MAGAZINE The Correct Use Of Soap (EMI)

It’s something of a mystery why Magazine don’t enjoy a higher profile than the cultish status that rock history has consigned them to. After all, here was a band whose lineup boasted former and future members of Buzzcocks, Nick Cave’s Bad Seeds, Public Image Ltd. and Siouxsie’s Banshees – surely a post-punk Bluesbreakers if ever there was one. Added to which, they were signed to the majorest indie label of the time (Virgin, who had managed to propel albums by Mike Oldfield and Sex Pistols to number one despite their comparatively lowly status) and had console titans John Leckie and Martin Hannett producing them.

Their albums were pretty good too, their third, “The Correct Use Of Soap”, arguably being amongst their finest achievements. It doesn’t hang around, leaping straight out of the traps with the jabbing, staccato attack of “Because You’re Frightened”, energised by Hannett’s speedy production. Coloured with keyboard shadings, at times Magazine suggest a jerky, Northern Squeeze, especially on the convoluted pop music of “I’m A Party”. A cover of Sly & The Family Stone’s “Thank You (Falettinme Be Mice Elf Again)” is stiff-limbed and gangly; its anti-funk is a bit too Talking Heads.

However, it’s the ballads that find Magazine at their most enigmatic and unique. Prime examples here are “You Never Knew Me”’s dispassionate dissection of a relationship, the resignation of “I Want To Burn Again” (its inconclusive chorus “And I still turn to love / I want to burn again” suggesting The Byrds’ chestnut “Everybody’s Been Burned”) and the brilliant “A Song From Under The Floorboards”, a study of psychological dislocation that, when issued as a (non-charting, naturally) single, carried a dedication to Dostoevsky.

This 2007 reissue comes bustling with bonus tracks, if you like that sort of thing (and even if you don’t, I suppose). B-sides “Twenty Years Ago” and “The Book” clearly wouldn’t have fitted seamlessly into the main feature, being yelping and squally and an edge-of-hell narrative respectively. “Upside Down”, another flipside, is more entertaining, sonically and temperamentally more of a piece with the album it trails. It’s almost like a classic Motown or Spector single that’s been stripped down and refracted through Howard Devoto’s imagination.


“So this is real life”, crackles Howard Devoto reflexively on the first track of Magazine’s 1978 debut album. This might be post-punk, but there’s still a definite (defiant?) punk sneer amidst Dave Formula’s luxuriant, soaring keyboard work. Taking Bowie’s “Low” and Iggy’s “The Idiot” as reference points and rejecting the negativity and repetition of punk, at once jerky and upholstered, Magazine’s sound was so post-modern it would take another quarter of a century before Franz Ferdinand snuck it into the mainstream.

“Shot By Both Sides” was the band’s first single, its escalating riff and Devoto’s vocals, barked like a desperate Dickensian villain, make it sound like sinister soundtrack music, a comparison made more apposite by Magazine’s later b-side cover of the “Goldfinger” theme. “The Great Beautician In The Sky” plays like decadent cabaret, more Weimar Germany than late 70s Manchester, and the majestic “The Light Pours Out Of Me” finds a potentially conventional chugging rock song given a stereophonic swirl and buffed to an opulent sheen that resembles Wire at their poppiest. “Parade”, about as far from punk as the album could get, drapes a piano ballad in Enoesque ambience.

So, another very fine Magazine album, then, one that compounds the mystery of why the band never attained household name status, or even the top ten placings afforded near-contemporaries such as Joy Division and Public Image Ltd. This 2007 reissue again offers bonus tracks and an insightful booklet essay, fitting treatment for an album that seems incapable of ageing.

MAGAZINE / IPSO FACTO Manchester Academy 14 February 2009


Ipso Facto are a female quartet whose black dresses and severe matching black bobs lend them a distinctly 1960s aesthetic. Musically, they’re a bit Yeah Yeah Yeahs and a bit Sleater-Kinney, albeit in a retro-stylised fashion, throwing in something that if it wasn’t a Spector cover should’ve been. Terse but entertaining.


An interminable wait between bands is only enlivened by the skipping of the CD feeding the PA. A guy behind me yells for them to hurry up, as if after 28 years another few minutes are going to make all that much of a difference. Onstage, finally, shiny-headed Howard’s opening oratory admits that he’s doing this to impress a lady…so that’s the reason that this most anti-nostalgic of organisations have reformed to play an evening of material of which even the youngest examples are well into their late twenties. Well, that and the fact that they’ve sold out the Academy on Valentine’s Day, prompting a second date two days later. It’s been a long time coming, but this smells something like a victory.


