England - Full Moon 229 - 05/04/15
From head to heart
Magazine's The Correct Use Of Soap
Following our retroscope series going on for several years, here we go again. Yes, for one more year! Here's
Speakers' corner's cousin; From head to heart. Luna Kafé's
focused eye on great events, fantastic happenings, absolute milestones, or other curious incidents from the historic shelves'n'vaults of pop'n'rock. Blowing our ears and our head, punching
our chest and shaking our heart, or simply tapping our shoulder. Making us go sentimental, but not slaphappy. This moonth we take an unusual leap: 35 years back! Back to the prime British
new wave/post-punk period. 1980. Simple as that. This was the classic line-up making a classic album, their third. I remember years back, when I [the editor, that is] picked the opening theme
for a radio programme I led [along with former/occasional LK writers, Pingo and AHK]: We landed on the 'second' opening part from the opening track ("Feed The Enemey") off the band's second
album, Secondhand Daylight (1979). Classic, trademark basslines by Adamson, and classic, trademark guitar riff by McGeoch. We were in need of an instrumental 'theme', so we skipped
the devoted and intense captain Devoto.
The Correct Use Of Soap
I planned to write about this album five years ago when it celebrated its 30 years anniversary. I didn't find out which moonth it was released and postponed the project. By now I've found
out that the exact date was 2 May 1980 and instead we can celebrate that it's twenty years ago since the album's 15 years anniversary. New wave/post-punk band Magazine was formed in Manchester
in early 1977, after vocalist Howard Devoto had left Buzzcocks. He only participated on the debut Spiral Scratch EP (the third British punk record release, after The Damned's single
"New Rose" and Sex Pistol's "Anarchy In The UK", and the first to be released by the band members themselves) before he said goodbye to Pete Shelley and co. the night the EP was released.
The break had 'to do with the fact that I'm tired of noise and short of breath', according the man himself. The saying goes that after he
left, Howard put an ad in the window of the local Manchester Virgin Records shop. Barry Adamson had recently received a bass guitar from a friend, with only two strings. He went to town to
buy two more to learn to play it, also to resign from his job, saw the ad and was a Magazine-worker soon after along with others who had read the ad... Keyboard player Dave Formula who joined
a little later, after the recording of the debut single "Shot By Both Sides", was by far the most experienced in the gang. He had been an active musician from an early age and scored three
singles with the beat band St. Louis Union in 1966, the first one even made it to no. 11 in the British hit lists.
The Correct Use Of Soap was the Magazine's third LP, and arguably
the band's highlight. Some will say along with the Secondhand
Daylight, yours truly included. Both albums
were recorded by the classic line-up. In addition to Devoto, Adamson and
Formula it included John McGeoch (guitar, sax and backing vocals) and John
Doyle (drums and percussion).
I am angry, I am ill and I'm as
ugly as sin
My irritability keeps me alive and kicking
I know the meaning of life, it doesn't help me a bit
These were the opening lines from the first single to give a clue of what
Magazine's new album would sound like. Devoto never reflected on the bright
sides of life in his lyrics; lots of
unhappy relationships in there, too. "A Song From Under The Floorboards"
backed with non-album song "Twenty Years Ago" was released in February 1980,
three moonths prior to the album. Howard
Devoto had definitely read his Fyodor Dostoyevsky and been inspired. The
A-side of the single deals with Fyodor's short (by his standards), highly
enthralling novel Notes From Underground
with a middle aged civil servant at the fore, pessimistic and misanthropic,
but also with some black humour. The song gives a short version of what the
novel is about, really, with Adamson's
characteristic jumping fretless bass, McGeoch's rock'n'roll guitar pointing
in several directions and Formula's almost siren-type keyboards. Not a bad
start, in fact one of Magazine's top two
classic singles. "Thank You (Falettinme Be Mice Elf Agin)" followed as the
A-side of the second seven inch single off the album the following moonth.
It's a cover of a Sly & The Family Stone
hit single, no less! Not the most obvious choice for a cover version by
young, pale (apart from Barry Adamson that is) boys from northern England.
But then, Magazine didn't go for the obvious
solutions. Check their version of the James Bond song "Goldfinger" recorded
a little earlier... A real gem! Anyhow, of course this version is not as
funky as the original, but it still...
Adamson's bass is pretty groovy, the organ glows and guitar follows suit
with some short funky licks. Two singles pointing in quite different
directions then, from white St. Petersburg, Russia
in 1865 to black San Francisco, America in 1969... It was not easy to guess
what to expect from the album itself in advance.
When it finally arrived I think I was a bit disappointed at first. The
album was a step back to basic with more of the punk flavour from the debut
album Real Life than Secondhand
Daylight. I really enjoyed the latter, including the symphonic varnish of a
few tracks that most critics seemed to dislike (the uncharacteristically
soft instrumental "The Thin Air" sounds much
closer to 1970s melodic Pink Floyd than the punk origins of Magazine).
