Associates “Sulk” Ultrabox Aims For Excess…As Ever [part 7]

Associates live [courtesy of Lansure’s Musical Paraphernalia]

[…continued from last post]

The June third Peel Session from 1982, was broadcast just three weeks after “Sulk” was released. The band were obviously racing towards the horizon as the new session [possibly after drummer John Murphy was out of the picture] showed the band coming to grips with drum machines in a way more interesting than everyone else in 1982 who was enslaved to the Linn Drum digital simulacrum of actual drumming.

An expansive new song was debuted in the session; “Waiting For The Love Boat.” It is familiar to any Associates fan who may have heard the 1984 single might not recognize the more electronic version on this session; carried by captivating rhythm programming that reveled in its synthetic nature by sounding like corn popping instead of emulating what we already knew as drumming. All the better to accompany the altogether more louche and haughty vocal performance from Billy. Punctuated by his “buum…buum…buum” vocal hook. The guitar featured was colored by effects to hit close to a guitar synth profile, and the zesty marimba lagging a beat behind the drums gave it a stately air of nonchalance.

The version of “Australia” was also transformed by the roundly synthetic drum programming. The track featured taut tattoos of real drum fills interjected into the mix, but the overall feel was that the band had recorded a Dub version of the song. And a rather excellent one at that! Billy’s vocal was dubbed out and snatches of the lyric such as “voluntary wishes and swap it production” could be heard if listening carefully.

While “Australia” had been kicking around for some time for the band, this marked the first time it had made it out to the world. The next month an alternate instrumental recording of the music entitled “Voluntary Wishes, And Swap It Production” would manifest as a bonus B-side on the “18 Carat Love Affair” 12″ single. Leaving actual recordings of “Australia” with lyrics intact until decades later, when projects like “Double Hipness” occurred. The minute long fade at the track’s end as the tempo slowed down to a dubtastic crawl over a full minute was far from gratuitous and time and money well spent. I actually prefer this rendition of the song to all others.

18 carat love affair
Beggars Banquet | UK | 12″ | 1982 | ASC3T

Another dramatic transformation occurred with “Love Hangover” given a Jazzy piano bar treatment with Martha Ladly’s “yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah, yeaaaaaahs” being dissonant counterpoint to MacKenzie’s crooning. Then, almost 90 seconds in the track snapped back into the sort of erotic tension that we expected from the band performing this song. It begs mentioning that this Peel version reached British ears almost two months before the “18 Carat Love Affair” single was released.

The song “And Then I Read A Book” was also transformed here into the utterly bonkers “A Severe Case Of Career Insecurity.” All jittery motorik drumming and repetitive cocktail piano figures that repeated for long bars at a time while MacKenzie proceeded to unravel throughout the running time of the four minute song that was packed with at least twice as much lyrical detail of any other song at that length.

This was the first version of the song to reach my ears in the 90s and the lyrical changes between this and “Then I Read A Book” [which had been written and performed much earlier] were small, but hardly minor. Billy utterly transformed the song by differences as simple as making “and then I cooked dinner for two, it lies there getting cold” and changing “dinner” to “offal!”

As the song progressed Billy was now talking calmly of cooking his lover’s shoes while Rankine’s psychotic piano kept repeating the same figure over and over,until he began interpolating snatches of “Do-Re-Mi” after Billy interjected “the hills are alive with the sound of musiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiic!”

BMG | UK | CD3 | 2022 | ASCBOOK1

Disc three is concluded with an interesting recording of a show in Apeldoorn, Netherlands dating from October 1st, 1981. In it the band would be liberally previewing their very latest material to an audience who would hear it there first. Months prior to the release of “Sulk.” Of the ten songs included, only two of them were on prior Associates releases [“A Matter Of Gender” and “Paper House.”] Everything else was on the upcoming “Sulk” or marginalia to be heard decades later. All played by a furious four piece band with nary a synth in sight. Since the band famously fractured while rehearsing for the “Sulk” tour that never was, these recordings show that playing the songs as they were written, if not recorded, without the overhead of a nine piece band, was certainly possible. And now they give us radically different views on some of the material.

“Arrogance Gave Him Up” was conceived as the band’s opener, so it plays that role on both the “Sulk” album and the live shows that preceded it. The band were cleanly recorded and it becomes obvious that one of the big pleasures of this concert will be Alan Rankine’s guitar tone. Here it’s full-bodied with a ringing chorus that’s somehow reassuring, while Murphy’s drums barrel forward at full strength.

I’ve always liked “A Matter Of Gender” but the like take here was a no-holds barred attack on the song with generous reverb on Rankine’s stinging lead lines. “Nude Spoons” similarly featured the twangy chorus of Rankine’s guitar attaining a dreamy atmosphere in high contrast to the furious band and MacKenzie’s viciously barked performance. The thick delay doubling Rankine’s leads on “Paper House” lead us to conclude that not only were David Evans but also Stuart Adamson paying rapt attention to Rankine’s creative decisions around this time.

Next: …Just Say No

About postpunkmonk

graphic design | software UI design | remastering vinyl • record collector • satire • non-fiction
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