Luna Kafé e-zine  Luna Kafé article
fromheadtoheart flag 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
Virgin Records

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 Banshees.

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 e-mail address

© 2015 Luna Kafé