Review Summary: Post paradox.
Keyboards or Sax wrapped in an "art" package might ring a stereotypical bell for those fond of generalisations, or maybe a band fronted by ex-Buzzcocks vocalist Howard Devoto, going for sophomore "experimentation", might make you even more skeptical. Even so, there's a difference between interjecting a couple of black keys & reeds just for the sake of it and providing melodic tension that actually stimulates the tunes. There's a difference when the keyboard player and your guitarist bear - or share - unique sound aesthetics. Instrumentally, it's a layering process that rejects your typical "a third higher", or "Cool melody dude! Let's overuse it all over the tune", amidst vocals, which for the most part are "enunciated" and not exactly "sang". MacGeoch and Formula act as arrangers of an impromptu play, providing the score on a sustained monologue of despondency, as the guitar and keys first usher... then entwine with the words.
However, Devoto's play won't cross the border of "overly theatrical". He skillfully balances on the brink of in-your-face loquacity atop lyrics captivating a cold, disenchanted amphitheater by way of latent energy. The bass delivers the story in different accent: unconventionally front in the mix, stressing in own timbre the common denominator - a covenant of tension and release. Interestingly, for all the minimalist layers - courtesy of the aforementioned scattered melodies that might have sounded corny outside of context, or the populous bass-lines and piercing guitar punches - the band sounds dauntingly telepathic as a whole. Dare I say, the only thing that prevents me from throwing a prog badge in my descriptions is the duration of the tunes and Magazine's lack of need to exhibit skills beyond the accommodation of words - or "show-off" outside smart interludes of instrumentation.
Secondhand Daylight provides a unique reference when it pertains to literature surrounding "post" outfits, and as such it doesn't surprise me that it got mixed reviews initially. It wasn't as bouncy or as perky new wave might have wanted it, nor was it as raw or mob inspiring in order to entice traditionalists arbitrating "no wave". It was cold and meant to appeal on your morose phase. An effort that emanated above average musicality and songwriting: an emotive dystopian projection - less reverberated and three years earlier than Pornography. No, I won't label it as "proto-something", instead, I'll reluctantly admit that if this effort were to become the rule back in '79, I wouldn't have used atonable opening lines to lure you into digging behind bizarre sleeves - or a more famous debut - for Secondhand Daylight.