Associates “Sulk” Ultrabox Aims For Excess…As Ever [part 5]

Michael Dempsey of Associates

[…continued from last post]

The monitor mix of “It’s Better This Way” was not an instrumental. Instead, it was another case of Billy MacKenzie attacking the song from one of many different angles. It went back to the B-side of version of “It’s Better This Way” that I realized that he was happy not to sing any song the same way twice. So this was neither the flinty indifference of the LP version, nor the studied nonchalance of the version on the B-side of “Party Fears Two.”

This time we were party to Billy biting his teeth deep in to the song’s neck. His strident, barely controlled vocal being a vicious snarling, performance instead of the dispassionate croon of the other two.. This song was the cry of a seriously wounded animal, and possibly the most potent interpretation imaginable for this painful slice of relationship mayday. The decision to slather Billy’s barely modulated vocal with the most violent and alarming use of delay meant that his performance had the impact of a cold slap in the face. His occasional leaps into falsetto were rendered all the more violent here for the production. As the song progressed, the unfettered performance of the band and Billy at full tilt was thrilling and exhilarating even ad the lyric became blurred beyond recognition. Climaxing on the dropout of everything but Alan Rankine’s strangulated feedback was how it could only end.

associates radio 1 sessions

One of my favorite “new” Associates tracks on the 1994 “Radio 1 Sessions” CD that, somehow, got released in America, was “A Severe Bout Of Career Insecurity.” A rambling but calmly psychotic breakdown as rendered into song that slowly became more unraveled as it progressed. The 2000 V2 edition of “Sulk” contained a very different take called “And Then I Read A Book.” Here, we get an alternative version.

I could have done without the twin belches that Billy opened the take with, but the timing of the breakneck drumming from John Murphy entering the song at 90 mph left little choice. This version shaved off half a minute compared to the one on “Sulk” 2000 through sheer velocity. The band were as tight as a loop, barring the brief drum fills that were fired into the song like bullets. Billy’s vocal here was at his most disaffected and dispassionate. Projecting an emotional numbness that simply felt correct with this song. The song eventually flew apart as it progressed. At one point Billy spelled the word “unconditionally” and attempted to repeat it three times; failing to finish the word each time. Very much in the manner that David Bowie had tried to say “Society” three times in “Scream Like A Baby.” The slurred cold ending as everything broke down was perfect.

The packaging revealed that an alternative version of the “Club Country” B-side “Ulcragyceptimol” was next on offer, but A/B comparisons to the digital file I have made from the 12″ B-side suggests that this was the released version; mislabeled. Which actually pleased me since it looked like they were providing a 2nd version of the track rather than released canon. I enjoy alternative recordings, but not at the expense of established canon.

BMG | UK | CD2 | 2022 | ASCBOOK1

“Ulcragyceptimol” was a tense, anxious, B-side with Billy’s vocal processed with vocoder to provide distance while his backing vocal whoops and ejaculations flirted with his usual hysteria. Meanwhile the rhythm section was sprinting at top speed while the quixotic lyrics referenced the imaginary drug of the title and what seemed like many referenced to Billy’s precious whippets.resulting in a dense and fractured song that only Associates could have recorded. The band had obviously decided that the listless poise of the demo was the wrong way to take this one and adjusted their heard accordingly.

The B-side version of “It’s Better This Way” differed in that MacKenzie’s vocal was less petulant than the “Sulk” LP version. The music was more intimate and less glossy. With emphasis on Dempsey’s bass line taking it in a more Jazzlike direction. “The Associate” was the B-side to “White Car In Germany.” The eccentric instrumental really had no place here. I can’t imagine why the compilers felt the need to include this, or the next track, for that matter. “A Girl Named Property” from the 39 Lyon Street single of “Kites.” Good songs, but they have already compiled for the last 41 years as part of “Fourth Drawer Down.” A matter for head scratching.

Alan Rankine was the focal point for “Grecian 2000,” a Morricone-esque instrumental would also be explored in 1987 on the “From Brussels With Love” CD version from Les Disques Du Crépuscule as “Can You Believe Everything I See?” The theme was the same on “Grecian 2000” but the resulting track here was far more tight and Pop-adjacent. The rhythm section gave this one a frisky energy, to be sure, but it was still pure film music.

from brussels with love CD

Next… Singles Real + Imagined

About postpunkmonk

graphic design | software UI design | remastering vinyl • record collector • satire • non-fiction
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4 Responses to Associates “Sulk” Ultrabox Aims For Excess…As Ever [part 5]

  1. versioncrazy says:

    Well, I never knew of that Alan Rankine track that is something of a rewrite/diversion of ‘Grecian 2000’ – despite having three different copies of ‘From Brussels With Love’. Turns out that none of my copies (including the 2020 double disc edition with ‘Extras and Context’) include that Alan Rankine track present on later re-issues. A great discovery to make and to hear it now.

    The version of ‘Ulcragyceptimol’ that is track 9 on the ‘Monitor Mixes & Rarities’ CD of the ‘Sulk’ SDE does indeed – at long last – appear to be the mix from the original 12” release. I would speculate that perhaps the reason it is referred to as Alternative Version is because on the previous CD editions that have included ‘Ulcragyceptimol’ as an extra track (2000 and 2016) it has been the different version, which has in some way usurped the original!

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