Magazine, “Shot by Both Sides” (04/20/78)

A punk record that is anything but uncertain is “Shot by Both Sides,” a new 45 by Magazine, the latest brainchild of Howard Devoto, a balding Samuel Beckett devotee who founded Manchester’s Buzzcocks (now out on their own under the leadership of guitarist Peter Shelley). In his Buzzcocks days (it feels like ages ago, but it was just last year), Devoto proved himself Johnny Rotten’s best pupil with the snarling, often hilarious performances he gave on Spiral Scratch (an EP on Devoto’s own New Hormones label); still, there was no doubt that Devoto was his own man. He didn’t just imitate Rotten, he was inspired by him; he sang as if he’d just discovered the magic of words, timbre, sound. You could feel him testing the power of his voice, determined to someday transform his mere singing into an incantation.

On “Shot by Both Sides,” he does. Devoto is far more sure of himself, almost heroic in his panicky claim on life. There’s something of Jean-Luc Godard’s early movies (Breathless or Band of Outsiders) in Devoto’s attack, in his dread: you feel he’s too young to be so close to the edge, but you can’t deny he’s singing into the teeth of monsters—and you sense that when he goes down, he’ll take everyone else with him, if only because he’s so charismatic. But its guitarist John McGeoch who drives the record home: beginning where Blue Oyster Cult’s “(Don’t Fear) The Reaper” left off, he plants an unforgettable hook right in the first grooves and storms his way across the almost four minutes of “Shot by Both Sides,” dropping hints and threats around Devoto until the two of them come through on the other side of a climax so unforgiving it nearly matches the one the Sex Pistols used to break up “Holidays in the Sun.”

So far, “Shot by Both Sides” is the best rock & roll record of 1978, punk or otherwise—and Devoto’s Magazine may be the band to fill the vacuum the Sex Pistols have left. You never know, but I can’t wait to find out.

Rolling Stone, April 20, 1978

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