"Whatever your feelings about Howard Devoto are, they're no doubt strong" – the opening salvo of the last feature penned on the subject in these pages was no doubt earnestly conceived but… well, I just had to laugh because at that point I had absolutely no feelings for or against Devoto, his music, his lyrics, his stance in interviews, his high forehead, you name it.
'Spiral Scratch' was no startling revelation to me and 'Shot By Both Sides' left me impressed with the conclusion of its conceit without moving me to any fervent degree. Similarly, Real Life, the first Magazine album, had a half-baked quality to it – yes, there was potential and yes, there was master of ceremonies Devoto intoning intriguing obscurities – but there was also an overwhelming sense of the premature about the project. Magazine as a band were obviously still coming to terms with the task of mustering their full resources; the record was also badly produced, more often than not burying Devoto's voice when clarity was all important.
Second-Hand Daylight rectifies the latter vocal problem with a degree of success that is almost disarming. More essentially, the combination of a nine month lapse between Real Life and the new album, also the fact that production duties have switched from John Leckie to one Colin Thurston, all this has given Devoto and Magazine a context in which they can provide the listener with a Grade A representation of their talents.
Where previously there was half-realised potential, there is now an austere sense of authority to the music. This becomes clear from the first bars of 'Feed The Enemy'. These are very Low-period Bowiesque, right down to the stray saxophone bleats and lulling synthesiser chords, both of which are sublimated into the dank neo-Gothic sound to which Magazine seem so partial (the same ingredients precede the first moments of the second side as well).
And then Devoto begins the song itself. Lyrically an account of a plane crash (I think) with imagery that runs the gauntlet from the vivid to the obscure, the arrangement is precise, focused and ingenious. A fitting prelude, this, because it presents the all-important balance between band and front-man the whole album goes on to establish. Magazine have well and truly become a group.
'Rhythm Of Cruelty' is a slightly different take from the single: a wiry, jittery piece with Devoto at once presenting sone of his better lyrics but vocally nodding a little too archly in the direction of Sparks' cuteness and even hitting at a Lydon sneer.
'Cut-Out-Shapes' continues the Sparks' vocalese, but this is Devoto's prime precinct. He wrote the music, an ominous motorik which the band enhance to a degree that gives the composition – at a guess, a paean to 'numbness' – just the right cutting edge. Both 'Talk To The Body' and 'I Wanted Your Body' provide diversity to good effect. The first is subversively 'poppy', the second has a really gripping melody courtesy of keyboardman David Formula and bassist Barry Adamson.
Meanwhile 'I Wanted Your Heart' joins side two's 'Back To Nature' and 'Permafrost' as one of the album's three comparative masterpieces. 'Back To Nature' is the finest song and performance Devoto and Magazine have ever executed; Devoto finally finds his voice – a terse, uncompromising instrument – and lets fly with floods of imagery that owe nothing to anyone, while Magazine match him punch for punch.
'Believe That I Understand' is Magazine-rock with a sterling chord change and Devoto again using his 'real' voice. It's a forceful performance but, sandwiched between 'Nature' and the final 'Permafrost', it tends to lose its momentum.
"As the day stops dead / At the place where we've stopped / I will drug you and fuck you / On the permafrost":'Permofrost' owes passing nods to both Iggy Pop (lyrically and vocally) and John Barry (an old and burgeoning influence), but transcends its debts by establishing once and for all the animal known as Magazine. It's an appropriately chilling and seductive end to a strong album.
So. Farewell then, Second-Hand Daylight. You've convinced me that Howard Devoto and Magazine are a force to be reckoned with. No mean feat, seeing as I dislike lyricists who tend to play coy and wallow in obscurity and as I also detect a plethora of influences peaking out of every note at times. But you've arrived and have harnessed your considerable potential to the dictates of 'professionalism' whilst still taking chances.
After all, as Devoto himself says – and I'll back him up to the hilt – "I've got to admire your ingenuity".