Saturday, January 7, 2012

No Fun: Magazine's No Thyself

In the late 1970s, when it came to music, I was a fan of everything British: Folk, Prog Rock, Punk and New Wave. I was first attracted to the Manchester-based band, Magazine for its combination of punk attitude and musical sophistication. Their albums offered fans a cocktail of the darker, more violent side of punk supported by tight, tuneful music. I was 20 years-of-age when they debuted and I was hooked. Magazine was fresh, clever and danceable. Howard Devoto was a hilarious front man for a band that had a unique sound with a running bass-line that pushed the music to the edge. It was strongly supported by John Doyle's crisp drumming and John McGeoch’s effective technique on guitar.

Among other things, Magazine had attitude and this sense of arrogance was quite evident at a Toronto concert I attended in 1980. Howard Devoto, as the band's lead singer, wasn't particularly good as a vocalist, but he had charisma and "talked" his way through the songs. It was a good show, free of pretension with all eyes on Devoto snaking his way through the set. He was less antagonistic than John Lydon of P.I.L. for example.

Another part of Magazine’s appeal was its disciplined sound. Punk music was pretty sloppy in those days, (three count 'em thrashing chords) yet Magazine was tight and funky. Lyrically, they wanted to create pictures in your mind rather than reflect the teen-age angst and cries of “Anarchy in the UK.” Magazine was an assertive band that poked fun at politics and 'youth awareness.' Their music was for nihilists who didn’t care about anything. We’re all 30 years older now and, well, times have changed.

Devoto’s post-punk attitude is still at the heart of No Thyself (Wired, 2011), their first release in 29 years following their last album, Magic, Murder and the Weather (Virgin) released in 1981. That record owed perhaps more to Motown than it did to the Sex Pistols but it was a refined sound that appealed to wider audiences. The band reformed in 2009 when Dave Formula, keyboard player, was doing a solo album. He invited Howard Devoto, John Doyle, and bassist Barry Adamson to play on it when, lo and behold, the musical magic returned. After being offered some gigs, Devoto agreed to reform Magazine and take it on the road, principally in Europe where groups such as Queen succeeded when they were forgotten in North America. (European audiences are much more welcoming.) The result is a new set of original songs that aims to pick up where the band left off in 1981. But time has not served Magazine very well.

No Thyself is an attempt to capture the emotional pathos that Devoto and company relished in, in the late 70s. As a lyricist, Devoto had a knack for turning a phrase; it was an important part of the band’s appeal. (See “Because You’re Frightened” or “Talk To The Body.”) Unfortunately, their cleverness is now absent leaving fans with a rather juvenile collection of uninteresting tracks. Consider "Other Thematic Material," a song about sex that tries to be provocative but comes off as a bad letter to Penthouse Forum. Similarly, the track “The Burden of the Song” fails to capture the intended feel of “The Light Pours Out of Me” from their debut record, Real Life (1978). And while the slightly nostalgic “Hello Mr. Curtis” tries to express sympathy for the famous front man of Joy Division, it’s icy indifference left me cold.

What’s missing from this record is energy and drive. The result is a flat, routine and unimaginative album that sounds dated. While the band is still tight, Devoto’s lyrics and subject matter show arrested development. While I still enjoy the old stuff, the new material has no element of surprise, or even lyrical wit, leaving nothing but attitude. Perhaps I’ve outgrown them.

- John Corcelli is a musician and broadcaster. He’s currently working on a radio documentary, with Kevin Courrier, for CBC Radio's Inside the Music called The Other Me: The Avant-Garde Music of Paul McCartney.


  1. Those were the great days of british rock: the seventies and eighties.

  2. Excese me but how many times did you listen to this album, Mr.Corcelli? Only once, I bet. Well, I think that "No thyself" demands several listenings for fully appreciation