The Magic Numbers

Those the Brokes

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What does the Next Big Thing do in the age of the Internet, when their debut is praised beyond reason upon its release, but by the time they release their second album a year later, they've already faded from memory, replaced by a new sensation that truly did have some buzz on the internet? That's the question facing the Magic Numbers and their 2006 sophomore set, Those the Brokes, an album released just a shade later than a year after their eponymous debut, but for all the attention paid to it, it might as well have been released half a decade later. The debut was praised for being a sweet revival of the sun-kissed sounds of such breezy folk-pop bands as the Mamas & the Papas, a breath of fresh air, something that sounded like nothing else out there. The problem with being celebrated for being out of fashion is that when the fashions move on and you don't, you're left behind wondering why everybody has changed -- and that's what's happened with the Magic Numbers. Times have changed but they haven't, at least not enough for restless listeners on the prowl for something new, which Those the Brokes doesn't offer enough of to satisfy those listeners. Not that the Magic Numbers have served up an identical album here -- in fact, Those the Brokes is a looser, livelier album than its predecessor, significantly less cloying and precious than the debut. Which isn't to say that Romeo Stodart, his sister, and their friends have suddenly grown a pair: this is still sweet and gentle, lacking the sly wit and sinew that keeps Belle & Sebastian from descending into an icky twee abyss. But the Magic Numbers do try to stretch out like Belle here, trimming away the folk, amping up the pop hooks, and even drifting into white soul on numbers like "Undeclared." All of this is a welcome development and makes Those the Brokes a richer listen, even if it is a bit more ragged. It never quite sustains the mood the way the debut did, but taken as individual songs, this is often more appealing, although it takes a bit of time and effort for these distinctions to sink in, since they are subtle. And since the things that keep the Magic Numbers from a wider audience haven't changed -- Romeo's voice is still thin and reedy, they're still the wimpiest band in eons -- they're left struggling, potentially losing a chunk of their audience when they're actually turning into a better, more interesting band.

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