Howard Devoto was always Magazine's editor-in-chief. He was the words man and the singer and the master of ceremonies all rolled into one dynamic package. He put together the first line-up in 1977 after deciding that he wanted to try something a bit more adventurous than being in Buzzcocks – as great a guitar band as they were. Devoto left them with 'Shot By Both Sides', in that instance a razor sharp love song. Once it became Magazine property it took on a cooler, fatalistic bent with a side order of morbid humour. So it went as the single missed out on a Top 40 placing when Howard refused to lip-synch to the track but stood there stony faced. Tut tut.
The arrival of Dave Formula on keyboards heralded a flurry of line up changes but smarter critics soon latched on to the debut album, Real Life, an album that avoided straightforward noise and concentrated on a more forward thinking approach exemplified by the opening 'Definitive Gaze' before really gathering steam during 'The Great Beautician in the Sky' and 'The Light Pours Out of Me'. Small wonder this album regularly features in lists of the greatest debut discs of all time.
1979's immaculate Secondhand Daylight concentrated minds again as Devoto and McGeoch built a layered edifice of quiet violence culminating in the shocking imagery of 'Permafrost'. Brittle rhythms, deadpan lyrics and Formula's eerie synth drones aside this album goes head on with the listener, forcing as many emotional issues as is possible into the time assigned. Today it seems magnificently deranged – imagine if Captain Beefheart was born in Manchester. Demons are afoot.
John McGeoch would leave after third album, The Correct Use of Soap, joining Siouxsie and the Banshees, but not before Magazine made their strongest statement to date. Returning to some of the bouncier moods of Real Life, the band also discovered their own version of dance music and hit upon the eccentric pop grooves of 'A Song from Under the Floorboards' and the elegant 'Sweetheart Contract'. Perhaps just as startling was their cover of the Sly and the Family Stone soul lurch, 'Thank You (Falettinme Be Mice Elf Agin)', which took some nerve but was carried off with rare aplomb. The remastered with bonus material, including 'Twenty Years Ago' and 'Upside Down' is a consistent delight. This album was also played in its entirety when Magazine performed at the Royal Festival Hall in 2009 to standing ovations. It too stands up.
Enjoying a fruitful period of collaboration with producer Martin Hannett the band entered the hallowed ground of Trident Studios in London to make Magic, Murder and the Weather (1981). Given the internal tensions within the group – Devoto was none too pleased by McGeoch's sloping off for a start – this disc was somewhat pigeonholed at the time as the last hurrah when in fact it now looms up again as a superb piece of admittedly nerve shredding post punk art. New guitarist Ben Mandelson slotted into place and co-wrote 'The Honeymoon Killers' with Adamson and Devoto and it sounds like the cornerstone for some pretty damn outré compositions. 'This Poison' and 'Suburban Rhonda' are bang on the money and the remaster, featuring 'In The Dark' and 'The Operative', helps make sense of a period when trouble could still be parlayed into triumph. Devoto's ever more cynical lyrics and Formula's frozen keys are the dominant force and the impression left is of a band going out with an aggrieved bang. Far better that than a damp squib whimper.
Howard Devoto's decision to try another guise left Magazine with little choice but to join him; even so the wryly-named compilation After The Fact is a posthumous treasure. It includes their version of 'Goldfinger' (Shirley Bassey never did it quite this way) as well as The Magic Band's 'I Love You, You Big Dummy', a much-admired B-side.
In retrospect it's easy to see and hear just how Magazine have impacted on the more avant garde end of pop music they trail blazed and left in their wake. It seems as if they've also fallen back in love with what made them excel, a fine example of time lending detachment.
Other ways to discover the band abound. The live Play (recorded at Melbourne's Festival Hall in 1980) proves they could translate abroad while the compilations Rays and Hail 1978-1981: The Best of Magazine; the excellent companion disc Scree – rarities 1978-1981; and Where The Power Is are all fine items in their own right. Once you've digested those you could also try Maybe It's Right To be Nervous Now or the seminal The Complete John Peel Sessions.