What did they play? What didn’t they play, more like? The evening included great gobs from their “Real Life” and “The Correct Use Of Soap” albums, conveniently for me as they’re the only Magazine albums I own. They opened with a blindingly good “The Light Pours Out Of Me” (more than living up to its opening line “Time flies…”) and although any ovation in this venue would obviously be a standing one I can’t recall ever hearing applause last that long before. Well, it’s a homecoming gig, but even so… Unfortunately the venue’s imprecise acoustics threaten to muddy the songs’ pristine surfaces into something resembling a sonic soup, even on the slower tunes, but at least some semblance of their detached brilliance seeps through. “Permafrost” seems a bit swampier and scuzzier than I remember it, and during “The Book” Devoto delivers his gates-of-hell narrative from behind what looks like a Possibly the evening’s biggest surprise, though, is their house-trained sugar-coated pop version of Captain Beefheart’s “I Love You, You Big Dummy”.


Not every tune was staggeringly brilliant: my preference is for their slow-to-medium ballad moments, and that held true tonight. But what’s good on these terms is great. Magazine sound right about now: despite the absence of new material, this is no dusty nostalgia exercise, it’s more like a lap of honour. Times and tastes have finally caught up to where this band were at 30 years ago.


MAGAZINE / SECOND SKIN The Bridgewater Hall, Manchester 29 August 2009


The quartet Second Skin seem like almost exactly the kind of band who might have supported Magazine first time around. They play moody, dark post-punk with more than hints and suggestions of Comsat Angels and Echo & The Bunnymen, albeit with strands of post-Radiohead new prog in their winding long-windedness.


Tonight Magazine are strongly rumoured to be showcasing their third album, “The Correct Use Of Soap”, and happily, unlike some artists I’ve seen this year, they make good immediately with a thrilling rendition, complete and in sequence. Perhaps inevitably, nothing impresses me more than closer “A Song From Under The Floorboards”, one of the band’s defining moments, but to hear the whole is undoubtedly a fabulous experience. In between songs Howard Devoto demonstrates the correct care and feeding of records using a vinyl copy of the album (the take home message being to never lend them to your friends, it seems) and when they leave the stage at the album’s conclusion the sound of a locked groove echoes a ways into the interval.


On returning they treat us to some of the bonus bits from the CD reissue. Devoto delivers “The Book” from a lectern, just as he did during the band’s February comeback shows, this portion of the evening also taking in “Twenty Years Ago”, “Upside Down” and a few fragments of wonderment from elsewhere in their discography, including “Parade”, “Permafrost” and the bounding brilliance of “The Light Pours Out Of Me”.


Just a couple of niggles tarnish the evening. The seated Bridgewater Hall’s highly optimised acoustics are great for more, uh, serene artists such as Van Morrison and The Blue Nile, but they seem rather swamped by post-punk in a way the standing Academy wasn’t six months earlier. And the omission from the setlist of their biggest hit, “Shot By Both Sides”, seems like a travesty. Surely they can’t be bored of it already?


MAGAZINE / IN FEAR OF OLIVE Manchester Academy 4 November 2011


I later learn that tonight’s support band are named In Fear Of Olive, but with their meshing of acoustic, electric and slide guitars and loose-limbed Northern Britain take on Americana they might as well be called Gomez. (Well, apart from when they sound like Coldplay covering Neil Young’s “Helpless”.) Since the world is hardly saturated with Gomez clones, though, the similarity is hardly a bad thing.


It’s another not-totally-packed-out night at the Academy, and if actually being able to see the band I’ve paid to watch is a side-effect of global economic meltdown it’s a welcome one. It would be nice to hear them properly as well: the first few lines of Howard Devoto’s vocals on “Definitive Gaze” are drowned out, and the PA remains fitfully crackly throughout the night (“CRACKLING NOISES O.K. DO NOT CORRECT!”).  Normally a somewhat camp Master of Ceremonies (last time at the Academy his stage props included a lectern) Devoto is relatively restrained tonight, merely brandishing placards during “Definitive Gaze” that read, if I recall correctly, “Let’s fly away to the world” and “You do the meaning”.


The band are great at rhythm but, maybe due to a swampy, unsympathetic mix, not so good on melody. Always a strength on record, the cadence and cascade normally found in practically every song seems strangely flattened and subdued tonight. Honourable exceptions are the paranoid funk of their cover of Sly & The Family Stone’s “Thank You (Falettinme Be Mice Elf Agin)” (perhaps influenced by Talking Heads’ cover of “Take Me To The River”) and a splendid “The Light Pours Out Of Me”, whose relative simplicity arrives gloriously unconfuddled. “A Song From Under The Floorboards” is magnificent despite the muddle, Devoto introduces “Permafrost” with the question “Tonight, I dunno, have there been enough songs about the wrong kind of sex?”, to which the answer, evidently, is no, and “Parade” is replete with a modified version of the waitress/table interlude found on the “Play.” live album. The final encore is their gloriously kinetic cover of Captain Beefheart’s “I Love You, You Big Dummy”.


These songs don’t creak like they’re 30 years old, and neither does the band. They better their last Manchester show, playing “The Correct Use Of Soap”, tonight simply because The Bridgewater Hall, wonderful venue that it is, ain’t the place for loud, ride, raucous post-punk, but maybe not their first reunion show in this very venue as, back then, they didn’t have a new album to plug. All comparisons aside, though, it’s an experience worth having.

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