I first encountered Magazine within the pages of the seminal Orlando New Wave paper, Dogfood. It was a review of the third Magazine album, “The Correct Use of Soap,” and it certainly sounded like a group that I should be hearing, so when I found a copy of the album in a domestic Virgin Atlantic pressing, I bought it. I should mention here that the cover design of that US edition features a unique cover variation for anyone familiar with Malcom Garrett’s classic design. Instead of the brown kraft paper texture behind the white oval as on every other copy, the US edition has a cool, pale gray color, and the white oval had been embossed on the cover.
I played that album and the Magazine virus hit me, but hard. They sounded similar to Roxy Music but with powerful, literate lyrics and a Post-Punk sense of attack. I was an immediate fan and became very interested in the activities of the talented individuals who made this group up. Howard Devoto had a place of dominance within the group setup due to his distinctive vocals and brilliant lyrics, but the musicianship the rest brought to the table was utterly top notch. Keyboardist Dave Formula was a player’s player with a very wide range of keyboard and synth tone at his disposal; making him the secret link between Billy Currie of Ultravox and Steve Nieve of The Attractions. Guitarist John McGeoch has already been discussed in depth as a New Wave MVP earlier.
Bassist Barry Adamson went on to have a fantastic career after Magazine disbanded in 1981, contributing to the classic first two Visage albums [along with Formula, and on the first, McGeoch] and finding himself as one of Nick Cave’s Bad Seeds in the eighties. Ultimately, he began his own frequently brilliant solo career to no small acclaim. Finally drummer John Doyle spiked the Magazine cocktail with an inventive array of rhythms that added vividly to the proceedings. After the group split, he joined McGeoch in the excellent post-Skids/Magazine supergroup Armoury Show.
Almost as soon as I discovered Magazine, they burnt out in a final album so fractious, that the group split even before its release in 1981. I then began working my way backwards and forward through their career; buying the pre-1980 albums as well as picking up intriguing ex post facto releases, the first and foremost of which was, pun intended, “After The Fact.” In the UK it had a green cover and was a selection of album cuts, a “greatest non-hits” if you will. Their American label, IRS Records, gifted US fans with a much more compelling selection of the band’s non-LP A-sides and B-sides that gathered up a lot of material that previously had no release in The States. The cover was changed to a red motif instead of the green.
By 1988, the original albums finally got a release on CD so I bought all five albums and in 1990, just as I was considering buying the US CD of “After The Fact,” Virgin instead compiled “Scree,” which was an all-but complete collection of rarities that gathered up all of the material it should have with the exception of the UK Single version of “Shot By Both Sides.” Furthermore, in 1993, the BBC released a half hour radio concert from 1978. It was short, but this was the first release of live material with original guitarist John McGeoch, before he left the band in 1980 to join The Banshees.
2000 saw the release of the Magazine boxed set “Maybe It’s Right To Be Nervous Now” as well as a complimentary single disc “best of” called “Where The Power Is.” The big pull on the boxed set was a third disc of Peel Sessions but at the asking price, I could not bite as I previously had much of the set on offer. Fortunately, in 2008 the Peel Sessions saw the light of day as a discrete disc unto itself. Then the unthinkable happened. Against all odds, Magazine reformed to play a series of reunion concerts in 2009.
The impetus for this was Dave Formula’s first solo album, “Satellite Sweetheart,” which saw all previous members of Magazine guesting. Devoto sang on “Via Sacra” and even McGeoch found himself contributing from beyond via tapes that Formula had discovered and edited for another track. All members were amenable to one more shot. Devoto had been working a day job since hanging up his second band Luxuria in 1991 and had seen his legacy and stature grow in inverse proportion to the occasional recordings he released after Magazine’s demise. Formula told Devoto “Howard, this is your last chance to be venerable.”
A brief five date tour was undertaken in 2009 after selecting Devoto’s former collaborator in Luxuria, Noko as the replacement for McGeoch, who had died in 2004. In 2010 the band reconvened to play a larger tour and some festivals with “The Soap Show;” wherein they played their entire “The Correct Use of Soap” album as half of their set. After that Adamson returned to his successful solo career, and Magazine enlisted Jon “Stan” White as the new bassist in the group. By the end of last year, word hit the street that Magazine were recording their fifth studio album. That brings us to October of this year, when the new Magazine album “No Thyself” hit the racks. It’s certainly time to review the Magazine body of work, including some live albums and compilations this time. The only live album I’m leaving out of this Rock GPA is the 2009 “Live And Intermittent” set because, frankly, though legitimate, is of bootleg quality. And how does Magazine’s now 33 year career stack up?*
After tabulation, ABC’s final ROCK GPA® is: 3.34, a B+ average. Magazine are aided by their lack of releasing any egregiously bad recordings and that keeps their GPA relatively high. The troubled fourth album, made as the band were disintegrating in 1981, is still head and shoulders above the level of work that many other favorite bands managed to foist off on their fans [see: Ultravox, Simple Minds, Duran Duran et. al.].
Next: We examine the albums beginning with the quintessential Post-Punk album, “Real Life…”
* Further listening has driven a change of mind regarding my earlier ratings of “Secondhand Daylight” and “Magic, Murder, And The Weather.”