Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Where's Howard Devoto?

Played a little bit earlier: Shelly Manne - Daktari
Music inspired by, or from, the tv show of the same name - can't say which, because I haven't read the liner notes yet. But it's a hoot, from cover (Shelly sitting at a drum kit surrounded by a sitting lion and two monkeys, one blowing a clarinet the other playing a guitar) to vinyl (a lotta percussion, not unlike one of those Visual Sound RCA albums; plus several reed players including Bud Shank).
This was one of the records Grant gave me when he was in town, the weekend before Donovan was born.

(Right now, nothing is playing because the baby just went down for the night. I just wanted to make sure this didn't have another "nothing playing right now" opening.)

Every couple of years I go through a phase where I'll pull out one album by Magazine and play it, then feel compelled to pull out all of their first three albums, plus the singles collection. I was really into that band when I was in high school. Of course there was the Buzzcocks connection (vocalist Howard Devoto was on their first EP) but I remembered my brother bringing home Secondhand Daylight when I was all of about 10, and I was impressed by it. I bought their first three albums pretty quickly and loved all three. The live Play was kind of pointless, except for one new song, so I sold it. During college my friend Frank gave me a new copy of it and Magic Murder and the Weather, their final album that I never got around to buying. Now I have the complete set. (Note: the red US version of After the Fact is a much better singles collection that the green UK counterpoint.)

All this comes into play because this morning over breakfast, I pulled out Secondhand Daylight and played side two. A couple of the songs had been going through my head at work and I couldn't take it any longer. I needed to hear them for real.

It's taken me awhile to realize that this album is inconsistant. It short circuits three songs in, after a strong showing, but it regains momentum on side two and holds its own until the end. Once, post-high school, I played the instrumental "The Thin Air" for my friends Patty and Tim (at that time current and future bandmates, respectively) and they both infuriated me by saying the song sounded like Pink Floyd. But they were right. It's mid-tempo with a metronomic beat and there's a sea of keyboards. However, there's more of a melody to it. This is followed by "Back to Nature" which is also pretty art rocky, starting with Devoto's voice and piano, before murky synths (played by Dave Formula, a rather homely Brit whose name I love) cue in a jumpy riff marked by some especially skiterring bass lines from Barry Adamson (later of the Bad Seeds).

After "Believe I Understand" comes a song that sums up the smug, intellectual cockiness that Magazine/Devoto was known for. The song is called "Permafrost" and it depicts the narrator running into an ex. The chorus consists of the lines "As the day stops dead/ at the place where we're lost/ I will drug you and fuck you/ on the permafrost." Nasty, nasty line, but such delivery. Plus John McGeoch plays one of the nastiest guitar solos in that song, which is really simple but escalates into a tumbling cascade of notes that get more dissonant and icy as they proceed. The whole thing is creepy and great.

Maybe tomorrow, I'll pull out The Correct Use of Soap, their third album. That's good breakfast music.


A couple weeks ago, I got word that the band Fake Brain broke up. They were from New York and played a few shows with the Mofones and we hung out both here, after shows, and in New York when I went up there. All good things must come to an end, and they had a good run while they were around: three great CDs, lotta tours, a rock opera. And the rock opera could've broken them through to bigger audiences if someone decided to back them. Jennie and I saw them perform it in New York in the fall of 2005 and it was hilarious.

But it makes you wish that bands like them - smart, funny without being jokey, catchy - could've gotten somewhere before they decided to call it quits.

I'll miss those guys. They'll always remind me of the period of my life where I had just bought a house and Pulp was really getting its sealegs and the Mofones were reaching their potential. Those were the days........ I'm thinking of the kick-ass omelettes we had with Fake Brain at DeLuca's the day after one all comes back to food..

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