“The Magician’s Birthday” was the second Heep album by the classical line-up featuring Hensley, Byron, Box, Thain and Kerslake. It was also the second album with a Roger Dean cover. And moreover, it was the second album the band released in 1972.
After a long 1972 tour Uriah Heep were rushed back into the Lansdowne studios to record a follow-up to their break-through and much acclaimed album “Demons and Wizzards”.
As Hensley states in the notes, they felt that were never really given the time it took to record the album, which was originally planned to be a “complete” concept album. Though it may have been rushed it nearly matches its great predecessor. The band, and especially Hensley as a songwriter, were at the peak of their creativity and many of these songs have become classics and favourites. The extensive list of bonus-tracks clearly illustrates what a great period this was for the band. Unfortunately the hard work took its toll on some of the band-members; but that’s another story.
The first track, Hensley’s dramatic “Sunrise”, is the perfect opener, with great lead and harmony vocals.
Another highlight is the melodic rocker “Blind Eye”, driven by acoustic guitars and featuring a nice twin-guitar theme; also a Ken Hensley song.
Two songs released as single A-sides were “Spider Woman” (Europe) and “Sweet Lorraine” ( America), and where the first is a rather traditional heavy-rocker, “Sweet Lorraine” has all it takes to become a classic. Great whining riff, fine breaks and a catchy chorus. Simply one of the most memorable Heep recordings; written by Box, Byron and Thain.
As the most versatile songwriter in the band Hensley also demonstrates a talent for writing melodic ballads such as “Echoes in the Dark” and the quiet piano accompanied “Rain” with great lead vocals.
“Tales” is the closest the band get to playing folk-rock on the record; another fine recording.
Though the title track has its moments, it somehow feels too longwinded with its ten and a half minutes playing time.
Among the bonus-tracks Gary Thain’s “Crystal Ball” is a nice surprise; sad that his constitution was strong enough to take the strain of heavy touring etc.
Though not quite as consistent as “Demons and Wizzards” still one of Heep’s finest albums.