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This is something of a return to standard operational form for Magazine, who thawed after recording Secondhand Daylight to throw together an energetic batch of colorful and rhythmically intricate songs. It’s an unexpected move considering that they enlisted Martin Hannett (Joy Division, A Certain Ratio, Crispy Ambulance), master of the gray hues, as the producer. A looser, poppier album than its predecessors — somewhat ironically, a cover of Sly & the Family Stone’s “Thank You (Falettinme Be Mice Elf Agin)” is the most subdued song — it features the rhythm section of John Doyle and Barry Adamson at their taut, flexible best and guitarist John McGeoch at his most cunningly percussive. Save for the called-for razzle-dazzle on “Sweetheart Contract,” keyboardist Dave Formula takes more of a back seat, using piano more frequently and no longer driving the songs to the point of detracting from the greatness of his mates, as the most frequent complaint of Secondhand Daylight goes.
Howard Devoto’s lyrics are also a little less depressive, though they’re no less biting. The closing “A Song from Under the Floorboards” — another near-anthem, an unofficial sequel to “The Light Pours Out of Me” — includes sticking Devoto-isms like “My irritability keeps me alive and kicking” and “I know the meaning of life, it doesn’t help me a bit.” His themes of distrust and romantic turbulence remain focal, evident in “You Never Knew Me” (“Do you want the truth or do you want your sanity?”) and “I Want to Burn Again” (“I met your lover yesterday, wearing some things I left at your place, singing a song that means a lot to me”). “Because You’re Frightened” is the closest they came to making a new wave hit, zipping along with as much unstoppable buoyancy as Lene Lovich’s “New Toy” or the Teardrop Explodes’ “Reward,” yet it’s all fraught nerves and paranoia: “Look what fear’s done to my body!” Song for song, the album isn’t quite on the level of Real Life, but it is more effective as a point of entry.