Little to Sulk About
THE ASSOCIATES: "Perhaps." Distributed by WEA Records, New Zealand.
Dundee, Scotland, is known around the world as the home of William McGonagall, marmalade and the Beano. It is also the home of the sole surviving Associate, Billy MacKenzie.
This suave and urbane 'whippet' fancier rose to fame and notoriety a few years ago, then slipped away without trace when he split with fellow Associate Allan Rankine, in1982.
Guitarist Rankine had lost patience with MacKenzie's erratic behaviour and lack of commitment and was sick of carrying a disproportionate share of the burden. MacKenzie, however, put the split down to the pressures of "rock'n'roll" and claimed that he had been In the driving seat anyway.
Whatever the reasons, the split may not be permanent and in the meantime, after a three-year gap, MacKenzie has kept the name alive with the aptly-titled "Perhaps".
Unfortunately, while MacKenzie still has full control of his faculties (voice, lyrics and to a lesser extent music), new guitarist Steve Reid and keyboardman L. Howard Hughes fail to emulate Rankine's brilliance as an arranger and musician. These two are skilled craftsmen all right, but Rankine was a musical Picasso by comparison.
All is not lost though. Any Associates record is better than none and it's still a pleasure to hear MacKenzie's voice swoop and trill its way through a good 55 minutes' worth of material.
Most of it is pretty decent too; by no means second rate, just a lack of bite in the music that disappoints. The guitar, synth and drum machine combination, is clinically effective but too often lapses into Devo territory and technical wizardry.
The songs themselves are, with a few exceptions good enough to bring to mind the last Associates LP "Sulk," but nothing really matches the originality of that masterpiece.
"Breakfast" is the pic of the album; its piano, strings and voice combination is utterly delicious. The rest of side two is consistently good as well.
Side one begins a little tamely but comes right in style with "Waiting for the Loveboat". In fact, the only dud tracks are "Schampout" and "Helicopter, Helicopter" closing side one, and this due almost entirely their inane backings.
So, in the end, disappointment tinged with relief that the Associates are still alive and, if not completely well, at least showing the vital signs.
Perhaps one day, with the help of Alan Rankine, they will regain their past brilliance. Perhaps. - IAN HENDERSON...