A fan choice is also the Touch And Go Anthology, featuring 'Give Me Everything', the luscious 'Model Worker' and curveball tracks like 'My Mind Ain't So Open' and 'TV Baby' that are a pertinent reminder - Magazine didn't just transcend the indie punk movement, they blew it into the dust. Shot by both sides, they live to fight another day.
This is something of a return to standard operational form for Magazine, who thawed after recording Secondhand Daylight to throw together an energetic batch of colorful and rhythmically intricate songs. It's an unexpected move considering that they enlisted Martin Hannett (Joy Division, A Certain Ratio, Crispy Ambulance), master of the gray hues, as the producer. A looser, poppier album than its predecessors - somewhat ironically, a cover of Sly & the Family Stone's "Thank You (Falettinme Be Mice Elf Agin)" is the most subdued song - it features the rhythm section of John Doyle and Barry Adamson at their taut, flexible best and guitarist John McGeoch at his most cunningly percussive. Save for the called-for razzle-dazzle on "Sweetheart Contract," keyboardist Dave Formula takes more of a back seat, using piano more frequently and no longer driving the songs to the point of detracting from the greatness of his mates, as the most frequent complaint of Secondhand Daylight goes. Howard Devoto's lyrics are also a little less depressive, though they're no less biting. The closing "A Song from Under the Floorboards" - another near-anthem, an unofficial sequel to "The Light Pours Out of Me" - includes sticking Devoto-isms like "My irritability keeps me alive and kicking" and "I know the meaning of life, it doesn't help me a bit." His themes of distrust and romantic turbulence remain focal, evident in "You Never Knew Me" ("Do you want the truth or do you want your sanity?") and "I Want to Burn Again" ("I met your lover yesterday, wearing some things I left at your place, singing a song that means a lot to me"). "Because You're Frightened" is the closest they came to making a new wave hit, zipping along with as much unstoppable buoyancy as Lene Lovich's "New Toy" or the Teardrop Explodes' "Reward," yet it's all fraught nerves and paranoia: "Look what fear's done to my body!" Song for song, the album isn't quite on the level of Real Life, but it is more effective as a point of entry.
Words: Andy Kellman
Howard Devoto had the foresight to promote two infamous Sex Pistols concerts in Manchester, and his vision was no less acute when he left Buzzcocks after recording Spiral Scratch. Possibly sensing the festering of punk's clichés and limitations, and unquestionably not taken by the movement's beginnings, he bailed - effectively skipping out on most of 1977 - and resurfaced with Magazine. Initially, the departure from punk was not complete. "Shot by Both Sides," the band's first single, was based off an old riff given by Devoto's Buzzcocks partner Pete Shelley, and the guts of follow-up single "Touch and Go" were rather basic rev-and-vroom. And, like many punk bands, Magazine would likely cite David Bowie, Iggy Pop, and Roxy Music. However - this point is crucial - instead of playing mindlessly sloppy variants of "Hang on to Yourself," "Search and Destroy," and "Virginia Plain," the band was inspired by the much more adventurous Low, The Idiot, and "For Your Pleasure." That is the driving force behind Real Life's status as one of the post-punk era's major jump-off points. Punk's untethered energy is rigidly controlled, run through arrangements that are tightly wound, herky-jerky, unpredictable, proficiently dynamic. The rapidly careening "Shot by Both Sides" (up there with PiL's "Public Image" as an indelible post-punk single) and the slowly unfolding "Parade" (the closest thing to a ballad, its hook is "Sometimes I forget that we're supposed to be in love") are equally ill-at-ease. The dynamism is all the more perceptible when Dave Formula's alternately flighty and assaultive keyboards are present: the opening "Definitive Gaze," for instance, switches between a sci-fi love theme and the score for a chase scene. As close as the band comes to upstaging Devoto, the singer is central, with his live wire tendencies typically enhanced, rather than truly outshined, by his mates. The interplay is at its best in "The Light Pours out of Me," a song that defines Magazine more than "Shot by Both Sides," while also functioning as the closest the band got to making an anthem. Various aspects of Devoto's personality and legacy, truly brought forth throughout this album, have been transferred and blown up throughout the careers of Momus (the restless, unapologetic intellectual), Thom Yorke (the pensive outsider), and maybe even Luke Haines (the nonchalantly acidic crank).
