Monday, February 14, 2011

Magazine - Secondhand Daylight

Secondhand Daylight (1979) ****

Magazine's sophomore LP certainly lives up to its cover: dark, chilly, brooding, desolate, as titles like "Permafrost," and "Rhythm of Cruelty," might clue you in.  Though still much indebted to the style they'd pioneered on Real Life, the band slows down for a more ponderous approach and downplays the rock guitar in favor of Dave Formula's frosty sci-fi synths.  It's a considerably less accessible record than the debut due to the slower pace and subsequent lack of danceable rhythms (not that Magazine were particularly danceable in the first place), and as the way such matters go will be/is/was beloved by their cult and shunted off by the mainstream critics & masses as not quite up to the debut.  The two LPs are a dead heat in my reckoning.  The same problems that plagued the debut are still nettlesome:  chiefly, Devoto's dire singing, which will no doubt turn off 90% of initial listeners but oddly grows on you, even if his most ardent supporters would be loathe to go so far as claim that they love it.  And then there's the Teutonic seriousness that makes Ian Curtis look like a happy-go-lucky lad in comparison, and overinflated operatic melodrama that would make Springsteen blush.  Those last two factors are also crucial aspects of the band's appeal; a happy, bouncy danceable Magazine penning modest little two-and-a-half minute pop jingles is impossible to fathom (at least at this point in Devoto's this space for upcoming developments), and who would desire that in the first place?

The difference between the openers on their first and second albums is telling.  Both started off with a minute or so of instrumental keyboard tunefulness, but whereas "Definitive Gaze," was propulsive and bursting, "Feed the Enemy," stalks a harsh, hollow musicscape with grim foreboding before Devoto unravels his enigmatic tale of survivors of a plane crash in hostile foreign territory.  The lyrical edges are generally sharper and more focused this round than before, as Devoto alternately intones icy detachment and spits sarcastic venom; sex seems to be his (oh so typical) target, as he rails against a lover who's "too damned good looking for your own good," in the aptly titled ode to sadomasochism, "Rhythm of Cruelty," that would pass as musically the choice cut for A-side single if not for the lyrical content.  Elsewhere he rants, "here comes the love of your life..." adding the sarcastic world-weary punchline, "...once again," "another sick monkey with an angelic face," in the punkish raver, "Believe That I Understand."  He boasts on the lyrically most infamous track, the closer, "Permafrost," that he plans to "drug and fuck you on the permafrost," as the band offers icy "In Every Dream Home a Heartache"-derived synth-goth.  The highlight to me however is the two-track stretch that begins with the pretty, Eno-ish instrumental, "The Thin Air," that segues into the nearly 7-minute epic, "Back to Nature," that could almost pass muster as a Lamb Lies Down on Broadway era Genesis cut, with its epic synth-prog majesty mingling with dankly gothic medievalisms. 

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