Fragments Of The 5th Element is the fifth album by Norwegian progressive rockers Magic Pie. The band formed away back in 2001, with the first recording being released in 2005 called Motions Of Desire. There are three original members still in the outfit. These being guitarist, writer and arranger Kim Stenberg, singer and guitarist Eirik Hanssen and drummer Jan T Johannessen with bassist Lars Peter Holstad arriving in time for the first album. Since then, two changes have taken place. Icelandic singer Eirikur Hauksson came in around 2007 and latest recruit Erling Henanger on keyboards.
The music is prog rock. However, this is prog that is based on classic rock with lots of melody. It also has some pop sensibilities and a smattering of glorious harmonies. Never “too clever”, but rather accessible due to the talent to write good songs and lyrics, delivered in a clear and powerful manner. Fragments is almost vinyl length, being a five-song album lasting around 45 or 46 minutes. There is definitely no filler.
Fragments of the 5th Element
Lyrically, the songs seem to have a link or theme. It is not a concept piece, but rather a collection of songs about the rock and roll lifestyle. Fame, the effects on family life, regret but also turning things around and rebuilding are all covered. Stories of regret and contemplation. Musically, there is plenty going on, with a good number of styles and moods reflecting the lyrical themes. Opener “The Man Who Had It All” tells the story of someone who has come to his end. Opening line tells us “Jeremiah was a wino who lived from day to day”. As the track continues, it seems we are mourning his death. He is found dead by a “pigsty with the good book in his hands”, as he suggests that he is “trading places” for somewhere better. It seems Jeremiah had it all, then lost it completely.
The music goes from sad and charming to heavy and foreboding and then to jaunty and celebratory. It has a terrific mix of keys and guitar parts, sometimes with both harmonizing. At other moments, each takes the lead. It may only be five minutes in length, but it fair packs a lot into it. The jaunty section is quite reminiscent of the Beatles in its playfulness. On its own, this song seems to be a standalone track about someone famous who went off the rails and has died physically. However, when taken as part of the album, this could be the death of the rock and roll character and a rebirth to a fresher lifestyle. This is one where he considers other people and not just himself. I love tracks that work on two levels!
“P & C” has a stop-start heavier riff opening before going into a Spock’s Beard type of vocal harmony. The opening lyric is “13 tequilas done with a bottle of red”, describing his best night before going onto sing about the pain of the next morning when the hangover kicks in. He then goes on to suggest building a wall between “pleasure and consequences”, which changes to removing the wall as he wakes up to his stupidity and selfishness. The mix of heavier riffs and upbeat almost quirky vocal melodies is spot-on throughout. The chorus is as strong as any they have ever written. It is a real earworm.
“Table For Two” at its core is a simple-sounding love song to a wife or partner, almost a pop song, albeit one with time changes and elegant musicianship. The guitar solo underpinning the chorus is gorgeous. It does not swamp the words or seem out of place. The song and the melody are important to Magic Pie, there is no playing for playing sake. Lyrically there seems to be regret, perhaps the person is setting a table for two but one is not there? Has he lost the one he loves?
Keeping it melodic and heartfelt “Touched By An Angel” is also a love song where singer Eirikur sings and sounds remarkably like David Bowie in places as well as reminding me a little of early Enuff Z’nuff. This is more a blues style song with plenty of emotion in the playing and showing what Kim can do on the guitar. Even though there is quite a bit of soloing on this, there is no over playing. There is feel and warmth in the musicianship to match the words. Again there is regret and sadness here. A longing to go back to how things were. His lifestyle as sang about earlier has ruined his relationship and the best thing he ever had.
All that leads up to the big one for Magic Pie. “The Hedonist” is an epic at nearly 23 minutes. (Not their longest song that goes to the title track of the last album “King For A Day” at over 27 minutes… I recommend it highly). This is a tour de force with plenty of time changes and interplay between instruments yet flows beautifully. It is a musical workout, but one with plenty of melody (there is that word again) and hooks. Lyrically there are some great lines, for instance “I sell my soul in low places” caught my attention showing a hedonist’s outlook. The warning to “enjoy it while you can” as that way of life cannot last, at some point things will come crashing down and what are you left with?
Vocally it seems like he uses two different styles to emphasize the bad selfish type character and the one with a more positive attitude towards others (and the planet). There are some marvellous musical moments, from the “Xanadu” (Rush) opening with it’s gentle cymbal work to a slight Genesis keys at one point and the musical interlude in the middle (there is a section that sounds like a violin) which is delightful along with the way keys and guitar intertwine and play around each other. There is SO much to take in. I recommend getting the headphones on, close your eyes and go with the flow.
An album of great musicianship merged with melody and hard-rocking moments with intelligent and sometimes witty lyrics this is another superb album by Magic Pie that puts music first. I personally loved it!
Album out Friday 30 August on Karisma Records.