Associates “Sulk” Ultrabox Aims For Excess…As Ever [part 8]

Associates US promo shot ©1982 Sheila Rock [courtesy of Lansure’s Musical Paraphernalia]

[…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.

Excess Music

associates party fears two
BMG | UK | CD-5 | 2022

Associates: Sulk [2022 remaster] – UK – bonus CD-5 [2022]

Disc 4: PARTY FEARS TWO EP

  1. Party Fears Two (7″)
  2. Party Fears Two (Album Version)
  3. Party Fears Two (Remix)
  4. Party Fears Two (Instrumental)
  5. I Never Will (Demo)
  6. 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.

Excess Volume

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.

party fears two UK LP 1982
The original, album version of “Party Fears Two” is still M.I.A. on the silver disc

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!

party fears two 2000 mastering
The V2 mastering is brickwalled

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?

party fears two 2022 BMG mastering
Still loud, but better than the 2000 by far, especially in the coda

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.

party fears two 2004 WEA mastering
The 2004 WEA mastering is right on the money if you want the 7″ mix

Conclusion

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.

-30-

About postpunkmonk

graphic design | software UI design | remastering vinyl • record collector • satire • non-fiction
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7 Responses to Associates “Sulk” Ultrabox Aims For Excess…As Ever [part 8]

  1. versioncrazy says:

    Pretty good summary of what’s missing and could have been included – I can just about get why for completeness ‘The Associate’ might be included, since it was on the Euro/US edition – but the Euro CD I have is a 3’40” edit – whereas the new box is the full length version. Also turns out that the V2 release from 2000 contains a unique mix of ‘Party Fears Two’ – I had thought it was the Mark Arthurworrey remix but going back for a fresh listen it turns out that while the intro is similar once it gets going it’s not the same at all. Having had so many chances to include the wonderful ‘A.G. It’s You Again’ that it remains MIA leads me to think that it must be a master tape issue and it along with the true album mix of PF2 perhaps have shared the same fate?

    Like

    • postpunkmonk says:

      versioncrazy – I’ve started ripping every CD into my Associates folder to A/B/C/D/E compare every pressing version to search for clues! I have much of my vinyl already done. It boggles the mind. I was aware of the very different V2 promo mix on that CD-5. There’s only so many hours in the day to do this! But if The Associate” was included because of US “Sulk,” then where’s the Arthurworrey remix of “It’s Better This Way?” It’s quite a slippery slope, and if you are fine making the first disc longer than that album [and it’s not the original album, is it?] then I’m all for maximizing disc time to include more material. I’m into completion of the campaign more than the “sanctity of the album.”

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  2. Deserat says:

    While I have not read all of the posts in this chapter, I was fascinated by the waveforms above (I’m an engineer!), your discussion and the comments above. What is most interesting to me is that the production engineer of any song truly leaves their mark on the final product and yet most of the average Joe/Jane doesn’t realize this unless they dive deeply into a catalog or through curiosity wonder why there can be such different versions of a song by the same artist. I have been doing some reading about OMD, Martha and the Muffins, Alison Moyet, DinDisc, Virgin, Carol Wilson, Daniel Miler, Mike Howlett and the music production industry in general. It seems there was a lot of friction at times between the artists and the production staff (not to mention the very stingy business side at times along with the band members ignorance of the long term ramifications) which resulted many times in fissures of the band (let alone any personal distractions). It is amazing to me that there was any final product after reading about these issues.

    Essentially you are doing an archaeological dig and these waveforms are an artifact of the the state of the band, the music and all of the periphery contributing to the production. We usually only see the final product (the song) and yet we can surmise what was going on partially by looking at how the song was produced and whose hands modified the raw product to become the final that we hear/see.

    Thanks for doing this work – it makes me appreciate even more all that is needed for us to listen to a song that we like or liked.

    Liked by 1 person

    • postpunkmonk says:

      Deserat – Thanks for the kind words. I sometimes wonder if posting waveforms goes too far but why limit myself? I pay for the blog. Is the reading you reference contained in any particular books? If so then I need your reading list! The more I read about the shifty and lax music industry I agree that anything gets released at all! Either the artists or the labels can be completely unhinged. Sometimes both at the same time!

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  3. Deserat says:

    This site sucked me in with so much info to read-https://www.electricityclub.co.uk/a-beginners-guide-to-daniel-miller/-start there and then look around. The most hilarious thing there was the German video of Fred vom Jupiter – https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=fS4NPhnfVSM

    This was a great series of posts on DinDisc-the story of Martha and the Muffins was interesting – https://pages.vassar.edu/musicalurbanism/2019/03/01/the-story-of-dindisc-records/

    Enjoy!

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    • Deserat says:

      One other interesting link-Mike Howlett- https://musictech.com/features/mike-howlett-interview/

      When you read these stories, some of the same names keep popping up. It’s like any other industry-people want to work with people who are good at what they do-reputations get built. However, usually there’s one person or two who takes a risk and then if the results are good, people want to be associated or follow them. There’s also similar names in the background -they aren’t necessarily the artists….

      Like

    • SimonH says:

      Looking forward to reading this, thank you!

      Like

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