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The Associates - Wild And Lonely [Originally released on Circa (1990), re-issued by Virgin (2006)]

 

ImageAfter The Associates gained some momentum with releases such as The Affectionate Punch (1980), early singles comp Fourth Drawer Down (1981) and Sulk (1982), The Associates actually had some hits with the singles from Perhaps (1985). By this time, Alan Rankine was out of the picture and Billy Mackenzie soldiered on under The Associates banner. Due to all sorts of circumstances, their next album The Glamour Chase was supposed to come out in 1988, but became one of those legendary 'lost' albums.

 

Wild And Lonely was Billy's last chance to make an impact on the music business. Even though the album still has a very 80s sound (sometimes cheesy synths, female backing singers, programmed drum tracks), it contains some of his most commercial moments, yet it has its own strengths.

 

Singles like "Fever", "Fire To Ice" (also the first tracks on the album) and my personal favourite "Just Can't Say Goodbye" should have been good enough to get Billy on the radio. But the album did next to nothing, which is hardly fair as Billy committed some of his bluest moments on tape... then again, he was alone. Rankine's influence in the songwriting lunacy is dearly missed, but The Associates heard here are more suave, Billy aiming for an Avalon-era Roxy Music vibe mixed with Pet Shop Boys synths.

 

And it works, too. The storming "Just Can't Say Goodbye" ought to be mentioned; with its storming synths, Billy's voice aching for his lover's attention. Fans will not be able to hide a smile when he sings "I've never had much control"!

 

"Calling All Around The World" is often derided by critics. It's certainly not the highpoint of the album: a cheesy horn arrangement, the female backing singers, Billy deliberately holding back, seeming disinterested. Still, it's pretty infectious and the horn arrangement might grab you next time you're humming in the shower.

 

Virgin did Associates fans a real album by keeping the order of the original CD release from 1990, because that version contained the bonus track "The Glamour Chase" (the previously unreleased title track of the album of the same name). and such a beauty it is. "Losing yourself in the glamour chase", Billy warns the listener - not all that glitters is gold. Romantics will swoooon over lines such as "Slow to forget doesn't mean to say/I'll be an escort to courtesy/Your charm was your vulnerability".

 

To continue that vibe, "Where There's Love" is a smouldering song, probably J J Belle (who also played on Pet Shop Boys' "Being Boring") enhancing the song with smooth wah-wah guitar interplay. (To further that link, the album's polished sheen came from Julian Mendelsohn, who also produced the Pet Shop Boys.)

 

Some of the old Associates manic magic shines through on "Something's Got To Give", at first Billy almost whispering in your ear, accompanied by a bass line that could have come from any fine Acid House record. When that opulent Greek melody comes in (something Billy would reprise on Beyond The Sun's "3 Gypsies In A Restaurant" for instance), you're hooked. What follows is an extremely well executed mix of synths and guitar start-stop moments, bouncing along on that gleeful bassline, Billy finally letting rip when he roars "Live with yourself...!". It can easily be overlooked as album filler, but I personally think it's one of the album's best moments.

 

Fans of the aforementioned posthumously released Beyond The Sun album (1997) will love the cinematically blue "Strasbourg Square" (working title: "You Feel The Same"). Although you could argue that the lyrics conjure up a fantasy world, the crystal clear sounding keys will tickle the mind's eye - just let its imagery work wonders on your imagination, you will love it. As with the previous song on the album, Billy lets go in the second half of the song and yells "you feel... the SAAAAAME". You'd be made of stone not to be affected by it.

 

"Ever Since That Day" is more romantically inclined fare, but although finely done, it doesn't hit the nerves and one does wonder where Billy's thoughts went when singing this song.

 

The title track (named after a whippet Billy had encountered) hints back at the cinematically blue vibe of "Strasbourg Square", Billy's voice smouldering but not floundering. Although detractors will call it meandering, Billy's vocals are still very focussed. But even though the track sounds pretty serious, Billy just can't help himself by putting in lines like "It all begins with Santa Claus/ And brilliant men with brilliant flaws"!

 

The Virgin re-issue comes with 5 bonus tracks: fun but inessential covers of 60s songs such as "Groovin' With Mr. Bloe" (Mr. Bloe) and "Green Tambourine" (The Lemon Pipers). But there's also "Fever In The Shadows", Billy's attempt at rapping... and he just about manages to pull it off. Similar in style to "Something's Got To Give", it's a delicious concoction of Acid House bass lines, guitar squeals and warped orchestral bursts that just keep your attention (even though the track is a bit long). Its status as bonus track on the original 1990 CD release, however, was justified in my opinion. These three tracks had been previously released on the B-sides of the "Fever" and "Fire To Ice" singles.

 

But the album's collector's points are the 2 previously unreleased (and not produced by Julian Mendelsohn) songs "1, 2, 3" (made famous by Cilla Black) and "I'm Gonna Run Away From You" (a Bert Berns song, originally performed by Tamiya Lynn, but Billy might also have heard Frances Nero's version). Although these 2 songs are worth hearing, the production lets these songs down a bit and it does not exactly offer much extra to the canon of The Associates.

 

All in all a fine re-release that should be bought by all Associates fans.

 

Review by Robert van Gameren

 
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