The arrival of a convenient vinyl record cleaner has spawned an orgy of long-neglected-vinyl listening. A couple of Magazine records were uninspiring, and I began to doubt my attraction to this fashionably fringe late 70s band until I hit their 1980 live LP ‘Play’. Their early records were at the cerebral and keyboard-driven end of the punk explosion. The single ‘Shot by Both Sides’ was a stand-out slam-rocker from the Virgin Records double LP sampler Virginity that made big waves amongst my senior high school set around 1979.
So during this vinyl hygiene phase I started picking out the later records of their splintered career. ‘Magic Murder and the Weather’ and ‘The Correct Use of Soap’ are titles that titillated me at the time, indicate the cerebral intentions of lead singer and lyricist ex-Buzzcock Howard Devoto, and contain some fine moments, but don’t hit the sweet spot.
Live LP ‘Play’ includes many tracks that appeared on what was their current release on this particular tour, ‘The Correct Use of Soap’. But unlike the latter, ‘Play’ has just earned my 5-star rating.
Magazine’s first two LPs were classics. ‘Real Life’, followed by ‘Secondhand Daylight’ were clever, energetic examples of songcraft and musicianship. These studio efforts were the basis on which many hoped that Devoto’s career was headed for the motherlode. ‘Magic’ and ‘Soap’ allowed the strain of personnel changes and poor sales to disrupt the flow.
But in the middle of that latter phase, a slightly rough-around-the-edges recording at Melbourne’s Festival Hall in September 1980 revealed what the later studio efforts obscured. Five fine musicians getting into a groove in front of an audience.
I am listening to ‘Secondhand Daylight’ right now. It has a special sense of gestalt that the later albums could not achieve but still has a lot of weak moments. In contrast, ‘Play’ achieves a consistency of draw-you-in energy and excitement with every track.
‘Play’ is not in any way a classic of the Magazine discography. That appellation belongs to the first two albums. But ‘Play’ is easily the most enjoyable of their releases to these ears. Stripped of the calculation and control of the studio, one of Magazine’s lesser-known line-ups delivers the intricate keyboard swirl and treatment-layered guitars that were the band’s trademark with a sense that there were ‘real life’ moments where it all made sense.