Words: Andy Kellman
Virgin issued the contents of this set, in the same order, as the third disc of the three-disc Maybe It's Right to Be Nervous Now, a Magazine box set released in 2000. Once again, here are the band's four sessions for John Peel's BBC program: February 14, 1978 (just prior to the recording of Real Life); July 24, 1978 (three months after Real Life's release); May 8, 1979 (just after the release of Secondhand Daylight); and January 7, 1980 (prior to the recording of Magic, Murder and the Weather). Had Virgin not kept the single-disc Where the Power Is in print, this would be a decent introduction to the band, as it features some of their best material -- in addition to a slowed, seething take on Buzzcocks' Devoto-era "Boredom" -- in vigorous condition.
Words: Andy Kellman
This compilation of 16 tracks came out in 2000;highlighting the definitive sound of this post punk band, formed by Howard Devoto in 1977 after he had left The Buzzcocks. Where the Power Is features many of their best tracks taken from the four albums they recorded between 1977 and 1981. Highlights include ‘Shot by Both Sides’ – an enormous punk anthem; ‘About the Weather’ and ‘Songs from Under the Floorboards. Howard Devoto’s voice shines throughout this collection taken from their sadly short lived career. As one reviewer has stated “Post Punk at its best”.
Secondhand Daylight, the second Magazine album, sounds like it must have been made in the dead of winter. You can imagine the steam coming out of Howard Devoto's mouth as he projects lines like "I was cold at an equally cold place," "The voyeur will realize this is not a sight for his sore eyes," "It just came to pieces in our hands," and "Today I bumped into you again, I have no idea what you want." You can picture Dave Formula swiping frost off his keys and Barry Adamson blowing on his hands during the intro to "Feed the Enemy," as guitarist John McGeoch and drummer John Doyle zip their parkas. From start to finish, this is a showcase for Formula's chilling but expressive keyboard work. Given more freedom to stretch out and even dominate on occasion, Formula seems to release as many demons as Devoto, whether it is through low-end synthesizer drones or violent piano vamps. Detached tales of relationships damaged beyond repair fill the album, and the band isn't nearly as bouncy as it is on Real Life or The Correct Use of Soap - it's almost as if they were instructed to play with as little physical motion as possible. The drums in particular sound brittle and on the brink of piercing the ears. Despite the sub-zero climate, the lack of dance numbers, and the shortage of snappy melodies, the album isn't entirely impenetrable. It lacks the immediate impact of Real Life and The Correct Use of Soap, but it deserves just as much recognition for its compellingly sustained petulance. Even if you can't get into it, you have to at least marvel at "Permafrost." The album's finale, it's an elegant five-minute sneer, and as far as late-'70s yearbook scribbles are concerned, "As the day stops dead, at the place where we're lost, I will drug you and f*ck you on the permafrost" is less innocuous than "All we are is dust in the wind."
Words: Andy Kellman
We all know the drill: a successful songwriting partnership breaks up, and the defector goes on to form a band that either sounds exactly the same as his former band-- or one that sounds exactly the same, but much, much worse. In the annals of pop music history, Magazine were something of an exception, seeing how they matched the Buzzcocks in many ways while still spiraling off on several new tangents. If the Buzzcocks were a melodically inclined punk band that helped transition punk to new wave, Magazine were a new wave band that retained the fury and edginess of punk. The difference may have ultimately boiled down to the use of synthesizers, but still, Magazine posed much darker stuff than the Buzzcocks, and differently, too. As spin-offs go, Magazine were no mere copycats. They were something else entirely.
