[…continued from last post]
The primordial version of “No” was as different from the elaborate and layered album production as possible. For a start, it’s all performed on guitar, bass and drums! The mournful tone of Rankine’s guitar was still classy, but a far cry from the deep anxiety of the song’s synth laden counterpart. making the song almost sounding like something maybe Hank Marvin The Shadows could have recorded! or maybe something that would have been at home on Chris Isaak’s “Silvertone” album three years later. The lyrics were slightly different, and Billy hadn’t yet added the “no…no…no…no…noooooooooo” refrain that cut like a knife.
The manic pulse of “And then I Read A Book” was still the same musical panic attack we all knew and loved. Very similar to the studio recording of the song under that name we’ve heard but with superb soloing hock full of rapid strumming from Rankine that added more to this live version. The two songs here that played closest to the LP versions on “Sulk” were the cover of “Gloomy Sunday” and “It’s Better This Way” since those were not exactly drowning in synthesizers.
“Skipping” leaned heavily into the tight rhythm guitar of Rankine but Michael Dempsey’s bass was certainly matching him for impact on this tune. The sweetly intense, treble-heavy tone on Rankine’s solo in the song’s climax was frictionless and ecstatic. He was really providing a bounteous guitar feast in this concert. With the then-unreleased “Australia,” the concert wrapped up on an anticlimactic note.
Billy had mentioned between songs that he had a case of the “Scottish Flu” and he did sound like he was playing it close to his vest to make it through the show with a head cold. As much as Billy was the one to chase in the studio, it felt like Rankine was truly foundational here. Showing how these songs may have been forged on guitar in their earliest form before their transformation in the studio with all of the tech at producer Mike Hedges’ disposal. Making these recordings both early glimpses of the “Sulk” material a year before its release, as well as the only concert outing that these songs would ever have with Rankine, Dempsey, and Murphy flanking Billy on a stage.
Associates: Sulk [2022 remaster] – UK – bonus CD-5 
Disc 4: PARTY FEARS TWO EP
- Party Fears Two (7″)
- Party Fears Two (Album Version)
- Party Fears Two (Remix)
- Party Fears Two (Instrumental)
- I Never Will (Demo)
- It’s Better This Way (original B-side version)
The Bonus EP [disc four] could have been called “Party Fears Two: The Motion Picture,” [but that’s a posting for another day!] since it offered five distinct versions of the song as well as the B-side version of “It’s Better This Way.” But the devil is in the details, which we’ll now discuss.
Track one was the classic 7” edit of the single: known and loved by the masses. Track two was reputed to be the original LP mix of the nominal “album version,” but was in fact the UK 12” mix at 5:35. Shorter than the 5:45 album mix. The difference was the excision of a few bars of vamping in the coda before the final reprise. But it’s nice to finally have the 12” version on an Associates CD. I wouldn’t be shocked if it had snuck out earlier on a 12” mix CD collection earlier.
The “remix” version was actually the infamous Mark Arthurworrey US remix found on the US copies of “Sulk.” There were reverb effects applied to the “heavenly” intro but the biggest changes were the EQ and effects applied to MacKenzie’s vocal which brought it further up in the mix. Then the increased emphasis to Billy’s backing vocals in the mix. Most significantly, the coda edit that every other long version [except one] had was forged here.
The one track new to these ears was the instrumental version of “Party Fears Two” which had aired earlier as part of the 2016 DLX RMs that I still haven’t bought! The intro was a hint of the sugary chords we all expect with a hi-hat looped over it until the piano got the song rolling. But the keys were partially dubbed out to give new emphasis to Dempsey’s bass line. And the cold ending with a hint of reverb was a first for this song. The demo “I Never Will” was the same as on disc 2 of the main set.
The mastering here was comparable to the 2000 V2 version of “Sulk ” I have. Loud, but it could be worse. Nothing was so bad that it induced fatigue, but I’ve heard better. I never got the 2016 version; the first BMG reissue of this title. The 1988 German CD [of the US version] of the album sounds more pleasing, but then that album was hardly what we’d recognize as “Sulk!” Let’s first examine the wave of the rip I made of the UK “Sulk” edition’s “Party Fears Two” Which will function as our baseline of comparison.
It’s 5:46 long and since I mastered from vinyl, the waveform is ideal [just saying]. Peaks near 0 dB with plenty of give between -6 to -12 dB. Let’s compare to the 2000 mastering from the V2 edition of “Sulk,” as mastered by [ulp] Michael Dempsey of Associates!
Ouch! Nothing I would want to hear on headphones. And it’s 5:14 long, almost half a minute missing from the actual album version. Have we learned anything with the 2021 remastering?
While Tim Turan’s mastering is still louder than I would prefer, at least it stops a few dB shy of the brutality of the V2 mastering. Look at the last third of the song for the biggest difference in the volume levels. At this point, which version of “Party Fears Two” is the one to hear? The 1990 “Popera” compilation sounds fine but lo and behold, the 2005 WEA “Singles” 2xCD compilation from 2004 shows a beautiful wave to catch.
This overripe fruit of Associates musical orchard gave a sense that every juicy bite was accompanied by fruit flies swarming around one’s head, each trying to get a hit of the strange nectar that the band was providing here. This was music where everything from the lyrics, to playing, the production, and most certainly the vocals was pitched to eleven on a scale from one to ten. Making this box a necessary celebration of the band’s ability to mix both inspiration and sales with a flawless verve. It’s not my favorite Associates album [that would be “Fourth Drawer Down”] but I can’t make a valid argument against the idea that it was their best album.
Even so, the curation here made some queer choices. I simply cannot fathom why “The Associate” and “A Girl Named Property” were in this box when they were clearly from “Fourth Drawer Down!” The actual LP version of the song still demands the ownership of a 40 year old British album. I would have liked to have seen several tracks that were missing included here. Especially since some tracks were included twice on the fourth bonus disc!
- “Voluntary Wishes, Swapit Production” – The instrumental mix of “Australia” that was the non-LP B-side to “18 Carat Love Affair.”
- “A. G. It’s You Again” – The alternate mix of “Arrogance Gave Him Up” from the 12″ of “Club Country.”
- “Club Country [12″ mix]” – The 6:45 mix of their hit “Club Country” single should have been present
- “Party Fears Two [1982 UK LP mix]” – And this one hurt. The “Sulk” album itself came 90% of the way to the finish line for once; it’s closest brush with perfection ever, but “close” only counts in horseshoes.
- “Party Fears Two [2000 V2 Promo mix]” – As long as we were sewing this phase completely up, this oddity, a 5:12 mix that appeared nowhere but a promo CD-5 in 2000 should have been roped in.
The period between the singles of “Fourth Drawer Down” and “Sulk” captured a band exploding with the possibilities of fully capturing their vision of skewed, left-field Pop [far from Rock] that managed to cross over to the charts and deliver the stardom they had chased for so many years by that time. This boxed set only has three CDs [and an LP in the manner that BMG like to do for this sort of thing, judging from the similar “Quiet Life” ultrabox by JAPAN] and it’s all that I have listened to for the last month as I’ve been prepping for this deep dive. Okay, and my package had a bonus free CD, that actually was free from my chosen vendor; superdeluxeedition.com. Strangely enough, the net effect of such concentrated listening is that there seems to be twice as many discs; simply due to the sense that there are more stimulating ideas per minute crammed into this package than almost any other music. Associates were trying their utmost to have their cake and eat it too and shockingly, managed to fulfill their wildest dreams while ignoring any taint of compromise. To have this boldness commemorated; even in a less than perfect edition, was a right and proper thing.