Based around the songwriting craft of Glen Johnson, Piano Magic have been chroniclers of gloom for well over a decade now. Maintaining their consistency, ‘Ovations’ shows no sign of lightening up. In their case – and thanks to some appropriate guest contributions – it’s a good idea too.
Ex-Dead Can Dance member Brendan Perry probably couldn’t believe his luck when presented with ‘The Nightmare Goes On’ for it is the perfect base for him to demonstrate his brooding, tremulous vocals. Elsewhere, his erstwhile band member, Peter Ulrich, lends his skills with ancient instruments for several more tracks. In fact the Dead Can Dance presence seems to cast its influence over much of the album as some of the material seems to be infused with almost Victorian atmospheres.
A criticism of Piano Magic is that they can be too cold to love. Witness ‘A Fond Farewell’ where glockenspiel and Ulrich’s darabuka and claves add interest but the song itself is arch and austere. They actually fare better when they resort to post-punk edginess; ‘Recovery Position’ and ‘The Faint Horizon’ (the latter completed by a thrilllingly intense coda) are lean and slick and prove that Piano Magic can excel at a visceral – as well as a cerebral – level.
As Piano Magic albums go, ‘Ovations’ is reliably doomy. Yet such is the talent of Glen Johnson and co. that even when they seem to be stuck in a miserablist furrow, they manage to make music which is always articulate and inventive and occasionally even exciting.
Dead Can Dance, Dead Leaf Echo