When The Magic Numbers first emerged five years ago with an eponymous debut LP, their uplifting West Coast harmonies couldn't hide hints of hidden troubles. This, their third album, continues the darker themes of 2006's Those the Brokes, while being careful not to lose the tunes. On the inlay, the iconic cartoons of their early days have given way to monochrome photos. Cartoons never age. Perhaps The Magic Numbers have decided they want to grow up a bit.
Main singer/songwriter Romeo Stodart takes lead vocals on most songs, his voice strung with romanticism. This is especially evident on album opener, The Pulse, a brave lament based around a simple hook. Drenched in orchestration, it's a strong calling card. Hurt So Good is reminiscent of 70s Fleetwood Mac, with gentle, churchlike backing vocals tiptoeing as if afraid to wake anyone up. The brisk folk of Why Did You Call? follows, while Angela Gannon takes the lead vocal on the elegant Throwing My Heart Away, which echoes Prefab Sprout at their most subtle.
The Magic Numbers earned initial success through constant gigging. In the studio however, particularly on their eponymous debut, they often failed to fully harness the strength of their songs. This time, frequent Bjork producer Valgeir Sigurðsson perfectly captures the bleaker mood. That said, The Song That No One Knows lopes like a hot summer afternoon; you can almost hear the gentle interplay of waves and lazily-opened beer bottles.
The baroque, Nick Drake folk of Restless River serves as an extended introduction to the biographical Only Seventeen. It's a lyrical highlight, but also a bit of an anomaly. The band's weakness is an unfortunate tendency to drift occasionally into MOR territory, and sometimes generic boy-meets-girl lyrics fail to keep the arrangements above water.
The aptly named A Start With No Ending plods like filler always does, and the album loses momentum towards the end, as mid-tempo lethargy drifts in. It's a shame that the quality gets lost in the quantity. Although Runaway is a fine part of their evolution, perhaps The Magic Numbers need to establish a sense of identity beyond generalised adventures in love.