Saturday, February 12, 2011

Magazine - Real Life

Real Life (1978) ****

Abandon all punk all ye who enter here.  After quitting the Buzzcocks after the seminal ("Orgasm Addict") Spiral Scratch EP, singer/lyricist Howard Devoto tilts full shove into art-rock mode:  this sounds more like Genesis on steroids than anything else, with its melo-melo-MELO-dramatic flourishes and smothering weight of synth-heavy keyboards.  A modernist goth Genesis, mind; this is another one of those albums where the music inside more or less accurately reflects the cover.  Better than that, actually, as the cover is pretty amateurishly crappy, isn't it?  Mastermind he may be, Devoto is actually the weak link musically.  His eerie venomous off-key spit suited garage punk to a tee, but on this more melodic fare, his portenteously delivered vocals let down the drama:  it helps to be able to sing when you're being this melodramatic.  Keyboardist Dave Formula dominates, but guitarist John McGeoch (later of Siouxsie & the Banshees and PiL) peels off enough hooky riffs to keep this squarely in the realm of rock not synth-pop, and in post-punk fashion, bassist Barry Adamson has his moodily grunting lines pushed forward in the mix.  Ah, forget what I said, this doesn't sound like Genesis at all unless all keyboard-heavy rock does, that was a lazy comparison:  touchstones are more typical post-punk likes as early Roxy Music and Berlin-era Bowie/Iggy. 

The nine tracks mostly fall into the category of mid-tempo mini-melodramas, with dashes of punky energy.  The lead single and band's most famed track, "Shot By Both Sides," is in fact a recycled Buzzcocks tune co-written with Pete Shelley; the Buzzcocks rewrote it as "Lipstick," and Magazine as this tune, a paranoid bleat of an outsider who gets squeezed from both sides of the ideological/punk gang spectrum and finds himself running "to the outside of everything."  It's simpler, punkier, and more direct than most of the other tracks, and generally the better for it, though it doesn't overshadow the other material:  it's a consistent album of evenly flowing quality and stylistic unity.  "Recoil," is another frenetic punk blast, and the closer, "Parade," also sticks out by virtue of being a ballad, with the hook-chorus line, "Sometimes I forget that we're supposed to be in love."  That icily modernist emotional detachment sets the tone for this debut and pretty much the rest of Magazine's entire career (which would get even icier on the followup LP), whether it's the quirkily cold sci-fi hooks of the opener "Definitive Gaze," or the retelling of the JFK assassination from an omniscient third-party point of view in "Motorcade."  The carnivalistic waltz of "The Great Beautician in the Sky," may come across as a little hokey, but it's followed by perhaps their defining slice of mid-tempo building drama, "The Light Pours Out of Me," which is oddly rousing in a detachedly anthemic way even if I couldn't have the faintest clue of telling you what it's about.  As one of the founding musical cornerstones of that vaguely but easily defined genre known as post-punk, this is only a shade less essential than the first three Wire albums and much more listenable than what John Lydon was pantomiming at the time.  The definitive gaze of this darkly gothic, melodramatic synth-rock works its mope-rock hypnosis compulsively and compellingly.


  1. I was very interested in what you had to say. I fully go along with your opinion that Howard Devoto was a weakness rather than a strength. I love the magazine songs dispite him rather than because of him. However he is part of the charm - I mean Bob dylan could reasonably be regarded as a totally crap singer too.

    I will say that the B sides and such are better than most of the released LPs and I would say that first disc is a important part of the Magazine era. You were also a bit kind to the 2nd Lp. I had my copy for 30 years and still cannot get into it.

  2. Another wonderful batch of write-ups here, man. I know they should probably be one of my bread and butter bands ("new wavers from Manchester" describes any number of my favorites), but I've just found Magazine a tough nut to crack. I have Real Life on vinyl and I get it out occasionally, but I always find myself checking to see if the record is almost over while it's playing (usually not a good sign). I certainly respect their importance, but I just don't find that I enjoy the music all that much.