Magazine - Second Life
- Neil Cooper
- 21 August 2009
This article is from 2009.
On their return earlier this year, Magazine received ecstatic words. Now, Neil Cooper is convinced lighting can strike twice
Valentine’s Day is the perfect time for reigniting love affairs. This year, in a concrete hall close to Manchester University, a 28-year absence was breached and a long-term unrequited tryst finally fulfilled when post-punk fabulists Magazine returned to the city they rose out of almost three decades earlier. With a back catalogue book-ended by paranoid anthem and debut single ‘Shot By Both Sides’ and the Dostoyevsky-inspired hymn of self-loathing, ‘A Song From Under the Floorboards,’ Magazine never quite got their just desserts.
Now, though, vocalist Howard Devoto, bassist Barry Adamson, keyboardist Dave Formula, drummer John Doyle and guitarist Noko – Devoto’s foil in post-Magazine project Luxuria – replacing the late John McGeogh, were back to dazzle. At the back of the stage a giant mural by Linder Sterling – vocalist with Ludus and some-time muse to Devoto and Morrissey — expands the chalk-faced Kabuki masks that adorned the cover of Magazine’s 1978 debut album, Real Life to monumental effect.
Offstage, Devoto recites a litany of how the reformation came about via a call from Formula saying it was a last chance to be revered. More importantly, Devoto relates how there was this woman who he really wanted to impress. Then ‘bam!’, as an insistent drum-beat is overlaid with the ominous gloop of the accompanying bass-line to ‘The Light Pours Out of Me,’ part Glitterband stomp, part twisted Bond theme. Devoto looks delighted as he extravagantly conducts the band like an overgrown infant. As the chorus breaks into self-deifying euphoria, what sounded polished on record is born again with urgency and edge beyond the whip-crack textured arrangements, which open out to reveal a surprising amount of funked-up soul.
Visually, things are similarly well-drilled. Midway through the whirligig waltz of ‘The Great Beautician in the Sky,’ Devoto leads Rosalie Cunningham, über-bobbed singer with support band Ipso Facto, by the hand to the microphone as the song segues into the faux-noir melodrama of ‘The Honeymoon Killers.’ For Faustian spoken-word oddity ‘The Book’, a lectern is brought onstage, Devoto’s beaming visage behind it part lecture-room boffin, part village green parson. As the Glasgow show confirmed a few nights later, every introduction and aside by Devoto is rehearsed word-perfect. This wasn’t just a gig, it slowly dawned on rapt observers. This was pure theatre.
‘The curious thing about the shows in February,’ says Devoto in between preparations for ‘The Soap Show’, a performance of Magazine’s third album masterpiece The Correct Use of Soap, which arrives at Edinburgh’s Edge festival next week, ‘was that I enjoyed them. In the past, and it’s no secret, I didn’t particularly enjoy gigging, so these subsequent shows are part of a forensic investigation into how come I enjoyed them. I’ve learnt that the phenomenon is repeatable, even in freak conditions like those we just experienced in Spain when we were blown offstage by the weather and required to leave after 20 minutes and not go back. But it’s no secret either that a lot of preparation went into our shows. To go back to something as intense as the Magazine stuff took a lot of work and energy at all kinds of levels.’
For some, Magazine’s marriage of Proustian lyrical ennui set to a backdrop of science-fiction punk-prog-glam sounded too polished, too cryptic and far too clever for its own good. The double-edged implications of the band name – part coffee table gloss, part loaded gun – came across as too ambitious, too ambiguous, too close for comfort and far far too early. Some time in 1981, prior to the release of their fourth studio album, Magic, Murder and the Weather, Magazine stopped, Devoto, calling time on a band way ahead of theirs.
Today, with their songs covered by Morrissey and Jarvis Cocker, Magazine’s complex and ambiguous glory can be recognised as the missing link between Roxy Music and Radiohead, and their now extended second coming is to be cherished. The Correct Use of Soap may be a young man’s album, but today, the wisdom of experience makes it sound more insightful than ever. Here is an album, as one review put it on its release in 1980, full of ‘Songs about love, songs about fear, songs about the fear of love and the love of fear.’
‘Somebody reminded me lately,’ Devoto muses, ‘that I’d always said that album was designed to have a timeless quality. Now, 30 years on, I feel fairly vindicated. We were quite young when we made it, but those songs don’t feel like kids stuff, and as I start to step back into them, they still seem to stand up.’
Ask Devoto how long Magazine will continue this time round and he remains teasingly vague. Ask whether the woman of his opening monologue was suitably impressed, however, and a terse ‘Yes. Thank you.’ speaks volumes. As for ‘The Soap Show’, Devoto’s meditations remain meticulous.
‘A friend asked me how I prepare,’ he says. ‘I told him it was breath by breath, word by word, note by note. That’s how it has to be.’
Magazine, The Picture House, 08444 999 990, 30 Aug, 7.70pm, £25. Magazine DJ at the Bang Bang Club@Gilded Balloon, 622 6552, 30 Aug, 12.30am, £8.