ASSOCIATES: THE RADIO ONE SESSIONS VOL. 2 (1984-1985; 2003)
1) A Matter Of Gender; 2) Message Oblique Speech; 3) The Affectionate Punch; 4) Kites; 5) The Crying Game; 6) Even Dogs In The Wild; 7) Gloomy Sunday; 8) Heart Of Glass; 9) Obsession Magnificent; 10) Take Me To The Girl; 11) Give; 12) Helicopter Helicopter; 13) Breakfast; 14) Perhaps.
The second volume of The Radio Sessions covers the first years of the «Associates» without Rankine — which is already disheartening — during which McKenzie was still more concerned about aesthetics than about choreography — which is a little better. It is no way as overwhelmingly strong a collection as the first volume, which goes as far as to present the band in a certain light that is unshed by their studio catalog. But it is still more of a must-own for McKenzie fans than The Glamour Chase or Wild And Lonely.
Curiously, the 1984-85 sessions that McKenzie's «Mark II» Associates did for Radio 1 were not at all centered around tracks for the upcoming Perhaps. Three tunes from that album that are tacked onto the end of the CD are not live at all: they represent either alternate mixes or simply the exact same tracks (I don't have the time or will to check it out more accurately) as Perhaps itself — padding out the running length without any clear reason. The real live tracks all date back to The Affectionate Punch / Sulk era, and represent McKenzie's attempts at somehow prolonging these songs' breathing period by reinventing them.
The first four tracks give us a more disciplined, a more tightly buttoned Associates brand, where the drummer looks more like a robot than a punk on fire, the guitarist shuns unpredictable syncopation or flourishes like plague, and the wall-of-sound, if present, seems static rather than «constantly evolving». However, they still sound like an actual band, perhaps moving closer to The Cure in spirit, and this means that, for instance, ʽA Matter Of Genderʼ gets one more life here — the original studio take, the Rankine-era live version, and the post-Rankine rendition all sound like different statements. And ʽMessage Oblique Speechʼ, a track I never noticed much on Fourth Drawer Down, is seriously sped up, given a repetitive, but catchy new synth-riff, and becomes a hysterical anthem instead of a meditative bore.
The second session yields three stripped-down performances, centered around McKenzie's singing and a lonesome piano: a torching rendition of Dave Berry's ʽThe Crying Gameʼ, plus beautiful takes on ʽEven Dogs In The Wildʼ (the song works great with a bass/piano/finger-clicking accompaniment — and that chord sequence in the chorus, probably the deepest, most inspired thing these guys ever came up with, sounds even more stunning on solo piano than in its original electric guitar arrangement) and ʽGloomy Sundayʼ — it all sounds surprisingly fresh and lively compared to the stuffed synth-pop aura of all the post-Rankine productions.
The final section has a couple tracks that are unavailable elsewhere (ʽObsession Magnificentʼ, ʽGiveʼ), as well as an early take on ʽHeart Of Glassʼ that is much better than the «finished» version on Glamour Chase, with more of a live than computer feeling — at the very least, it sounds inoffensive enough to actually let you start thinking of the possible benefits that a replacement of Debbie Harry by Billy McKenzie could accrue in this context. Or maybe not. But it does sound inoffensive enough — real guitars instead of synth loops are a good guarantee.
Overall, if you decide to own Vol. 1, there is no reason to stay away from Vol. 2, but you got to be prepared for its being a little different. It is a good travel companion to Perhaps, despite focusing on earlier (or later!) material — and an invitation to feed some more on the bleeding heart of Billy McKenzie that should be taken quite seriously by all of his vampire admirers. My own fangs are a bit short, but a thumbs up is still guaranteed.