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Friday, April 20, 2012

Associates: Fourth Drawer Down


1) White Car In Germany; 2) A Girl Named Property; 3) Kitchen Person; 4) Q Quarters; 5) Tell Me Easter's On Friday; 6) The Associate; 7) Message Oblique Speech; 8) An Even Whiter Car; 9*) Fearless (It Takes A Full Moon); 10*) Point Si; 11*) Straw Towels; 12*) Kissed; 13*) Blue Soap.

It is hard to surprise anyone by describing an early 1980s album as «dark and cold». Even the New Romantics, whose basic goals involved finding fresh new ways to get girls to sleep with them, thrived on sounding «dark and cold» — the colder you are, the hotter will be the girls that you are going to get. And, considering how much the Associates' debut was influenced by the Bo­wie/Eno team, it would be very easy to dismiss their further developments on Fourth Drawer Down as even more bandwagon-jumping.

But during this very brief streak, the Associates were not really jumping on the bandwagon — on the contrary, they were helping to build the bandwagon. First of all, these six singles, first relea­sed separately, then knocked together in a coherent single monster, are wildly experimental. Ran­kine and Mackenzie were not interested in simply trading in their post-punk guitar band sound for a bunch of synthesizers: nearly each of the tracks had to include various sound effects and over­lays that would all contribute to the «authentic eeriness» of the atmosphere. Second, throughout the working process Mackenzie was feeding the band his personal disturbance and paranoia — and where it did not seem enough, they were enhancing the mood with drugs (allegedly, both of the key members even had to be hospitalized at one point).

In terms of complexity or meticulousness of production, Fourth Drawer Down does not stand comparison with The Cure, for instance. But it does not really have to. Robert Smith's target has always been the arena — his internal anguish had to be projected over the entire world, and that, by itself, required a tremendous amount of work so as not to come out as laughable. Mackenzie, on the other hand, is not singing about the end of the world or about humanity being forever chai­ned to eternal bleakness, despair, and soul torment. Hence, this is «chamber-oriented» art-pop, not the «symphony-oriented» brand of Robert Smith; and most of the sonic waves seem oriented straight at myself, rather than at occupying the airspace around.

Starting, actually, with the first throbbing pulses that open ʽWhite Car In Germanyʼ. As your sub­woofer threatens to blow up under the weight of the song's massive «leaden» punch, Mackenzie pours out waves of lyrical nonsense with such keywords as "cold", "infirmary", "spies", "surgery", "premature senility", and, yes, "white car in Germany". Whether it's all about an ER vehicle or something else is irrelevant: the main aim is to get a shivery, clinically sterile, living-dead sound, a variety of «morgue muzak», if I may say so. There is no overexaggerated depression or faked in­sanity here — it's simply an anatomical deconstruction of death with no emotional evaluation attached. None needed, in fact.

ʽWhite Carʼ is one of the album's least guitar-dependent songs, though; a more typical formula involves some particular, relatively simple, but catchy, guitar figure, devised by Rankine and us­ed as the basic anchor — the unnerving voice of your internal doomsayer. Next come Macken­zie's ice-cold operatic waves, and finally, all the extra overdubs. It applies to ʽA Girl Named Pro­pertyʼ (where several guitars drone on, layered across each other, in a disturbingly Crimsonian manner); the faster-paced, but still living-dead ʽKitchen Personʼ; and ʽMessage Oblique Speechʼ. ʽQ Quartersʼ pushes the guitar drone into the deep background, keeping the foreground minima­listic-ambient, with a little bit of pseudo-harpsichord to ensure that the mood is still flowing. And ʽTell Me Easter's On Fridayʼ floats on a thin little keyboard riff instead, probably being the clo­sest to generic «synth-pop» that this record gets.

The original record only included eight songs, still managing to run for a good fourty minutes be­cause of the length; however, the six bonus tracks on the CD reissue, bringing back all the nearly lost B-sides, add a brief epic touch — the extra twenty-five minutes will probably just irritate you if you find yourself incapable of «getting in the spirit», but for those who like a solid morgue-ori­ented album from time to time, ʽPoint Siʼ, with its quasi-annoying buzzing guitar groove, and ʽStraw Towelsʼ, one of the album's fastest songs, will be fine additional touches to the sonic pa­norama. (The only true misstep is the final number, ʽBlue Soapʼ, which features Mackenzie sin­ging accappella through a megaphone or something, set against a backdrop of dripping water and what sounds like a faraway orchestra rehearsal — gimmicky and quite meaningless).

It is thoroughly not «my kind of album» — quite inevitably, I find myself bored each time I get to the third or fourth song on it. Me, I'd rather hear one more time about the end of the world than be reminded, in such an intricate manner, of the existence of the cold-room. But if that's the point, Fourth Drawer Down definitely succeeds in making it — don't forget to throw on a sweater or something before loading the record into your CD player. Oh, and the melodies? I'd say they are on the same level as with The Affectionate Punch: modestly catchy «growers» with little, if any, «gripping» power. Oh, and the sound effects? Well, there's typewriters, coughing, singing thro­ugh vacuum cleaner hoses, probably lots of other stuff — no string quartets or nightingales, as could be guessed — it all contributes to some atmosphere, I guess. I could turn my thumbs down, theoretically, but they seem to have been frozen in the thumbs up position.

Check "Fourth Drawer Down" (CD) on Amazon
Check "Fourth Drawer Down" (MP3) on Amazon

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