Monday, February 11, 2008

Perhaps / The glamour chase - the associates

i'm finally nearing the end of my odyssey to purchase the album back catalogue of the associates (note to self - its not wise to give into an obsession!) thanks to a combination of shops, ebay and internet shopping sites. there are gaping holes - still waiting for Amazon to find perhaps the only copy of sulk in existence! how exciting and the nightmarish is it to live in a world where you can have almost anything you want, when you want! sadly it took the death of singer Billy Mackenzie for this state of affairs to be realised. for 'true' fans of the Associates it previously was but a dream to be able to get their hands on past glories, and in the case of 'the Glamour Chase' it was never even released by the record company after their relationship with the larger than life chanteur, not that good during the making of 'perhaps' (1985), went from bad to worse. something about him spending a shedload of money and not producing anything they deemed commerical enough. but lets leave the messy complicated bits to rest and let the music speak for itself.

With 'Perhaps' you can kind of appreciate the dilemma that Billy Mackenzie was in at the time. He had been involved in making what many describe to be a masterpiece (Sulk) and his long-term musical collaborator Alan Rankine had departed after various insurmountable problems surfaced between the pair. No pressure then to follow it up with something equally amazing and to show that he was not dependent on the magical and inventive musical soundscapes dreamt up between him and Rankine! And to give Billy his due, he has a pretty good go. I was prepared to be quite disappointed by this considering the sort-of consensus that deems Mackenzie and Rankine became lost without each other, descending into musical decrepitude, but... I actually liked it!

However nothing can compel me to like 'Those first impressions' which to me sounds uninspired - I am glad I had not been in the position to have to judge the associates on this song alone. It's fine as a pop song but it doesn't engage me at all, possibly because Billy sounds (to my ears) so bored singing it. 'Waiting for the loveboat' is better, bouncier with amusing lyrics although it goes on for faaarrr toooooo long at the end with Billy apparently being tickled or attacked somewhere subterranean (apparently they chopped off an interesting finale to make it fit on the LP). It could also do without the annoying honking saxophone, never an instrument I can connect with emotional subtley or estactic raptures. 'Perhaps', 'Schampout' and 'Helicopter Helicopter' continue in the same vein, pop with a deliciously wonky feel, although the lyrics can be a bit silly and the musical accommpaniment perversely jarring. 'Breakfast' in contrast comes flowing ludicrously easily into the ears, a tender and beautiful ballad (and I normally hate ballads) with minimal fuss which suits Billy perfectly. 'Thirteen feelings' is radically different again with its dramatic strings, driving beat and soaring vocals. I find that I prefer Billy's singing on the last four offerings, like on 'The stranger in your voice'; luckily he is on top form because most of the musical arrangements are forgettable. I am hard pressed to find anything is as appealing as Alan Rankine and his glorious guitar work. 'The best of you' is a duet with Eddie Reader, however there seems to be no point for her to be there for, as with most of his duets, Billy's voice stamps all over hers. If I was being evil I would say that the theme of this song perfectly encapsulates my feelings about the Associates' career... Still, I'm not evil so I will only say that I was happy until the dreaded sax reappears (eek!) wailing away with its evil intent to ruin my listening experience. Still, it's redeemed by the discordant chords of the strings at the end. The sax is back on 'Don't give me that told you so look' however it is easily ignored for the fantastic title, which Billy also manages to sing very suavely. Overall it presents quite a downbeat ending to the album as a whole and leaves you rather despondent as to what could have been.

'The Glamour Chase' came a few years later but you could be mistaken for thinking it was from an entirely different artist. It was never released during Billy's lifetime which much have been extremely frustrating for him, more for the politics surrounding it rather than it being a terrible album. It's not always to my taste, definitely straying into more what I would call conventional pop territory, more sleek than raw. After the often scatter-brained lyrics and sometimes petulant attitude of 'Perhaps' (like that godawful saxophone) it seems that Billy is presenting himself here as more mature, more sophisticated, more smooth. A reincarnation that results in some pleasant enough sounds like opener 'Reach the top' and a cover of Blondie's 'Heart of glass' but they glide by pretty unremarkably. 'Terrorbeat' has that 80s bass which reminds me of Level 42 so yuck. 'Set me up' is pondorously slow and has a potentially cheesy voice over - where Billy betrays hardly a crumb of his lovely Dundee accent - but finally a song works for me, mostly because a pleasing harmony is achieved between voice and tune and it doesn't overstate itself. 'Country boy' is like 'what'?? - it would make better sense without the obviously clunky bass/drum and the lyrics about a 'pretty virgin' who should be a 'lure' to the narrator's 'prey' is a bit ick. 'Because you love' is the kind of ballad I would avoid like the plague - I cannot help but think of the 'power of love' by Jennifer Rush which upsets me unduly, as does the squelchy bassline. 'The Rhythm Divine' is infinitely preferable if I had to be stuck in a room with it - also famous for being sung by Shirley Bassey, my irrational prejudice against her means that I can happily assume that Billy makes a better job of it. I felt nothing like hatred towards 'Snowball' but its too close to jazz/ swing for me to want to listen to it repeatedly - again Billy does a good job but its not going to convert me yet. Back on safe ground with 'You'd be the one' and 'Empires of the heart' - no need for irrational prejudices against these. 'Empires...' is my favourite because there is emotion in the singing and for once the music does something interesting, although it is still too glossy. Of the last, 'In Windows all' is another ballad, pleasant enough, 'Heaven's blue' a short poignant piece of piano before PAM!! the energetic stomp of 'Take me to the girl' provides an upbeat finale. I cannot listen to this song however without thinking of the video where Billy looks bored out of his brain - find it on youtube and weep at the terribleness of this and most Associates videos - so its kind of tainted. Easy to sing along to however if you like that kind of thing.

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