Magazine – Play | 1980 – 3
It’s a sad fact of life that the decision was made to record a Magazine live album following the point where their defining guitarist John McGeoch decided to split for greener pastures in The Banshees. The vexation is further compounded by the fact that the tour was for the transcendental “Correct Use Of Soap” album, which features an absolutely perfect balance of guitars, keyboards, drums and bass contributing to a unified and coherently powerful sound that, by all rights, should have seen the group assailing the charts in a big way.
But it didn’t. McGeoch left and his replacement, Robin Simon, at best functioned as a John McGeoch placeholder. On paper it could have hardly been a better match. I view Simon as the definitive Ultravox guitarist, and his work on “Systems Of Romance,” was certainly as vital as McGeoch’s, and also Alan [Associates] Rankine’s, in defining the coming role of guitar in the Post-Punk period. John Foxx certainly agreed since he’s continued to use only Simon whenever he’s wanted a guitarist in his sound for the last thirty years! But McGeoch’s boots seem to intimidate him and he’s just serviceable on this album.
Which means that Dave Formula takes the opportunity here to fill the void of power that this album offered him. Formula has never met a melodic filigree he didn’t like, and in that respect, he’s much like Steve Nieve of The Attractions for me. He has the same musical horror vacui that Steve does and he sees fit to embellish the playing with an astonishing level of keyboard detail. He often is playing dual keyboards mixing piano and synth sounds simultaneously. The feel of several songs is transformed because of him. Admirers of Formula will have much to chew on with this album!
The non-LP single “Give Me Everything” attains an early Steve Winwood feel due to the robust Hammond sounds Formula lays on the track. I heard the song first from this album, and the stiffer Tony Wilson single production just doesn’t swing as much to these ears. There are some unusual pacing and segue choices made on this album, which was recorded in Melbourne, Australia. “A Song From Under The Floordoards” has an extensive, jazzy piano coda that gives the track a new cold ending that’s somehow delightful in spite of the world-weary lyrics. “Permafrost” appears early in the sequencing and it’s hard to imagine anything but finality associated with that number! More jarring is that the harrowing outro is built into an extended coda/segue into “The Light Pours Out Of Me.” It’s well executed but nonetheless feels wrong. “The Light Pours Out Of Me” is further altered by Devoto’s singing of two of its verses in French.
“Twenty Years Ago” is the B-side from “Song From Under The Floorboards” and this must be a key composition to Devoto since it figures on every live recording the group recorded following its writing. I have it as a studio recording that figures on most Magazine compilations. I also have four different live versions of it. “Scree” contains both the studio and a live version, from the B-side of “Sweetheart Contract.” The take on offer here seems more dissolute than the others. McGeoch’s sax is missed here. Another startling segue takes this song to the disc’s closing take of “Definitive Gaze.”
This album is full of great material that suffers somewhat for the absence of McGeoch. As a collection of Magazine works, it is definitive enough to work as an introduction to their work, though ultimately, more disjointed than the albums it’s drawn from. It’s telling that Robin Simon did not stay with Magazine following this tour. He answered John Foxx’s call to play on his subsequent “The Garden” album, which functions as a continuation of the sound and themes they first explored on “Systems Of Romance.” His ambivalence is here on this album, for all to hear.
Next: Magazine issue that “difficult” fourth album…
This is the ONLY live album I have ever purchased. I don’t need any others…the whole “capturing a band live” thing leaves me emotionless usually and never felt it necessary to buy a live album by anyone I have ever seen live as I might ruin the experience. Talking Heads is a great example…I have never heard a live recording of the expanded band that came anywhere near the experience I had seeing them in Central Park in the summer of ’80 with 50,000 others spilling out all over the Park dancing in wild abandon to Life During Wartime.
While it’s not a perfect album, the performances of Permafrost and Twenty Years Ago are really memorable for me and worth the purchase.
As for Twenty Years Ago, I think it belongs on Soap and is equal to the tracks chosen. I love the chaos of the song and Devoto’s vocal abandon. It has a very automatic writing as song feel to it.
I wish Robin Simon had been more bold on the album, but he might have had the weight of a band in flux keeping him from breaking out or attempting to make too much of an impression.
There’s a lot more “live” Magazine available in 2011, incl. a 2CD “Play”…so more to choose from.
ronkanefiles – Yes, I need to get the 2xCD RM of “Play.” It’s probably the best legit showcase for McGeoch on disc two, apart from the BBC set, which is only a half hour.