'The Affectionate Punch'
(Fiction Fix 005)*****
BURSTING FROM virtually nowhere, it's almost inconceivable that Associates could have produced such a faultless testament to their strength, of character and material without even the merest advance warning of this sudden triumph. With no personal axe to grind, nor favours to carry, I can honestly state this album represents an absolute zenith in contemporary music, leaving in its wake recent releases by the Bunnymen, the Cure, Ultravox and many other more fancied names. To my mind, the music on this disc is of a scorching calibre only surpassed by Wire and Joy Division, without necessarily resembling either of those outfits.
Avoiding such hideous comparisons as are liable to mislead and disappoint, this album continually confounds and tempts me throughout ten tracks of hauntingly emotive power. Indeed, side two forms such a cohesive entity that the playing of a single track becomes impossible; even at the end you want more.
At least seven songs here are filled with an aching poignancy and beauty that nearly leaves me powerless (in my comparative inadequacy) to convey their sheer, utter perfection. 'Matter Of Gender' has to be the stand-out track of all, though, and opens that second side in completely convincing style - searing, stinging guitar, lively bass and an impassioned vocal concerning adultery: 'The flame may be hot, but you can't resist it.'
Along with the fiercely aggressive 'Would I Bounce Back?" it is the most obviously commercial track (maybe a hit 45, though I despise the whole 'singles off albums' marketing ploy), without sacrificing feeling for foot-tapping. In between, these two lies an expertly cinematic piece of atmospheric evocation, as Billy MacKenzie croons the opening 'Somewhere deep in the night` on 'Even Dogs In The Wild'; somehow capturing the essential mood of, say, Casablanca - his casual whistling on the fade conjures up all sorts of images best left to the individual imagination.
Rounding off with another filmatic soundtrack ('Deeply Concerned'), the whole celebration is climaxed by 'A' - basically a song consisting of merely the alphabet letters chanted - a task very few vocalists could even attempt, but this guy MacKenzie (apart from being a lyricist of rare insight) has an awesome anachronistic style of his own, containing traces of jazz scat, soul power, operatic purity and night-club smokiness. He is destined to be a voice of the Eighties.
My ecstasy with the second half. of this album might lead you to fear the first side to be
below par, but nothing could be further from the truth - this is a five-star platter through and through. The melancholia of 'Logan Time' sets a pattern that lasts through the unsettling 'Paper House' until 'Transport To General', the harshest, least palatable cut present - and love it! The grinding, metallic doominess recalls Pere Abu at their most psychotic, as scenes of majestic defiance flash past my brain: 'Transport to central/ We need more like him/ Do all in your power/ To keep him alive.'
All delivered in a mournful, respectful cry from the heart, to the desolate musical nightmare created by Alan Rankine (guitars, bass and keyboards).
My one remaining worry about 'The Affectionate Punch' is that for some inexplicable reason, you the reader may not take my sincere exhortations seriously enough and thus foolishly pass over a record of stunning depth and creativity. For those potential buyers convinced by my persuasion, I accept your thanks - for the rest, I offer my apologies.