By the time that Magazine returned to the studio to record their fifth album, they had lost Barry Adamson, who was happy to take a vacation in Magazine, but not take up permanent residence. And that’s completely understandable. He’s subsequently eked out an excellent, viable solo career for himself. And truth be told, I still want his solo albums. He’s got too much to offer on his own. So with that event, Jon “Stan” White, who had played bass on Dave Formula’s solos album took his place in the Magazine lineup. The band had used Formula and Noko on “placeholder bass” during writing and White stepped in during the recording phase. He did use flanging for the distinctive Magazine bass sound of Adamson throughout, but overall, his style is less funk oriented.
Strangely enough, when you press “play,” the first voice you hear is that of Rosalie Cunningham, who sang in Ipso Facto, a [now defunct] band that opened up for Magazine during their first 2009 tour. “Do The Meaning” got it’s title and chorus courtesy of Pete Shelley, but it receives its propulsion courtesy of guitarist Noko’s classically flanged riffs. Following Ms. Cunningham, Devoto enters the track sounding like he’s about to lose his grip. Welcome back, Howard.
One of the most controversial tracks here follows. “Other Thematic Material” juxtaposes the basest sort of sexual power and domination with utterly trivial suburban banalities. Devoto minces no words as The Man, he issues sexual commands to a woman in the most direct way possible. By contrasting this to what sound like quotes from a woman speaking [due to the demeanor of his delivery] cut up and jumbled into a non-linear collage [is this the same woman hearing The Man’s commands?] one is left with a diminishment of the sexual dominance; it being ultimately equivalent – as trivial and banal, as what the woman is saying. On the other hand, perhaps Devoto is showing what lies just under the surface of daily existence, which purports to be trivial, but is motivated by base animal desires. Knowing Devoto, I’d gamble on the latter hypothesis. Musically, Dave Formula gets to come dangerously close to his synth lines from “Definitive Gaze” in what seems to be a deliberate attempt.
“The Worst Of Progress” takes a pained, frantic look at mortality. The music is desolate and more than a little reminiscent of the tone on “Secondhand Daylight,” while sounding nothing like Bowie material. Devoto exhorts the listener to “reach for that far off shore, one day you’ll reach no more.” Devoto has said that the album is mostly concerned with sex and death, and these last two numbers dive right into those themes without hesitation.
The single [perversely on 10″ only] is “Hello Mister Curtis [With Apologies].” This is another track dealing with mortality. Guess who’s. Devoto’s tone is dryly mocking of both Ian Curtis’ and Kurt Cobain’s suicides, but he manages to be self-deprecating as well as he proclaims his will to die “like Elvis, on some godforsaken toilet.” That line in punctuated by a Formula synth line sounding remarkably like a flushing sound. Then, laying it on with a trowel, Devoto opines “I hope I die, before I get really old” twice at the song’s end. He manages to invoke the blackest of humor while making certain that the joke is ultimately on himself.
Devoto has said that the band saw no point in deliberately making a jazz record at this point, but know that there are some new vistas explored on this album. “Physics” sounds for all the world to me like some Floyd Cramer countrypolitan tune. Maybe even an outtake from Dylan’s “Nashville Skyline” with Al Kooper sitting in on organ for good measure. That’s appropriate since is was a quote from Dylan, “Religion – it wasn’t meant for everyone,” that sparked the genesis of the song. The delicate ballad is a rarity in the Magazine canon. Only “You Never Knew Me” from “The Correct Use Of Soap,” comes to mind. And even then, this sports a radically different sound.
Next come two of the most memorable tracks in the program. “Happening In English” is sticking in my brain heavily just now, and I’m not complaining. It’s dark tone, similar to that on “The Worst Of Progress…,” suggests the heavier end of the Magazine spectrum. The track opens with drummer Doyle offering a rare Krupa beat that propels the song forward inexorably. Noko adds lashings of trebly, acid riffs to underscore Devoto’s paranoid delivery. The subsequent “Holy Dotage” is even catchier, if less dark as it once more mocks Devoto’s inexorable march of morality.
“Dim, diminished seventh of myself,
my fat mouth is slobbering on.
The innessentials of my soul,
I’ve reduced them down to one.”
The guitar here by Noko defiantly refers to the tone he used on the Luxuria albums he made with Devoto years ago. Given that Formula played on “Beast Box,” the second and last of these in 1990, it is tempting to think of this track as being from a Luxuria reformation.
The final track on the ten track regular version of the album is a stunner. “The Burden Of A Song” opens with a lyric that all but encapsulates the approach of Howard Devoto.
“My bitterness is gleaming,
My goodness is screaming.”
The driving intense music leaves behind the jazzy, nihilistic dub of the preceding “Final Analysis Waltz” to end the album on an active, almost scorching level of intensity. Doyle’s drum pattern refers to Martin Jackson’s “The Light Pours Out Of Me,” but the tempo is faster. Time is running out and this last transmission has to reach the listener before it’s too late. But having concluded, we do have room for a more relaxed coda.
Editions of the album purchased from the band at their management’s Wire-Sound website come with an exclusive eleventh track, “Blisterpack Blues.” The vintage 70s funk style of the cut sees Formula hitting the clavinet pretty hard. Bassist Stan’s flanged bass goes straight to the Bootsy side of the tracks, and the result is the funkiest Magazine track since their cover of Sly Stone’s “Thank You [Fallettin Be Mice Elf Agin]” on “The Correct Use Of Soap.” The final line in the chorus is shared by backing vocalist Rosalie Cunningham and Devoto as she begins the lyric phrase and he finishes it, giving it a subtle morphing quality.
The question of rock reunions, especially in these, the end times, hold many perils for those who attempt them. But in the case of Magazine, there was nothing about them that was tied to their youth to begin with, so they simply return older, tougher, and wiser for the intervening thirty years. Their music has little in common with the themes and concerns of rock and roll. They lose no credibility with age since their credibility was entirely artistic in the first place, and art has nothing to do with the age of the practitioner. In fact, age only makes them better. More grist for their artistic mill, as it were. This leaves Devoto and company in an enviable position to issue further dispatches as they see fit. Their template of rock music that deals thematically with the difficulties of living will always be relevant to thinking listeners as they excel both at the visceral and emotional attributes of either end of that artistic continuum.
– 30 –