Magazine – Real Life (1978): Review

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Produced by John Leckie
Label – Virgin

When Howard Devoto left the fledgling Buzzcocks immediately following the self released “Spiral Scratch” EP in 1977, his disillusionment with punk rock, and particularly the “movement” that bound its seismic growth, led to a pursuit of an original sound that entwined the creative influence of art and glam rock with the urgent energy of the new wave of British bands. His odd collective, Magazine, were made up of qualified musicians that possessed equal proportions of technical skill and an ambitiously creative inclination to deliver something wholly unique. Scottish born guitarist/saxophonist John McGeoch used his instrumental skill to explore sounds and styles never heard before (listen to the scratchy rhythm guitar that underpins “Definitive Gaze”). Barry Adamson’s relatively melodic bass lines and Dave Formula’s attention grabbing synth accompaniments make for a debut record that’s a combination of punk’s agitated nervousness, post punk’s oblique atmospherics, and a dash of art rock grandiosity. Devoto’s lyrics are eerily detached, dark observations that the singer explained reflected his personality, stating “Detachment was a very important word for me. My attempts to be a man of the people were fairly few and far between.” According to the singer, part of the musical tension that added to the overall atmosphere of the record was as a result of the sparring between Formula and his muso inclinations and McGeoch’s rough and ready one take approach.

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Opener “Definitive Gaze” encapsulates the adventurous spirit of the collection, with a splash of jagged reggae leading into Dave Formula’s compelling synth figure, supported by the band’s rousing backing and Devoto’s philosophical musings. “Shot By Both Sides”, which developed from a generously donated riff from Buzzcock Pete Shelley, is the closest reference to the singer’s past and deservedly burst into the U.K. charts. The clinically disturbing report of a political assassination in “Motorcade” sees McGeogh’s terrific guitar solo deliberately cut through Formula’s melodic keyboard fill. “The Light Pours Out Of Me” is dominated by a powerful glam rock styled lead guitar, and is the closest relation to a commercial pop sound, and yet retains the distinctive signature style of the rest of the record. Even the highly reflective piano ballad “Parade” has a depth of mood that shows that Devoto and his band were way beyond their punk peers in terms of maturity and unsettling eloquence.

Howard Devoto’s bloody minded pursuit of new sonic shapes, make “Real Life” a vital collection, which, as Radiohead’s Thom Yorke would confirm, was a huge influence to his band and probably many other alternative rock and post punk acts. “Real Life” is an utterly unique conception of progressive music, a magic box full of tricks so sublime, they never cease to captivate.

9/10

Track Rating

1 – Definitive Gaze (10)
2 – My Tulpa (9)
3 – Shot By Both Sides (10)
4 – Recoil (8)
5 – Burst (8)
6 – Motorcade (9)
7 – The Great Beautician In The Sky (7)
8 – The Light Pours Out Of Me (9)
9 – Parade (8)

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4 responses to “Magazine – Real Life (1978): Review

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