The latest album from Magazine, a live recording made last September, represents a major step forward for the group and is its best effort yet. The band finally comes off as a cohesive unit, as opposed to merely providing a backdrop for Howard Devoto's haunting vocals. The sound is fuller, with more depth than they have achieved in the past, and it provides a whole new framework for the older songs. This works particularly well on "Permafrost''. The original was austere and bleak, with lyrics that sliced like a knife. The vocals are now more subtle, but even more chilling in the way they sneak up on you.
A major reason for the denseness of the new sound is the way Dave Formula's keyboards have been pushed up front. He is outstanding on "Thank You (Falettinme Be Mice Elf Agin)", and even throws in a little jazz piano break on "A Song From Under the Floorboards". On "Twenty Years Ago" and "Definitive Gaze", the last two cuts, the band loosens up and Devoto gets more experimental, almost reminiscent of John Lydon.
The ultimate test of a live album whether or not 1t has anything new to say, either with new material or new adaptations of old material. On this count, Play. succeeds admirably. Not only does it provide at "Greatest Hits" of Magazine's songs, it give definitive versions of them as well.
- John Long