Listening to the second and third album now, they're not that different
apart from the instrumental track and a bit pompous
keyboards of the former here & there. The production of The Correct Use
Of Soap by legendary Manchester producer Martin Hanett (Joy Division,
New Order, A Certain Ratio, Durutti Column,
The Stone Roses, Happy Mondays, a single by U2, even Buzzcocks' Spiral
Scratch EP, to name a few) is a bit more naked compared to some of the
arrangements wrapped in string-sounding
keyboards of Secondhand Daylight. Soap is a great blend of rock and
pop, they even throw in a short jazz flavoured sax solo in "I'm A Party".
Once I got into the album it got stuck for
life (well, half a life so far...). Half the songs are energetic rock'n'roll
numbers and ideal for jumping up and down and screaming to! Especially the
opening "Because You're Frightened",
"Model Worker" and "Philadelphia". Incidentally the latter revisits
Dostoyevsky and St. Petersburg with a mentioning of being Raskolnikov, the
protagonist of Crime And Punishment,
before moving over to the city of liberty in the USA.
"You Never Knew Me", "Stuck" and "A Song From Under The Floorboards" have
a bit softer edges than the three above, but work excellent as well.
"Sweetheart Contract" is the purest pop song
of the album, while the aforementioned "I'm A Party" has rock verses and pop
choruses. "I Want To Burn Again" is probably the slowest song, with some
funky elements in common with "Thank You".
One of the highlights of the album is when the keyboards and drums come
crashing down after an about 45 seconds quiet intro of the song followed by
Adamson's groovy rolling bass.
The excellent non-album seven inch single "Upside Down"/"The Light Pours
Out Of Me" was released only a couple of weeks after the album and
"Sweetheart Contract", the pop gem of the album,
followed in July. The latter was released as a package of two seven inch
singles or a 12 inch EP with an additional three songs recorded live earlier
in the year. Both singles were wrapped
in the same cardboard sleeves as the two singles prior to the album release.
The singles reached the lower half of hit lists but none of them were great
successes. The same goes for the album
that reached no. 28 in the British album charts. The band members'
aspirations were probably somewhat higher. At least John McGeoch's was. He
had guested on Siouxsie And The Banshees'
Kaleidoscope and left permanently
to find greener grass with Siouxsie and her gang in London soon after the
The Correct Use of Soap had been
released. Listening to McGeoch's guitar licks at the start of "Stuck" in
retrospect, it seems to serve as a job application, sounding very similar to
several bass intros of classics by the
Magazine's spell seems to have gone with McGeoch. The remaining members
struggled on, but couldn't find a steady replacement for him. They released
the live album Play by the end of
1980, recorded on tour in Australia to promote Soap with Robin Smith
as the guitar player. One more studio album Magic, Murder And The
Weather, followed in June 1981 where Ben
Mandelson handled the guitars. By then Howard Devoto had decided to call it
a day, and the remaining members found out they couldn't go on without him.
Most of them continued to collaborate
in other projects, though. Already in 1979 McGeoch, Formula and Adamson
joined forces with Midge Ure, Steve Strange and others in the early New
Romantics studio project Visage. Visage's second
single "Fade to Grey" and eponymous debut album were great successes by the
end of 1980/early 1981. Formula and Adamson were also involved in the second
less successful Visage album The
Anvil in 1982 and Howard Devoto's inspired solo album Jerky Versions
Of The Dream from 1983. Barry Adamson contributed to the first and Dave
Formula was involved in the recording
of the second album by Luxuria, Devoto's next band project by the end of the
1980s. After two and a half years and three albums with Siouxsie, John
McGeoch suffered a nervous breakdown on
stage due to stress and heavy drinking and had to leave. In 1984 he and
Magazine drummer John Doyle joined forces with Richard Jobson and Russell
Webb (both ex-Skids) in the new wave super
group The Armory Show. The band's sole album from 1985 - surprise, surprise
- fared well with the critics, but not so much with the record buying
public. Doyle and McGeoch left in 1986, the
latter to join Public Image Ltd. for several years. In fact McGeoch has been
the longest serving member of the band apart from John Lydon. Meanwhile
Barry Adamson had joined Nick Cave as a
member of his Bad Seeds for three years and three and a half albums before
he went solo. His back catalogue includes numerous albums and soundtracks
for film and TV, occasionally helped by
other ex-Magazine members. Both John Doyle and Howard Devoto collaborated
with Pete Shelley from Buzzcocks in the latter half of the 1980s. In 2007
Dave Formula started the recording of a
solo album where all Magazine members of the classic era participated, even
John McGeoch posthumously. He had sadly passed away in 2004. Maybe as a
result of this, the Secondhand Daylight
and Soap line-up of Magazine reuinted for five concerts in February
2009, with Devoto's companion from Luxuria, Norman Fisher-Jones, aka. Noko,
taking care of the guitar duties instead
of McGeoch. Sparked by the success, the band decided to continue to gig and
performed the entire Soap album at festivals during the summer. Due
to other commitments, Barry Adamson didn't
participate on the surprisingly fresh sounding new Magazine album No
Thyself from October 2011.
Still, Magazine's most classic albums were released before John McGeoch
left in 1980. Despite the gloomy lyrics, The Correct Use Of Soap
still makes me happy every time I listen to
it. Once I even tried to live up to the album title, playing it out loud
while washing the floors. It's a nice memory, but I don't think the floors
were very clean afterwards...
Copyright © 2015 JP