Sunday, August 11, 2013

Magazine: The Elder Edition

Magazine, a band that once meant so much to me, is back and as is often the case it's not quite the band I remember.

Magazine has reunited after a 27 year hiatus with hairlines and two original members gone (the late, great John McGeoch and innovative bass player Barry Adamson [seen above, at right] who left after joining for some gigs in 2009). The remaining vestiges of the nearly geriatric band may offer something other than what it might've been—this is no Secondhand Daylight—still, those vestiges aren't half bad.

Before the hiatus and somewhere between the second and third album (ca. 1980), singer and lyricist Howard Devoto had already begun a transformation. Always one to take himself and the work a little too seriously, though it was part of his charm, Devoto's transformed vocal style yielded a softer, less edgy, more lilting, and at times histrionic approach: Think early Bowie (Laughing Gnome era) crossed with Anthony Newley without the vibrato or chops. I call it Devoto's dinner theater period. At the same time, keyboardist Dave Formula took more prominence as the band's sound sculptor, these two factors combined brought Magazine closer to the middle of the road, a dramatic departure from the band's earlier punk and post-punk incarnations. Eventually McGeoch would have enough (not agreeing with the lighter keyboard-laden sound) and would leave to join Siouxsie and the Banshees (helping to create some of the best Banshees material of their career, a point on which Siouxsie agrees), and later Public Image Ltd. Even before McGeoch's departure, the band began flirting with a more bubblegum sound. By the time of About the Weather, the band had slipped into a full retro AM radio splendor, especially Motown, which only two years before would've been unthinkable. As a fan, I'd follow them nearly to the end, albeit reluctantly. By the fourth and final album––a record still capable of the decent odd tracks––Magazine was over. (There'd be no tour.) Devoto would go on to pursue a short-lived solo career (Jerky Versions of the Dream, see Rainy Season below) and then follow that in a collaboration with future elder Magazine guitarist Noko in Luxuria. Both latter day iterations would be interesting, but neither would be close to classic period Magazine. 

With all that in mind, hearing the new album No Thyself (2011) it's understandable that one might be prepared for a grave disappointment. Instead, while the album does have its janky moments, it's an overall relatively impressive work, far better than anyone had a right to expect. When keyboardist Dave Formula, a highly skilled and gifted musician, takes the forefront it tends to pull things rightward. Things tend to go better when more space is given to guitarist Noko, in fact he may be the album's MVP. 

Readers of this blog know I'm always delighted when old guys do good. It's clear that Magazine's band of elder baldies still has much to say. Good on 'em: Hear No Thyself here.

The elders in 2009:

Post-Classic, post-McGeoch:

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