Could Magazine have been the biggest band in the world? Not a chance. Next question: did they want to?
When lead singer and founder Howard Devoto quit the band in 1981, he cited low album sales as the reason for his departure. Devoto was twenty-nine then, by which age he should have either succeeded in music or surrendered to the workforce. (In his native Britain, where teenagers regularly started full-time careers, he probably should have given up five or six years earlier.) Magazine did not fail, exactly, but they defined the term “cult band”: beloved by a small clutch of critics, despised by just as many, small but devoted fanbase, ignored by the larger public.
Magazine presented themselves as a connoisseur’s band; also, as pricks. They knew full well that they were smart musicians, a fact they never failed to advertise. They positioned themselves at the avant-garde, relying upon futuristic keyboards and scathing lyrical introspection where pub rock and punk demanded back-to-basics anthems. Across five albums – four studio, one live – and a handful of singles, Magazine exuded the barely-suppressed fury of over-educated twenty-somethings bashing up against the realization that the world is not, in fact, a meritocracy. They longed for mass appreciation, yet reveled in a style that was, for most listeners, nearly impossible to appreciate.