Howard Devoto was only in the Buzzcocks for a few months before ceding control to Pete Shelley. And, burning hot and bright, Magazine itself lasted only a few years. What they released, though, comprises one of the most distinctive catalogs in new wave, ranging from "Shot by Both Sides", the defining outburst of alienation, to more refined takes on the same subject like "A Song From Under the Floorboards", the last of Magazine's songs to feature founding guitarist John McGeoch before he jumped ship to Siouxsie and the Banshees.
That line-up switch is pivotal to Magazine's Play, a 1980 live album recorded in Australia and featuring McGeoch's freshly tapped (and short-lived) replacement Robin Simon. Most bands wouldn't have dared press "record" with the new guy barely installed, but clearly Magazine knew what they were doing. While hardly epic, the disc bristles with intensity and arty, angular grit. In fact, for a while, Play might have been the best introduction to the band, as it showcases several of the group's best attributes-- Devoto's acidic singing, the disorienting keyboards, and future Bad Seed Barry Adamson's pulsing bass.
That's not really the case anymore, since the band's four studio albums are widely available in remastered editions and Magazine's discography has been distilled down to the pretty solid best-of Where the Power Is. For more enthusiastic listeners, there's also the 3xCD companion Maybe It's Right to Be Nervous Now, which featured several of the group's most familiar songs, either live or in alternate form. And finally, there's the small matter that Play lacks the trademark "Shot by Both Sides".
Yet it's still substantial. Magazine were plenty muscular and, for a new wave act, not afraid to drop the sheen in favor of something less polished. Not that the likes of "Definitive Gaze" or "The Light Pours Out of Me" were ever particularly polished, but Play does show off the more feral side of the band, even when toning down the guitars on "A Song From Under the Floorboards" or deconstructing Sly Stone's "Thank You (Falettinme Be Mice Elf Agin)". It's for fans only at this point, but arriving just in time for next year's reunion, Play is a welcome reminder of the band's prowess.
Words: Joshua Klein
Magazine's final studio album, Magic, Murder and the Weather, finds Dave Formula's washes of cold, brittle keyboards dominating the bitter and cynical music. Occasionally, Howard Devoto's weary lyrics surface through the icy mix, but it's clear that Devoto and Magazine have both had better days.
Words: Stephen Thomas Erlewine
Scree: Rarities 1978-1981 is a thorough assemblage of A-sides and B-sides that essentially can't be found on any of Magazine's studio records. Even in the event of title duplication ("Rhythm of Cruelty," "The Light Pours Out of Me"), the disc offers alternative mixes. The strength of the disc isn't merely due to the excellence of non-album A-sides like "Touch and Go," "Give Me Everything," and "Upside Down"; in most cases, the B-sides rival the A-sides or, at the very least, would have made fine album material. The opening "My Mind Ain't So Open," which was the B-side to Magazine's debut single "Shot By Both Sides," is a hyperactive tune with bleating saxophones and screaming guitars, the most straight-ahead punk song the band recorded; unlike the remainder of the band's material, the structure is relatively traditional and doesn't feature the prominent keyboards that became integral to their sound. Covers of Captain Beefheart's "I Love You You Big Dummy" and John Barry's "Goldfinger" are as good as you'd expect (see Buzzcocks' Time's Up for a more faithful version of the former, recorded before Howard Devoto's defection to form this band), and a trio of live cuts from the Sweetheart Contract 12" ("Feed the Enemy," "Twenty Years Ago," "Shot By Both Sides") add icing to the cake. Altogether, the collection is just as essential as the band's first three studio albums. Apart from the live material on this disc, most of the tracks became available again in 2000 on the Maybe It's Right to Be Nervous Now box set.
Words: Andy Kellman