Howard Devoto, after a very short recording stint with the popular Buzzcocks band back in 1976, formed with schoolmate, Pete Shelley, started Magazine, a band that utilized more musical pathways in a post-punk era to create four scintillating studio efforts in varying degrees of artistic acceptance over three years (1978-1981). Joined by guitarist, John McGeogh, who helped Devoto form the shifting sounds of Magazine, the band found themselves the cup of tea of a widening group of admirers, as much for the lyrics as for the range of music.
Magazine welded together influences including David Bowie (heard clearly in “Burst” from Real Life and in other selections as well) as well as being influential (Radiohead cites Magazine as an influence as does The Edge from U2, who cites McGeogh as an influence.) A listen to Real Life’s “My Tulpa” and you realize that Magazine helped to frame the sounds of new wave that were yet to widely break. It used keyboards that were anathema to the stripped down Punk sound. But, defying the punk standard of the day, Devoto formed Magazine to be a hybrid of punk appeal with textured music that was anything but fast and hard punk. Magazine progressively moved forward until their final album, Magic, Murder, and the Weather (1981), which was released after the band had decided it was time to go separate ways.
The debut album, Real Life (1978) was preceded by two 7” singles, with 3 songs that were not included on the album. It reached a high position on the UK charts, and interested the hip college radios and a batch of savvy fans in the US. The grooves of Real Life were loaded with excellent music beginning with the influential music of “Definitive Gaze,” the excellent “Shot by Both Sides,” and simply everything that this album has on it.
It was followed up by the advanced Secondhand Daylight (1979), which was also preceded by two singles, with only one song that would be included on the album. This album traveled a different path than Real Life. It was willing to go further, now that Magazine had an audience, to make the kind of music that Devoto preferred. The album is still quite Bowie-esque, no surprise since Devoto’s intent was to model Magazine after Bowie (Heroes) and Iggy Pop (The Idiot). The standout song on Secondhand Daylight is the chilling “Permafrost.”
As the new decade rolled in, Magazine was there to greet it with what is arguably termed their masterpiece, The Correct Use of Soap. Titled after ads depictions in reference to a B-side song of an album preceding single, The Correct Use of Soap charted higher than Secondhand Daylight. It was more an album of accessible songs that included a daringly new-wave funk cover of Sly and The Family Stone’s “Thank You (Falettinme Be Mice Elf Agin),” thus effectively helping to usher in the new era of music.
In 1981, Magazine was already beginning to dissolve beginning with the defection of their guitarist, John McGeogh to Siouxsie and The Banshees (eventually going to PiL with Johnny Lydon.) Howard Devoto had already declared his time with Magazine at an end, leaving the remaining members unwilling to continue the band without direction from Devoto. Barry Adamson, the band’s bassist, would move onto work with Pete Shelley and then Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds. The release of Magic, Murder, and The Weather (1981) would prompt critics and fans to consider it the weakest of the band’s output. Regardless of that assessment, there are some fine moments on this album that include “The Honeymoon Killers,” “The Great Man’s Secret,” and the reggae-flavoured “This Poison.” The bottom line here is that, what is considered Magazine’s least, is still better than many bands’ better works.
Virgin Records revisited these titles with new original analogue tapes remasters (2007) and have defined each album with all of the preceding singles that were released in advance of the four albums discussed earlier (see track-listing below for bonus tracks.) The remasters sound excellent. The expanded booklets with liner notes by Kieron Tyler add an element of greater understanding of the band that was loved by a small cult following. What are missing are the lyrics, which have shown up in past remaster packages, making them notable omissions here.
If you’re unaware of Magazine or had ignored them back in the late ‘70s, early ‘80s for whatever reasons (you’re forgiven now), there is no better time to become a fan. You’ll marvel at the depth of the band, even on their first album. I recommend starting with their first, Real Life, because you’ll integrate within yourself the same sense of excitement as each album is discovered in proper succession. You’ll amaze at their growth and progression and feel – as we all did – a sense of loss as the final album finishes.
Grab these while you can!