Thursday, January 24, 2008

Wild and lonely (remastered) - The Associates

"Those first impressions They keep us guessing" sang Billy (Mackenzie) and we want to believe him. We want to believe that this was the musical direction he should have always taken, that the experimental years (the sulks, the fourth drawer downs and the affectionate punches) were the blips and this was what he wanted all along. To sound, not like an avant garde, pouting (impishly), always-close-to-hysteria glamour puss backed by some of the most audacious sounds ever to come from whatever hellish womb they were born in, but to sound more like, um, George Michael. Okay then. Not that I have anything against George Michael and his ilk (no, not really) but its never been my thing, that kind of pop which skates by in a haze of what might be called blandless if it did not actually turn my stomach with complete loathing. But still, lets give Billy a chance, after all in a singing contest he would blow George Michael away and far beyond the edge of the solar system before George even opened his mouth. I swear he is that good.

Wild and lonely... wild and lonely... conjures images of moonlit nights and starry skies, rambling through knee-deep grass, the trees swaying overhead with the slightest of breezes. But close your eyes and immediately its the synthetic-ness that intrudes - especially the fake trumpets and saxes which, if they are real, don't do a very good job of convincing. Many blame the production - if you adore cotton then this would be nylon, eager to please but ultimately itchy and unbearable. Maybe I'm being harsh... as Billy said, first impressions keep us guessing and my first impression was that 'Wild and lonely' was tolerable, if disappointing. So I listened again and again and got past the glacial distance between this and the pre-sulk goodness. Let's start with the good. 'Fire to ice' is a stonking opener, Billy not sure whether to be defiant or resigned in the face of abandonment; at turns annoyed, 'now you're feeling so pleased with yourself you're so sure and ease with yourself', then sighing 'I never could take good advice.' 'Fever' enters the room to a pleasant reception although again it catalogues the mixed feelings of still wanting the one who has hurt you even though you know it's pointless. A good metaphor in fact for my relationship with this album - technically I know its not the kind of thing I would listen to, it's too obviously pop and yet I find myself drawn to it, humming bits at odd moments. Except one song I won't be humming is the sickly sweet 'Calling around the world' which I can imagine S Club 7 singing.... best passed over quickly and banned from the ipod. 'People we meet' and 'Just can't say goodbye' maintain the upbeat tempo in the face of adversity, indeed it is a much calmer Billy (wild being a tad ironic in the circrumstances...); 'The Glamour chase' is reminiscent of eastern bazaars (not that I can explain why, it just has that feel to the music), whereas 'Where there's love' gets a bit too high and squeaky to make it enjoyable. Then... oh joy a song to be worth getting giddy over! 'Something's got to give' has a wayward feel, promising subversion beneath its pop gloss and you have to cling to it tightly as there is precious little here - Billy sings 'I'm at my most sincere' and all is right with the world. And it's enough - there is more granted but only 'Wild and lonely' the final track seems worthy of comment, a rather melancholy song of plaintive disappointment, a discordant piano at 'a lonely bar' - 'the floor you prayed on / takes away / a safety that was yesterday.' And Billy sings 'just to know I'll never be untrue' ... and it makes sense that he could save this album because he sounds so sincere even if the music doesn't. But then Billy could even sing a diana ross cover and get me dancing in the aisles... oh he already did (love hangover). Oh Billy, you are making me like pop music! You are making me destroy the barriers so painstakingly built after years of denial! But I love him all the more for it.

(PS there are 4 more songs added to the remastered versions, some covers and a long-winded remix 'fever in the shadows'. There is a suitable lack of drama which is why I see not point in making anything of them).

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