Magazine – Real Life | 1978 – 4
It’s fitting and proper that the Post-Punk era was duly ushered in by the debut Magazine album “Real Life” in the Spring of 1978. Having enabled indie punk the previous year with The Buzzcocks, singer Howard Devoto presciently saw the oncoming restraints of punk orthodoxy and opted out of that group after their first single. Like any intelligent young man besotted with the Bowie/Pop axis of art rock, he wanted to investigate the uncomfortable topics that are all to often ignored within “pop music.” Rather than exult in bombast or rock posturing, Devoto was more interested in picking the scab to see why the wound bled. The disc inside the brittle sleeve art by Linder Sterling couldn’t be more appropriate.
“Definitive Gaze” opens the album with a half minute of lurching reggae skank before transforming into shimmering synthpop when Dave Formula’s multitrack keyboards enter the soundfield. The middle eight features Formula and bassist Barry Adamson trading off deep funk riffs before Formula keys add the rolling melodic hook that cements the song in my cranium for hours/days every time I hear this. John Leckie’s lucid production is another feather in his cap as each element of the group is given prominence and separation. Listening to this music is almost effortless, though the arrangements are varied and more complex than most pop music of this time, they enter the ear easily and the idiosyncrasies of Magazine’s sound insure that Devoto’s uncompromising lyrics aren’t given a medicinal taint they might have had in a less accomplished setting.
The group’s debut single was re-recorded for the album to give it a compatibility with the album as a whole, since Mick Glossop’s production of “Shot By Both Sides” would have stuck out like a sore thumb against John Leckie’s production of the album. The embittered sentiments of the song were inspired by a statement that Devoto’s girlfriend made to him during a political discussion, and Devoto filed that rich phrase for future exploration. The memorable ascending guitar riff was provided by Pete Shelley, who got a writing credit for it even though John McGeoch’s capable guitar rendered it to tape. The single version from 1977 stands slightly more not eh punk side of the line, due to it having been recorded in 1977 and without the keyboard talents of Formula, who had yet to join the band at that point. The re-recording for the album is more firmly in the Post-Punk camp with it’s blending of guitars and keyboards.
Not so for the next track, “Recoil,” which stands as “Real Life’s” testament to the lure of amphetamine punk velocity. The track opens with a pulse-quickening rhythm maintained by original drummer Martin Jackson before speeding up to a breakneck speed until the end of the song, which cycles on a distinctive jerky stop-start rhythm on the fade. “Great Beautician In The Sky” opens like a circus waltz from some Theatre of the Absurd production, with Devoto singing broadly. This is entirely apropos given that Albert Camus was both inspiration to Theatre of the Absurd as well as to Howard Devoto. The song’s other face, appearing midway through the song, alternates a rock structured chorus with the waltz pattern of the verses. For hitting the goal of translating Camus’ existentialism into a rock context, I believe this can be seen as the penultimate climax of the album.
The album then peaks with the next track; a song I can never tire of hearing. “The Light Pours Out Of Me,” is my personal favorite Magazine song, sporting as it does, one of the tastiest guitar riffs of all time: E2/F#2/A2/F#2/C#3/B2. Many thanks to Mr. John McGeoch and Pete Shelley for hammering this music out! The baleful riff and its counterpoint heighten and release the tension of the song as Devoto keeps on an even emotional keel vocally. The song ends abruptly on a chord that decays from a ripping guitar solo to a full stop in a split second, leaving the listener wondering just what hit them. The the then album ends with its only ballad, the stately “Parade,” where the tick of a drumbox and Dave Formula’s cocktail piano bring the energy to a level of calm acceptance.
Magazine deserve all of their immense reputation for showing what could come after punk and for doing it so successfully. The debut album sold respectfully well, but the lack of a breakout single limited it success, ultimately. This has been put down to the fact that Devoto at first didn’t want to appear on Top of the Pops, miming to their debut single, “Shot From Both Sides,” which was then rising in the charts. When the BBC asked a second time, he relented only to deliberately mime the intense performance half-heartedly. The song dropped in the charts the next week. But history, if not the marketplace of its time has vindicated the debut of Magazine as one of the most influential and successful albums from the late 70s; one which all but defined the Post-Punk era.
Next: Secondhand Daylight revisited…