Magazine are a group that exist on the margins of rock history - and one suspects that's fine with former band leader Howard Devoto. The inventive British New Wave band deliberately cultivated an outsider image, and their melodic, edgy music is still difficult to categorise.
Devoto (second from right), who began his career singing for power-pop combo the Buzzcocks, formed Magazine in late 1977, at the height of the punk era. But the swooping synthesisers, pulsing bass and angular guitar sounds couldn't have been more different to the in-your-face guitar rock of the Sex Pistols or the Damned. Real Life, the band's 1978 debut, remains a lesser-known masterpiece, praised for its delicate musicality and pointed, somewhat obscure lyrics.
Devoto, born Howard Trafford in 1952, was inspired to become a musician after seeing the Sex Pistols perform in 1976. He quickly formed the Manchester-based Buzzcocks with college friend Pete Shelley and released the four-track EP Spiral Scratch. The standout track, Boredom, quickly established Devoto as a key figure in British punk. But instead of capitalising on the Buzzcocks' success, Devoto decided it was time to do something new, and briefly disappeared from the scene to put together Magazine. Expectations were high - and Real Life delivered.
Shot by Both Sides, the single that preceded the album, became an instant New Wave favourite. Recorded without keyboards, the piece highlighted the talents of guitarist John McGeoch. A rising guitar line provided the song's hook, while Devoto's lyrics about paranoia lent a cinematic feel. It was the band's only real commercial success, and they even appeared on Britain's prime-time music show, Top of the Pops. Many were pleasantly surprised by the album that followed. Layers of lush synthesisers supplemented McGeoch's guitar work. It was truly a different sound.
Real Life must be taken whole. Played through from start to finish, it takes the listener on a journey through Devoto's uncompromising mind. Definitive Gaze, the opener, is an epic piece of synthesiser-driven music that's more movie theme than rock song. My Tulpa highlights Devoto's penchant for cryptic lyrics and has a dreamlike quality that's quickly shattered by an extended version of Shot By Both Sides. Recoil is a nervy oddity while Burst is an atmospheric epic driven by McGeoch's guitar.
Side two opens with Motorcade, a kind of coda to Shot by Both Sides. The Great Beautician in the Sky is propelled by a carnival organ, while The Light Pours Out of Me hinges around a powerful riff reclaimed from Devoto's Buzzcocks days.
Magazine released three more studio albums after Real Life. Secondhand Daylight, a moody, apocalyptic record, saw them live up to their promise, as did the more playful The Correct Use of Soap. But the band had run out of steam by 1981's Magic, Murder and the Weather. McGeoch, who died last year, had left to join Siouxsie and the Banshees before Weather, and Devoto himself left the band in 1981. Later Devoto projects were unsuccessful, and he abandoned music for many years. Magazine are set to reunite for some British concerts this month.