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The Magician's Birthday
Uriah Heep

Mercury 652
Released: November 1972
Chart Peak: #31
Weeks Charted: 22
Certified Gold: 1/22/73

Ken HensleyMany people are under the strange misconception that Uriah Heep is a Jonnycomelately heavy band that learned all its licks from Ritchie Blackmore's brilliant Deep Purple in Rock and never went anywhere. Not so, as in reality Uriah Heep not only have roots as thick as your arm but have played with such heavies as those Rolling Stone Guys.

The Heep Saga started long ago with a group called the Gods which featured the songwriting work of Ken Hensley and the guitar of Mick Taylor (later to join John Mayall's Bluesbreakers). The Gods were a psychedelic fop foursome, only a stone's throw from Skip Bifferty, and wore the typical English Fag garb that was par for the course. But alack, these Gods did not hit-songs make and they disbanded, succeeded by the agonizingly ill-conceived Toe Fat, again featuring the mighty organ and penpower of Ken Hensley. It was soon back to the old drawing board for Kenny, not one to be defeated by such trifles, and so was born Uriah. Uriah Heep.

Uriah Heep - The Magician's Birthday
Original album advertising art.
Click image for larger view.
At the time the Heep seemed another band in the King Crimson vein, doing the pretentious art/ hard & heavy trip very well. Their first album (Very 'eavy, Very 'umble) won them no large amount of fans, and their second (Salisbury) was a fairly good heavy album released in an unstrategic time (within the midst of a wave of Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young mania). It died a death, but Look At Yourself was another story, the turning point for the band. It was about this time that Uriah Heep was touring America and ripping up halls across this fine land of ours, blowing such major attractions as T. Rex and Cactus clear into the back alleyways, despite drastic changes in personnel which had taken place only weeks before. Mick Box's untypical stage routine was hitting home with American youth, and David Byron's crotch-oriented mike stand antics were a smash. Our boys, once the laughing stock of everyone in New York save for Jonathan Eisen, were a bona fide success!

Nowadays we don't find that Uriah Heep have changed all that drastically, and their stage show reflects the same qualities of the group that the albums do (in that you like them for a little while, but you wouldn't want to listen all the way through). Oh, nowadays you can see Mick Box and Gary Thain cocking heads and charging at each other like bulls, and Mick Taylor sits in the third row inconspicuously (perhaps a bit envious of Mr. Box), but it's the same band with houses in the country and some additional cash. Who else does "Blue Suede Shoes" with five-part harmony and synchronized dance steps?

The Magician's Birthday is nothing new or surprising, and is in essence a case of Let's Have Another One Just Like The Other One. Perhaps they're getting more "artistic," and "Sweet Lorraine" sounds like a hit single to me (it also sounds like "Hold Your Head Up" and the title track bears a strong resemblance to Grand Funk's "Closer To Home" and Taste's "What's Going On" in the grand tradition of rock & roll plagiarism). But despite the fact that nothing revolutionary is going on here, this is Uriah Heep's best album hands down.

- Jon Tiven, Rolling Stone, 3/15/73.

Bonus Reviews!

Continuing in the mythically mystical vein of Demons & Wizards, Uriah Heep firmly plant themselves as a British super-group. The dramatic impact of David Byron's voice can in no way be discounted. The arrangements are flawless, creating a phantasmigoria of sounds and sub-related visual imprints. Choice cuts are "Sunrise," "Tales" and "Echoes in the Park." A very pleasant trip indeed.

- Billboard, 1973.

If you believe what you read in Circus (and I do, I do!!) Uriah Heep organist Ken Hensley's original plan for this album called for a total concept opera-like work about a five-hundered-year-old magician who hosts a birthday party to which he invites all of his supernatural acquaintances. But Ken's fellow group members were less than thrilled by the project and talked him into limitng his contribution to just five songs.

Having heard those five songs, I can only say that I wish they'd been more persuasive in getting him to scrap the whole thing. Not that their own song gifts prove particularly scintillating but at least we'd have been spared lyrics like: "Weaker than a moment/Hot as any fire/Blinder than the blind eye/This is man's desire." C'mon guys! Adding to the general chaos is Dave Byron, who handles the lead vocal chores with all the subtlety of a trip-hammer operator, proving once again that breathless intensity makes a poor substitue for true interpretive capability.

For the most part the production of The Magician's Birthday can be described as overblown... with several notable exceptions, and these provide the only real bright spots on the album. "Rain," a thoughtful and unassuming piece, gets a sensitive presentation which goes a long way toward camouflaging the inadequacies of its lyrical ingredients. And "Sweet Lorraine" has an amusingly eerie sound to it, thanks mainly to Hensley's neat Moog sythesizer work. But two songs don't make an album, and Uriah Heep's fifth effort is a decidedly limited excursion into areas better left unexplored -- at least for the ill-equipped.

- Ed Kelleher, Circus, 3/73.

Spooky Uriah Heep has landed on Earth again, and this time they've turned from demons and wizards to magic. With hard-rocking songs about spiderwomen, blind eyes, weird echoes and magicians, Heep conjures up a wall of sound which boasts wild guitar, fractured moog and smashing drum work. As usual, the group's longer pieces are the most interesting, and the extraterrestrial story lines keep things floating well above the leaden atmosphere of mediocrity.

- Ed Naha, Circus, 3/73

Magician's Birthday continued to expand the mystical concerns of Demons & Wizards, and it was nearly as successful, thanks to the group's knack for heavy guitars. * * * *

- Daevid Jehnzen, The All-Music Guide to Rock, 1995.

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