Magazine ‘No Thyself’ Review

Ask people to name a famous Manchester band and they will most likely reply with one of the usual suspects such ‘Oasis’, ‘The Smiths’  or ‘Joy Division’. Chances are however that few would mention Magazine in the same breath. This is strange considering that Paul Morley of The Observer has gone as far to say that the band’s lead singer Howard Devoto “was the man who changed Manchester because he had an idea about what needed to happen at just the right time in just the right place.” A founding member of The Buzzcocks, Devoto broke away from the band in 1977 to form pioneering post-punk collective Magazine, who released four studio albums before they broke up in 1981. Having reformed in 2009, No Thyself has seen Magazine release brand new material for the first time in thirty years in the same week that another seminal Manchester band, the Stone Roses, reformed and sold out the entire 220,000-ticket allocation for their homecoming gigs at Heaton Park in just 68 minutes. Talk about having your thunder stolen. This is actually quite sad as No Thyself, whilst not hitting the giddy heights of Magazine’s acclaimed debut album Real Life and by no means a flawless work, is still one of the best rock albums to be released this year, but is likely to once again slip under most people’s musical radar.

No Thyself marks a slight change in sound for the band, with many of the tracks rooted in a more nineties rock/pop vibe, rather than being totally focused around the post-punk sound of their previous albums, almost as if the band are making up for lost time, examining which musical directions they might have taken had they been around for the last thirty years. For example, brilliant opening track Do the Meaning mixes grunge with staccato violins and a harpsichord to great effect, whilst the slightly overlong nine-and-a-half minute Of Course Howard (1979) combines droning organs with 80s style synths and a vocal delivery from Devoto reminiscent of Syd Barrett, Bryan Ferry and Jarvis Cocker all rolled into one. Joint lead single Holy Dotage meanwhile sounds like Roxy Music meets the Kaiser Chiefs, and somehow this manages to work, with the song being possibly the best track on the album.

Devoto as a front man, on the other hand, barely seems to have changed at all. Lyrically, you can see how artists like Cocker and Morrissey have been influenced by his observational lyrical style, laced with humour, and only Devoto, as he does on Physics, could dare rhyme sticking plaster with alabaster and get away with it. Hello Mister Curtis (with apologies), however, sees Devoto take a more controversial tone (as the aforementioned apology seems to recognise). Addressing Joy Division’s lead singer and Nirvana’s Kurt Cobain, Devoto commends them for their acts of suicide saying “You are so much braver than me, so do it again”, which is bound to ruffle the feathers of fanboys throughout the land. Other Thematic Material alternatively demonstrates Devoto’s more humorous side where he describes a man and a woman having a sexual encounter. Completely doing away with the concept of euphemism, his extremely explicit lyrics are enough to make Marvin Gaye look like a prude. Despite the potential danger of Devoto’s wordplay being too distracting, the track is actually an album highlight, sounding like a surrealistic x-rated Happy Mondays song, and allows new band member Noko (who has replaced the band’s former guitarist, the late John McGeoch) to shine with some psychedelic guitar riffs.

A couple of tracks, Worst of Progress…. and Happening in English are largely forgettable, but overall No Thyself marks a triumphant return for Magazine musically speaking. The only shame being the lack of attention it would appear to be receiving.

Magazine are currently embarking on a UK tour. No Thyself is out now.

Written by: Thomas Gore

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