Albums Reviewed by Mark Bayross
The legendary Magazine, led by former Buzzcock Howard Devoto, have released not one, but two retrospectives. The first,MAGAZINE…WHERE THE POWER IS, is a definitive “best of” and serves as an effective introduction to the band’s canon. The second, MAYBE IT’S RIGHT TO BE NERVOUS NOW is for the more hardened Magazine fan, inhabiting a whopping three CDs and containing a whole host of B-sides, alternate versions, live tracks and rarities.
Rather than describe over four hours of music for this review, I’ll concentrate on the rather more concise first album and point out a few highlights from the mammoth 3-CD set.
The power punk of the opening SHOT BY BOTH SIDES (Magazine’s 1978 debut single) sets the scene: hook-laden and spirited guitar pop with Devoto’s sneer both melodic and hammily dramatic and Barry Adamson’s bass tunefully subsonic. Next up, the operatic keyboards of MOTORCADE make it sound like slowed down early Sisters Of Mercy, but the song demonstrates the occasional tempo-change for which Magazine became famous.
THE LIGHT POURS OUT OF ME is a dead ringer for Joy Division (although Martin Hannett didn’t produce the band till later), while DEFINITIVE GAZE is upbeat electro pop that sounds like the Specials meets Talk Talk with a load of bizarre sound effects thrown in. PARADE is even stranger, as saxophone competes with piano and more spacey sound effects, while RHYTHM OF CRUELTY (the first look-in from second album SECONDHAND DAYLIGHT) is guitar pop that would not sound out of place among today’s crop of so-called indie bands.
BACK TO NATURE, at just under seven minutes, is the longest track here, and kind of throws everything into the pot: shifts in tempo, atmospheric keyboards, chiming guitars, chunky bass and Devoto’s slightly Lydonesque vocals. PERMAFROST is a slow-burning dose of nihilism, marrying some Gothic vocals to a plodding beat and tortuous guitars. FEED THE ENEMY adds to the demented mood with a paranoid vocal delivery and effects that pop out unexpectedly from the mix, while SWEETHEART CONTRACT almost a comedy song in comparison, with its upbeat tempo and what sounds like a gang of children on backing vocals.
By the time we get to 1980’s THANK YOU, Magazine have found the sound that would become so characteristic of the mid-80s – electro-funk. After the rather low-key YOU NEVER KNEW ME, A SONG FROM UNDER THE FLOORBOARDS is a fantastic pop moment, replete with a killer keyboard line and strangely fitting honky-tonk piano, while BECAUSE YOU’RE FRIGHTENED harks back to the Buzzcocks with punky guitars and nervy vocals.
After the very British ABOUT THE WEATHER this chronological compilation ends with THIS POISON, a rather curious affair where reggae meets harmonica blues. Typical Magazine, then. It’s an ideal way to end a superlative collection of songs, but of course, this is not the end of the story.
As I said before, MAYBE IT’S RIGHT TO BE NERVOUS NOW goes into a lot more detail, as it sprawls across three CDs. Containing pretty much all of the tracks found on WHERE THE POWER IS, in both live or studio versions, it also offers the opportunity to sample some of the band’s more wigged-out B-side moments, such as TWENTY YEARS AGO, THE BOOK and their cover of GOLDFINGER.
So, if you’re new to Magazine, I’d advise you to investigate WHERE THE POWER IS and discover a varied and talented band who crammed a hell of a lot into four years and were way ahead of their time. Essential stuff.