With 2009’s Ovations (the last official Piano Magic album if we exclude 2010’s self-revisiting limited edition Home Recordings) Glen Johnson and co. had arguably taken Piano Magic’s most electric guitar-driven phase to a logical end. Hence, in the spirit of the band’s cyclical ritual for reinvention – that has expanded and sustained Piano Magic’s life-span many times over since 1997’s Popular Mechanics long-player – Life Has Not Finished With Me Yet is a bold yet highly-refined transformation.
This is not to say that the members of Piano Magic have reincarnated themselves entirely, given that there are declared intentions here to revisit both the baroque elements that peppered 2000’s well-aimed Artists’ Rifles and the electronics that framed 1999’s sublime Low Birth Weight. However, the recent side-project intermingling and curatorship by group members throughout the consistently inspired work of the Second Language label has clearly had a positive effect on the more worldly aesthetical renovations of Life Has Not Finished With Me Yet.
Within the neo-classical “Matin,” through the arabesque throbbing of “Judas,” via the cinematic sci-fi synthscapes of “Sing Something” and “You Don’t Need Me To Tell You,” inside the pastoral flute-infused “Lost Antiphony,” within the madrigal-shaped title-track and amidst the ethereal wash of “A Secret Never Told,” the album manages to sculpt a cohesive refreshed sound that is both widescreen and intimate. As on Ovations, there is still some room for combining rubbery New Order rhythms and shimmering Durutti Column guitars (for the instrumental “Higher Definition”) and mournful Dead Can Dance-like prowling mediations (“(The Way We Treat) The Animals”) but there is an overall gliding flow that ensures that such marks of continuity seamlessly fit in with the self-rejuvenating new directions of the record.
Lyrically of course, Life Has Not Finished With Me Yet is yet another top-draw showcase for the wordsmith skills of Johnson. Even if the vocals (shared between Johnson, Angèle David-Guillou and guest Josh Hight) deliberately aren’t pushed to the top of the richly-detailed instrumental layers, it’s clear that Johnson’s gift for marrying bittersweet romanticism and the bleakness of the human condition is undimmed. Most notable in this respect is “(The Way We Treat) The Animals” (which if taken literally, could be Johnson’s answer to “Meat Is Murder”) and the titular track (with its mantra-style delivery of defeat and defiance duality).
Life Has Not Finished With Me Yet may not be the most instantly-gripping Piano Magic LP, however when granted some mandatory immersive listening its enveloping and eclectic embrace is hard to resist. Ultimately, there is a sense that the album may be a transitory step but that’s no bad thing given that the refreshed possibilities presented should allow Piano Magic to keep striding onwards peerlessly.