The Correct Use of Soap (1980) ***1/2
Claimed as the "accessible" Magazine album, I actually found this harder to get into than the first two: jettisoning the cold wave of Secondhand Daylight for a more mature, mainstream New Wave sound ("overproduced by Martin Hannett," as Jello Biafra put it, and you can tell), and to a smaller extent the morbid kabuki theatrics as well. Oh, how I miss the darkness - dark, throbbing grandeur was half the point of the original Magazine, and Howard Devoto just doesn't move me with the lighter, poppier touch. Still, it's not as if it's not a fine collection of songs - a few misfires here and there, but what Magazine album doesn't have those? - it simply lacks the thematic vision of the previous two albums, and thus lives or dies on its strength as a collection of New Wave pop songs. It begins and ends with the strongest tracks: roaring out of the gate with exciting synth-pop swirl, "Because You're Frightened," and closing with the stately centerpiece, "A Song From Under the Floorboards," slightly reminiscent of "The Light Pours of Me," in pace and atmosphere. Smack in the middle lies the third standout track, "Philadelphia," which successfully marries the trademark gothic chill to heady funk. It's that introduction of the funk element that proves problematic - with that noted exception, the syncopated bass lines don't so much catch groove fire as retard the thrust, with the horrid, slowed-tempo version of Sly Stone's "Thank You (Falettinme Be Mice Elf Agin)" the album's low point. "Sweetheart Contract," was the hit single (U.K. only, naturally) but doesn't sound it; it's an OK little pop song, but I understand better why the band buried it deep on side two, more than I understand why the public bought it. "You Never Knew Me," is a pretty piano ballad that would've been immensely improved they'd found some other singer than Devoto, i.e., a singer that could sing, carry notes and stuff, y'know? This album is actually closer to a 3.25 than a 3.5, as it is a considerable disappointment compared to the first two, but there are enough other strong tracks that I haven't mentioned yet such as "Model Worker," and "I'm a Party," to make it a worthwhile use of 40 minutes of your life that you'll never get back. It's a pretty good new wave album, all in all, nothing more or less. Bring back the gloom! Bring back the pretension!