ASSOCIATES: WILD AND LONELY (1990)
1) Fire To Ice; 2) Fever; 3) People We Meet; 4) Just Can't Say Goodbye; 5) Calling All Around The World; 6) The Glamour Chase; 7) Where There's Love; 8) Something's Got To Give; 9) Strasbourg Square; 10) Ever Since That Day; 11) Wild And Lonely; 12) Fever In The Shadows.
I do not understand why The Glamour Chase was rejected and Wild & Lonely was accepted. Or, rather, I do: because Billy was dropped by WEA and went to some obscure minor label instead. Which had nothing to do with the music on the record — most of which was awful. At least The Glamour Chase was a disappointing failure; Wild & Lonely is just an annoying pimple on the pop music surface.
Two things are certain: (a) Billy Mackenzie still got his pretty voice; (b) most of these songs are danceable. This is more or less all the accolades I can screw out of my brain. It is hardly possible to discuss individual songs, because how do you tell bubbly synth patterns one from another? I doubt anyone will ever be interested in the tablature for any of these songs.
Initially, there is serious temptation to trash the whole thing as primitively disgusting «Eurodance». It takes several listens to even begin to understand that Billy actually did take some care of the arrangements. For instance, ʽFeverʼ, in addition to the basic chugging synth bass part, has layers of pianos, (synthesized) strings, and (synthesized) harps, all of which could theoretically add up to something distinctive. But they don't, because none of the parts make any sense other than a «oh, that sounds too naked, let me throw on some "artsiness" here».
Worse, it takes serious digging to clear a way to Billy's heart — most of the songs are so utterly faceless, it's as if he'd completely lost all sense of purpose. Why the heck does a thing like ʽCalling Around The Worldʼ even exist? Its horn-driven theme is cheesy, its «happy« vocals are phony, its chorus is unmemorable. Where are the angst and the anguish? The despair and the disenchantment? The gloom and the glamour? Shame, shame, shame.
If you suffer long enough, you may get a mild, inadequate reward in the guise of the title track, which completes the record in a soft-jazz / adult-contemporary mode. As the electronic drumming gets softer and slightly «Latinized», the synth bass dies down to an echo, and minimalistic piano chords and strings take center stage, Billy gives a tragic-romantic delivery in the grand tradition of a Scott Walker (or a David Bowie, if you prefer someone with advanced star power). Does it help much? No. It's just one last song, and it isn't very memorable, and there is no way it would save the album from an inevitable thumbs down. But at least it sounds natural, which is the last word I would want to associate with the rest of this record.
After the predictable, and justifiable, flop of the album — it might have helped if Billy were a hot young teenage girl in a leotard, but no guarantee — Mackenzie finally had the good sense to retire the «Associates» brand, a thing that he should have done at least three years earlier (Perhaps can still be qualified as an «Associates» record in spirit). As far as I know, having only listened to brief snippets, his last solo album, Beyond The Sun, released just before or just after his suicide in 1997, somewhat reinstates his standing, moving away from generic dance-pop, but I have no plans for a detailed review of Billy's solo career. It's too bad, though, how the Associates thing ended — what began as an inspiring combination of elements ended up ground and chewn in the stupid pop cliché machine: one more victim of the mercyless Eighties.