ASSOCIATES: THE RADIO SESSIONS VOL. 1 (1981-1983; 2003)
1) Me, Myself, And The Tragic Story; 2) Nude Spoons; 3) A Matter Of Gender; 4) It's Better This Way; 5) Ulcragyceptimol; 6) Waiting For The Love Boat; 7) Australia; 8) Love Hangover; 9) A Severe Bout Of Career Insecurity; 10) God Bless The Child; 11) This Flame; 12) Helicopter, Helicopter; 13) Theme From Perhaps; 14) Perhaps (schizophrenic version); 15) Don't Give Me That I Told You So Look; 16) Breakfast.
Due to the briefness of their shooting star, the original Associates never left behind a proper live album; nor, perhaps, did they really need one, because their sound relied much more on studio craft than explosive live-by-the-moment energetics. For this reason, you might well think, just like I did, that their live radio sessions, released seriously postfactum from the BBC archives, may be ignored without serious consequences. Don't make that mistake! Every once in a while, obsessive completism pays off properly.
The first nine songs on this collection, recorded on April 28, 1981 and March 6, 1982, respectively, not only feature Rankine on guitar, playing some of the band's best material: they present the best sound that you will ever get out of the Associates. Recorded live in the BBC studio, the songs only allow that much excessive Eighties gloss to be spoiled with. Real live drumming; a minimum of keyboard layers; and, most importantly, guitar a-plenty, guitar that screams and wails as much as it wants to, instead of being subject to rude discrimination. But at the same time, it's still the Associates — moody, echoey music, hysterical vocals and all.
Take ʽA Matter Of Genderʼ, for instance. The original was an atmospheric rocker, whose spark was ignited by rubbing together a heavy funky bass line and a slight, shrill, «see-saw-y» guitar riff. Live, the guitar minimalism is expanded to become a veritable banshee celebration of the instrument — it does not exactly become better, but it sacrifices a little bit of «mystery» in order to gain the guise of a tempest. The pseudo-Eastern riff that opens ʽIt's Better This Wayʼ is played out with twice as more muscle, and the vocals do not creep out like a swampy echo from behind the generic electronic drums, but are delivered straight in your face. And ʽNude Spoonsʼ? The guitar buzzes and stings like a swarm of bees on speed, where on the Sulk studio original it just left a dirty trail of sonic slime in the back of your speakers. Cool!
In addition, there are a few tracks that never got album release — the instrumental ʽMe, Myself And The Tragic Storyʼ is another brawny, flashy, inspiring composition, if not particularly memorable; and ʽA Severe Bout Of Career Insecurityʼ probably has the best pure piano melody on any Associates record of the Rankine era. Also, ʽLove Hangoverʼ gets a long near-accappella introduction (with just a few piano notes to back McKenzie), a must-hear for everyone who just sits there waiting for one more chance to go crazy over McKenzie's tonal magic.
The remaining seven songs are from 1983 and already feature several early versions of McKenzie's Perhaps compositions. These are less exciting, because there are fewer differences from the final takes, and with Rankine's departure, the new band was no longer interested in emphasizing the «live» nature of the sound. Still, there is an interesting take on the Billie Holiday classic ʽGod Bless The Childʼ — I abhor it, currently, but just because I cannot see anyone improving on the original; Billy really does a fine job in his style.
In any case, the first nine tracks alone merit a rock-solid thumbs up: one of those indisputable cases, I think, which fully justify the existence of the BBC Archives — they may have put out a huge lot of redundant, hardcore-fan-only «pale-shadows», but this is one of the major exceptions. It's too bad they didn't record their entire catalog that way — or I'd have no problem recommending to just go for the BBC stuff, and forget about regular studio work.