ASSOCIATES: PERHAPS (1985)
1) Those First Impressions; 2) Waiting For The Loveboat; 3) Perhaps; 4) Schampout; 5) Helicopter Helicopter; 6) Breakfast; 7) Thirteen Feelings; 8) The Stranger In Your Voice; 9) The Best Of You; 10) Don't Give Me That I Told You So Look.
Post-Rankine era Associates are generally forgotten, since even the band name does not really make any sense when nobody is genuinely «associated» with Billy Mackenzie any more. Naturally, if your original image is built on the successful collage of «guy with guitar» and «guy with ego», critics and fans alike will not be impressed when the «guy with guitar» is gone, and you simply retain the original name for publicity purposes. Perhaps took a fairly long time to make — two years of recording only to get completely scrapped and restarted from scratch — and when it eventually came out, it fared poorly. Still reaching something like #23 on the UK charts, but it didn't stay there long, even despite the sexy suit on the front sleeve.
But you know what? I actually found it much more interesting than Sulk. At this point, nobody pretends any more that this has anything to do with a «rock» sound: the entire album is stereotypical synth-pop, with very few guitar overdubs of any importance — and, instead of having Rankine, a modestly inventive, but technically mediocre, player, handle the goods, Mackenzie hires expert player Stephen Betts, a.k.a. Howard Hughes, as a full-time member. The record is no longer produced by Mike Hedges, too, removing and discarding most of The Cure associations; instead, there is a whole bunch of various synth-poppers responsible for production, and it seems to me that their chief task along the way was to steal away as much of Mackenzie's usual darkness and schizophrenia as possible. Much of it still remains — at his peak, Mackenzie was all darkness and schizophrenia, so you couldn't steal away everything, no matter how hard you tried — but overall, Perhaps is much less disturbing than Sulk.
So, it is synth-pop, it is relatively lighter and brighter than usual, it is a solo album masquerading as a band effort, a re-recording made at the record company's insistence — by all these parameters, it's a suckjob that doesn't even deserve its own review at the All-Music Guide. But its opening number, ʽThose First Impressionsʼ, happens to be the most beautiful song in Mackenzie's career. If you happen to be fond of stuff like Roxy Music's ʽMore Than Thisʼ and other Avalon-era creations, there is no way you won't be impressed by ʽImpressionsʼ — its more than tasteful mix of minimalistic piano chords, quiet horn and guitar perks, grumbly bass explosions, and, most important of all, a gorgeous vocal melody from Billy. It may not be entirely true to his personality, but it is hard for me to believe that the entire performance could be «faked» when it is such a flawlessly executed vocal tour-de-force. Sweet, touching, danceable, immaculately produced (the voice is not lost in the mix even for one second, always dancing several feet above the instrumental surface), a genuine gem of 1980s electronic pop.
None of the other tunes can keep up, but there is plenty of creativity anyway. ʽWaiting For The Loveboatʼ and the title track are hook-filled, memorable pop-rockers whose choruses can potentially annoy, but are definitely not senseless (ʽPerhapsʼ is at least as good as your average Depeche Mode hit). ʽHelicopter Helicopterʼ is fast and crazy, not unlike a goofy Oingo Boingo number with its robotic-funky horn and synth arrangements. ʽBreakfastʼ places its faith in a French-tinged piano and strings arrangement — it should be a particularly acquired taste, but it's interesting to see Mackenzie try out something completely different. ʽThe Best Of Youʼ has an excellent bass groove (although the vocals, courtesy of guest singer Eddi Reader, are questionable). And minor melodic attractions can be found just about anywhere.
All the way through, I kept pinching myself, but the truth is out: I am really, really quite impressed by the record. It does have one major flaw: almost all of the songs are drastically overlong — they are not that good to deserve five-to-six minute running times, so that a humble collection of just 10 numbers runs well over fifty minutes. This isn't really a «party» album to keep the guests on their feet, no matter how many technically danceable numbers there are — it is still an attempt to hew out some «art», and I would definitely feel strange dancing to songs that reference "deeper days of quintessential innocence" and such. Hence, no need to keep the groove up and going once it has worked out its potential.
But other than that, it is an imaginative, diverse, and honest attempt to make a progressive synthesis of old school chamber pop and R'n'B with the new electronic inventory at hand. Like all such attempts done in the mid-Eighties, it remains thoroughly dated (the drum sound, in particular, is mostly horrible) — but repeated listenings let me look past that, and simply appreciate the record for all of its little inventions, the power of Mackenzie's voice, and the undeniable beauty of ʽThose First Impressionsʼ. Thumbs up.