looses it's steam after a while and gets kind of old.
The third track on the album, "Blind Eye," starts off with a great bass line from Gary Thain and goes off into a harmonized, very uplifting sounding guitar riff. It's a decent song but it's not as good as "Sunrise" or "Sweet Lorraine." The lyrics in this song are very interesting, the thing is, it is hard to decipher what they are about. For example: "Stranger than the sunrise, darker than the night, fiercer than a rainstorm, blinder than the blind eye." Also: "I ran to a place in the open sea where I pledged my whole life to the sun, it was good for a while, I could laugh, I could smile, but when I woke up one day the sun had gone." They sound really cool, especially when you hear it on the recording, but like I said, what do they mean" I guess it's one of those songs where the listener determines the meaning. Great song nonetheless. "Echoes In The Dark" is easily the darkest song on the album. Just hearing the piano alone makes me think of a haunted house. In fact, my interpretation of the lyrics in this song seem to be about someone having an encounter with a ghost, so the song could actually be set in an abandoned/haunted house. I guess it all depends on the listener. Anyways, great stuff, definitely one of my favorites on the album. This next song, "Rain," is very different from the rest. It is one of the prettiest piano songs I have ever head. There is not much to describe about it because it's just Hensley playing piano with Byron singing along, but is an absolute must-listen-to. Sorry my description of that song was very bland, but I just can't put how this song sounds into words, as it it a very moving song and I feel that the emotions people would get from a song like this would be different for everyone.
Now for the second half of the album. "Sweet Lorraine" is a straight-up rocker and, as I mentioned before, is the second of the two "happier" sounding songs on this album. A moog synthesizer leads the guitar and rhythm section for the intro of this song. Then the chorus comes in, which really makes this song a lot of fun to hear. Great sing along song. Other than the driving chorus, it’s Hensley’s synthesizer that really carries this song along. The next song, "Tales," is not one of my favorite songs on the album. This song has potential, but the song is very linear and maintains the same tone throughout the entire song. Bottom line, it’s pretty boring. But I enjoy listening to it once in a while if I’m in the mood. Definitely a filler.
And now next and final song on the album is he title track, "The Magician’s Birthday." It starts with a great intro riff. The first minute and a half of the song flat out rocks, but at 1:45, this song gets a bit weird. Out of the blue, a kazoo comes in along with backing vocals singing “happy birthday to you” (not the traditional “happy birthday” song, just the words “happy birthday to you.” Just thought I should clear that up) over and over again. At 3:00 it goes back to how the beginning sounded. Then the song changes completely and goes off with this weird, kind of annoying keyboard jingle mixed in with a heavy guitar playing two power chords with along with a piano. At 4:15 through most of the song Mick Box explodes with some crazy wah guitar solos which is very uncommon for Box, since his solos are very short simple (but also really good). But what is very interesting and what I really like about this song and what makes it unique is the drums during the guitar solos. I could be wrong, but it sounds as if they doubled the speed of the drum track, which is something that I have never heard in a song before. Surprisingly, it sounds really cool with the fast paced guitar solos. For an epic by Uriah Heep, it’s not their best work compared to their other epics like “July Morning” or “Paradise/The Spell,” but still a good song and worth listening to despite that one annoying part.
One thing that I would like to mention about this album which I particularly like that I forgot to mention earlier, is the arrangement of the tracks. The way the tracks are put in order on an album is something that I think is greatly overlooked by most bands. If you listen to the album all the way through, you will notice that no two like songs are next to each other, which makes the flow of the album very smooth and much more enjoyable to listen to. Another way in which Heep were a very talented, but very overlooked band.
Bottom Line: The Magician's Birthday shows how well the members of the band work together, especially David Byron's voice, which truly shows it's full potential. This is a Uriah Heep classic, probably the darkest album they ever released. So if you are a fan but don't have a copy of it, it's a must-have. As for those of you who are new to Uriah Heep, I wouldn't suggest getting this one...yet. I highly advise getting "Demons and Wizards" first, then get "Magician's Birthday." This concludes my review, thank you for reading.
R.I.P. David Byron and Gary Thain.