EP reviews – Magnilda: ‘Clocks Are Like People’ demo EP (“slightly more mad cow-ards than Noel Cowards”)

20 Aug

Magnilda: 'Clocks Are Like People' EP

Magnilda: ‘Clocks Are Like People’ EP

Sing ho! for British beef!

This pops into my head because (a) Magnilda are so proudly chunky, beefy and muscular, especially Connon MacRae’s assured and dextrous lead guitar; and because (b) they’re ever-so-slightly deranged, weaving together pop that merges the wistful and the sly, the romantic and the easily distracted via a series of songs which build up like houses of cards, complex and always teetering on the edge of a tumble. Which leads us to (c) – the fact that their nutty drawing-room demeanour warrants a suitably Olde English exclamation. As with The Divine Comedy, these are songs best listened to while wearing a monocle and attempting to playfully clobber someone with a croquet mallet. In the library. With Miss Scarlet to hold your gloves for you.

Magnilda’s music has a particularly British ancestry. A strong flavour of XTC’s mischievous kaleidoscopic power-pop. Some of Blur’s Britpop-era mix of cheeriness over melancholy. More than a smidgin of Cardiacs’ preoccupation with Victorian and Edwardian imagery, plus their taste for an itchy riff. A love of metaphysical metaphors. And, perhaps somewhere, a bit of Freddie Mercury’s taste for cabaret pop? Or perhaps not: although Richard Larcombe’s amused, mellow drawl certainly suggests smoking jackets, cigarette holders and launching shafts of wit like paper darts across panelled rooms. But this is getting far too Merchant Ivory. Time to stop and take a look at the three songs ‘Clocks Are Like People’ offers us.

There’s She’s The Queen. A love song that’s Squeeze through finishing school, constantly undermining itself with sly bathos: rocketing guitars, handclaps, and a Poet Laureate lyrical approach that’s more ‘Blackadder II’ than Clapham bedsit. “And so, my Camden monarch, my defender / in true ultramarine. / Your manner and your aromatic splendour / live in me now, my Queen.” More and more courtly compliments slip over the top. It’s like being assaulted by garlands. Yet with all the playfulness there’s a pointed seducer’s agenda, however politely turned. “Your Highness, I stand humbled at your beauty. / Admit me, if you please.”

But at the other end of the flirtation you’ll find Loving The Way, in which Magnilda’s cleverness crumbles before their genuine pangs of heartache. However sophisticated Larcombe’s narrator is (“I’m posh, discreet, / I hate to compete. / Such stuff offends me greatly”), he’s still snagged on love’s rich, hard-to-swallow leftovers. And he spends the whole song trying to come to terms with that, without success. “To kiss her neck, her hands, / and stand where she stands: / I can’t see how it’s stealing…” Smart enough to be wise to himself – “Although the passion was strong, there, / I didn’t belong there,” – he’s only smart enough to be wise after the event, and is only capable now that it’s impossible to be so. “I’d have to die to forget her: I know when I met her / I was much too young, and I wasted her. / And now I can’t stop, can’t stop loving the way we were…” It dawdles reluctantly along, with a sour burr to MacRae’s guitars; hoping to delay the imploding, anticlimactic inevitable two years too late. The eccentric, well-dressed smoothie’s already showing crumples and the odd tearstain.

Somewhere in between, What’ll We Do In The Winter? fidgets with anticipation, halfway through the affair and already dreading the challenges to come. “Late September / finds me living with a reason. / But tell me, / will your eyes not be my guide / as we move into another season?” Panicky choruses struggle with angular guitars and paranoia over the fact that even nature seems to be dropping heavy hints that it’s all over: “Now I’m curtain-drawing early, / the light is fading fast, / my spirit fading too / The lamps have started burning / – they’re not the only ones. / I can’t live without you.” By the end it’s become the John Donne hit parade; metaphysics, quaint metaphors and all, as they carol “Oh, leaves are falling.. / the ladybird to her grave crawling. / Oh, tell me what’ll we do in the winter?”

Magnilda are dark horses: slightly more mad cow-ards than Noel Cowards, but only slightly. However much Richard Larcombe delivers his elegant lyrics off a frayed cuff with an arch wink, there’s something compulsively wrong here, something tragically composed and brittle in Magnilda’s poise. Like the guy with immaculate clothes and quips, living out of the unloved flat filled with dust and old tins. Why does Larcombe reckon clocks are like people? Too much studied marking of time, without ever being able to claim it, to live it?

For all the easy jokes, the recent history of British beef has been a tragedy inextricably mingled with pungent, helpless farce. Magnilda – rolling their eyes with exaggerated abandon – would probably appreciate that better than most.

Magnilda: ‘Clocks Are Like People’
Magnilda (no catalogue number or barcode)
Cassette-only demo EP
Released: summer 1998

Magnilda online:
(2018 update – there never was a Magnilda web presence, but visit the following links for ongoing Richard Larcombe projects)

Lost Crowns online:
Facebook Bandcamp

Stars In Battledress online:
Homepage Facebook Twitter MySpace Bandcamp LastFM

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