Following the key 'Spiral Scratch' e.p. and the material subsequently released as 'Time's Up', Howard Devoto decided to jump ship and left Buzzcocks just at the point when they might have made it a la the Sex Pistols. The retirement didn't last long, Devoto returning with a new outfit called Magazine, whose initial line-up included Devoto (vocals), Barry Adamson (bass), the late/great John McGeoch (guitar), Bob Dickinson (piano/keyboards) and Martin Jackson (drums). Jackson would later be replaced by John Doyle, while Dave Formula would replace Dickinson and give Magazine another key factor alongside Adamson's bassplaying, McGeoch's guitars, and Devoto's Devotoness.
'Real Life' was released in 1978, like the first PIL album and 'The Scream' by Siouxsie & the Banshees, it was an early "post-punk" release - coming out before anything by The Cure, Echo & the Bunnymen or Joy Division. Magazine weren't exactly punk, though the bonus tracks include the single 'Touch and Go' and b-side 'My Mind Ain't So Open', which are closer to (The) Buzzcocks. Magazine's cover of Beefheart's 'I Love You Big Dummy' is pure punk rock too, a song they performed in the Buzzcocks and became the flipside to 'Give Me Everything.' A word on the bonus tracks, er...huh? What was the thinking behind them, since they don't match the era completely and appear to have been spread out more - whilst their inclusion advances on the previous CD versions, their presence on the 'Scree'-compilation and the 'Maybe It's Right to Be Nervous Now' box-set may well elicit the response, "...but I've already got these...twice!!" Maybe it's all in the remastering then...
'Real Life' is one of the great albums of this era and a shockingly good debut - though I am one of the few who think that 'Secondhand Daylight' is the masterpiece, with 'Real Life' and 'The Correct Use of Soap' almost as good (you're on your own with 'Magic, Murder & the Weather' and the Devoto-Formula penned 'Jerky Versions of the Dream'). 'Definitive Gaze' is a great opener, spelling out the title track in the statement "So this is real life?" - Adamson's bass is fluid and funky, while Formula's keyboards offer a cinematic feel. An opener as great as it gets. 'My Tulpa' is another favourite, crashing into life with manic keyboards and manic Devoto at the centre - like 'Definitive Gaze' its advanced by the use of keyboards and space, the next step on from Bowie's Berlin-era.
The classic single 'Shot By Both Sides' is up next, a song that fights PIL's 'Public Image' for the best riff of the post punk era - though the riff appears to be Pete Shelley's, hence the credit and the riff recurring on the Buzzcock's catchy 'Lipstick.' Devoto's lyrics are suitably literary and paranoid, the title emanating from a theoretical argument with a girlfriend that ended with her telling him, "You'd be shot by both sides." The alternate version has never quite worked for me against the original I've always known - the song would later be covered by Mansun (who worked with Devoto in the late 90s) and Radiohead - who played it live alongside Can's 'Thief' during their 'Kid A/Amnesiac'-tour.
The rest of the album is as fantastic, from 'Burst' with its primal drumming (I might prefer the Peel Session version), to the artier 'Great Beautician in the Sky' (pointing towards the next album), and the closing 'Parade.' The latter is a sublime, if downbeat, song, though I have to declare I was exposed to the version from 'Play' first, since that was put on the 'Rays & Hail' compilation I first heard Magazine on - so I prefer that take.
The two songs that I always come back to, like 'Definitive Gaze', 'My Tulpa' and 'Shot By Both Sides', are 'The Light Pours Out of Me' and 'Motorcade.' 'The Light...' was one of the singles from the album, having that drumbeat from Sly & the Family Stone's 'Dance to the Music' alongside a glam-rock edge identified by Julian Cope in his excellent memoir 'Head On/Repossessed.' Interesting that the Sly-drumbeat would recur on another Manchester band's material a decade later, 'Dance to the Music's beat apparent on 'I am the Resurrection' by The Stone Roses, I wonder if they got that from Magazine? (Other examples of it include the dire 'Rocks' by Primal Scream and the rather lovely 'Flame' by Sebadoh). 'The Light Pours Out of Me' still sounds like the future to me, just don't listen to the dodgy cover versions by Ministry and Peter Murphy! 'Motorcade' is even better, just under six-minutes long and showcasing the keyboard/structural elements that were written off as prog on their second album by some critics. Devoto's lyrics feel like Burroughs cutting-up Ballard and Bowie at the same time, the imagery is quite blank, Devoto becoming expert at saying everything and nothing in a suitably oblique way - 'Permafrost' the apex of that approach. I've always felt it has something to do with the assassination of JFK, though this might have been due to the fact I was reading Ballard's 'The Atrocity Exhbition' the first time I heard this song! "The man at the centre of the motorcade" might be JFK - who knows? The sections where the sonic manically speeds up has more in common with Can and Faust than punky peers, while the concluding part where Devoto intones, "The motorcade holds sway" drips with that wonderful vague meaning. Maybe the words just sound great. Maybe it's kind of catchy after the mood swings of this epic? Who knows...
'Real Life' sounds as great as ever, part of the soundtrack to that brilliant age in the late 1970s that saw such albums as '20 Jazz Funk Greats', 'Chairs Missing', 'Fear of Music', 'The Idiot', 'Low', 'Marquee Moon', 'The Modern Dance', 'Suicide', 'Systems of Romance', 'Unknown Pleasures', & 'Y' (...and so much more...) Great to have remastered, despite my uncertainty over the bonus-track sequence - a reminder of a great band - Magazine's greatness assured by 'Real Life' and their next two albums that are similarly joys of an obligatory nature.
This is Real Life-