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Magic Happens

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Album Review

From the debut single, "Tom Verlaine," onward — barring the minor glitch that was the mini-album Tell 'Em We're Surfin' — the Family Cat's work was generally well received by the British music press. Unfortunately, that enthusiasm never really translated to sales figures, either at home or abroad. This second album on the Dedicated label underscores how unlucky the quintet from Yeovil was, never to achieve any significant commercial success. There's a certain amount of continuity from the 1992 predecessor, Furthest From the Sun, but Magic Happens is a more fully realized, polished achievement. This time around, the band's textured, melodic rock also has a consistently harder edge. This can be heard not only on driving tracks like the singalong opener, "Wonderful Excuse," and the charging, explosive "Airplane Gardens," but also on down-tempo, brooding numbers shot through with searing guitars: the melancholy power ballad "Your Secrets Will Stay Mine" and "Amazing Hangover," a song that captures the moody feel of its title. Although Magic Happens showcases the Family Cat's knack for variations in intensity and pace from one track to the next, those shifts are most compelling when they're seamlessly integrated within the same song. The standout "Move Over I'll Drive," for instance, swaggers along darkly in 6/8 time, occasionally bursting out of its quieter, slower spaces, and ultimately gathers momentum to build to a guitar-fueled climax. The title of the closer, "Nowhere to Go but Down," was ironically prescient, since this album proved to be the Family Cat's swan song. While Magic Happens is a fitting epitaph for one of the better British guitar bands of the period, it inevitably begs the question: why was this group left watching from the sidelines as their less-talented guitar-based contemporaries profited from the Brit-pop explosion of the mid-'90s?


Formed: 1988 in Stoke Newington, London, England

Genre: Alternative

Years Active: '80s, '90s

Formed in Yeovil, England in 1988, the noisy Family Cat comprised vocalist Paul Frederick, guitarists Stephen Jelbert and Tim McVay, bassist John Graves and drummer Kevin Downing. After making their London debut the following April, the group was promptly signed to the fledgling Bad Girl label, soon issuing their debut single "Tom Verlaine" to widespread acclaim. With ex-Jam member Rick Buckler handling production chores, the Family Cat recorded their first mini-LP, Tell 'Em We're Surfin', in 1989;...
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Magic Happens, The Family Cat
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