In the canon of art-rock, The Associates are somewhat overlooked- too awkward to be lumped in with many of their new wave contemporaries, Billy Mackenzie’s songwriting much too emotive and vulnerable to sit alongside the likes of Duran Duran comfortably. Yet their legacy is everywhere in the canon of alternative music – Bjork adored 1982’s Sulk and their tapered theatricality can be heard in Wild Beasts‘ best work.
Perhaps was their third studio album, made under pretty tumultuous circumstances. It’s the first without founding member Alan Rankine, and after various squabbles with Warner’s (who initially deemed the record ‘unreleasable’) it was finished three years after its inception. By that point, four producers had worked on it, and it ended up costing a quarter of a million pounds. Even the most superficial contact with the record would suggest all was not well; the portrait of Billy Mackenzie on the sleeve does not look happy.
Still, the trailblazing nature of the music is undeniable on Perhaps. Opener ‘Those First Impressions’- a beautiful, fragmented torch song which demonstrates the incredible range of Mackenzie’s voice. ‘Waiting For the Loveboat’ takes Scary Monsters era Bowie and feeds it through Cocteau Twins unintelligibility. The Associates predict the future as well as looking to the past, the four to the floor drumming and piano motifs predict early 90s house music. The real centerpiece of the record, ‘Breakfast’, plays with Baroque motifs with its sashaying piano line; it’s a song that allows Mackenzie’s voice to soar and is unlike anything else on the record. Like most songs on Perhaps, it clocks in around the 6 minute mark, but nothing here outstays its welcome thanks to the sheer volume of melodic ideas that inhabit each song.
The bonus disc contains predominantly extended and single versions of songs from the record; none of these songs would sound out of place next to a beloved Pet Shops Boys 12”. Though it doesn’t touch the highs of their masterpiece, Sulk, it’s an incredibly textured piece of work that bears many repeated listens. You would hope that a reissue of this criminally overlooked piece of work would expose a new audience to the band’s canon, as so many artists have borrowed from Mackenzie’s songbook with greater commercial success.
Perhaps is out now on Cherry Red.