❉ Ange Chan reviews an overlooked, but essential gem by The Associates.
Of the body of brilliant work that was output by The Associates, their 1985 album Perhaps must be up there as an overlooked, but essential gem. It’s the third studio album by the band however it’s the first album since founding member, keyboardist and guitarist Alan Rankine left, effectively making this a solo album for singer Billy MacKenzie.
The Associates were leading lights of the ‘New Pop’ movement from the early 1980s. Hailing from Dundee on the east coast of Scotland, the band signed to Fiction Records. Perhaps was the much anticipated follow up album to their hit album Sulk (released in 1982) and was originally released in February 1985 after exhaustive and expensive recording sessions. The album was a long time in the making and eventually featured four different producers; Heaven 17’s Martyn Ware, legendary producer Martin Rushent, Dave Allen and Greg Walsh.
The album opens with the classic song, Those First Impressions which was also released as a single, and leads the listeners into that unmistakeable Associates sound with the undeniably impactful voice of Billy MacKenzie. The extended version of this song can be found on CD2. Back to CD1 and straight into the second song and another single Waiting for the Loveboat which also has three different remixes on CD2. Neither songs made much of an impression of the charts at the time, reaching number 43 and 53 respectively.
The title track Perhaps is the Dave Allen remix on disc one and there’s an instrumental version later on CD one, and a remix on CD2 entitled Perhaps Perhaps.
The track Schampout is somewhat of a naval-gazing track for MacKenzie: “What a noise I make, I said, ‘well I am a singer’” Whereas the song is melancholic in mood, disguised with a jaunty synthesizer beat, Helicopter Helicopter begins as a heavier song with deep moody strings, bursting into a quick paced tune. It’s so quirky it could almost be a track by Sparks.
The third single off the album Breakfast did slightly better chart-wise breaking the Top 40 and reaching number 36. This piano-led semi-orchestral song offers a slightly different Associates mood, but is no less compelling; on the contrary, the song really showcases the emotions in MacKenzie’s voice with its tender delivery, really drawing you into the track.
Thirteen Feelings and The Stranger in your Voice continue with the archetypal theme of the album delivering the unmistakeable Associates trademark sound, leading into The Best of You features the vocals of Fairground Attraction front woman and fellow Scot, Eddi Reader. The version which features on the first disc is a remix by Billy MacKenzie and Dave Allen and draws you in with its strong staccato violins, swirling synths, obligatory ’80s sax, and mesmerizing vocals. One of the best tracks on the album, and in my humble opinion should’ve been released as a single at the time.
The album on disc one ends with Don’t Give Me That I Told You So Look (try replicating that in a game of Charades!) and is followed by four instrumental versions including Perhaps, Breakfast Alone, Thirteen Feelings and The Stranger in Your Voice.
The album was only ever released on vinyl and cassette at the first time of release, and although it was re-released as part of a package after Billy’s sad death in 2002. This release contains eleven tracks from the original master tape which have never been released on CD format before now. This deluxe edition comes as a 2-disc digipak with a 20-page booklet, with an extensive seven pages of sleeve notes, courtesy of Andy Davis.
The album delivers a number of musical styles; sometimes Bowie-esque, sometime channelling Sparks, but always predominantly and unmistakably The Associates. I recommend a listen, if only to wallow in the brilliance of a much-missed singer, punctuated by its strong musical content.
❉ The Associates: ‘Perhaps’ (2CD Expanded Digipak Collection) is out now from Cherry Red Records, RRP £10.95. Click to buy from the Cherry Red store.
❉ Ange Chan is a regular contributor to We Are Cult and is a writer of novels and poetry. Her current long-standing, ongoing project is her third novel Champagne Flutes and Pixie Boots which she hopes to see published in 2020.