Associates, Fourth Drawer Down

Oh, one more thing; the cover's a new romantic belter, with the two lads wearing futuristic swim suits at Dundee's local swimming baths.




What a voice, Billy Mackenzie's... If you've not heard it, well... I'll try my best to describe it for you, but really, it's not that easy. Operatic, maybe, maybe a leetle wilder. Over the top? Certainly, but his delivery could be reserved and very melancholy at times. He was certainly not a one trick pony, but once people had heard his singing on hits like Party Fears Two or Love Hangover it was very easy to see the band as lightweight, poppy and ultimately frothy. I think that is a crying shame, because if ever a band was underrated, it's the Associates.


For the record, The Associates made a lot of albums on many different labels, disappointing fans with slap-dash releases, only to then redeem themselves with works of brilliance, like Sulk and Fourth Drawer Down. I suppose the album you would associate with the Associates is Sulk, but, despite the 1982 release having the big hits, the record from the previous year, Fourth Drawer Down -effectively a re-recorded compilation of singles and studio takes - is to my mind the one that has weathered the best; actually, it's screamingly in vogue right now. One only has to take a listen to the operatic melancholy of the opening track, White Car in Germany, replete with its glacial synths and crunching electro beats to realise that.  It's a very menacing piece of music, despite its mannered, carefully coiffured opulence. Infusing records with a Cold War melancholy was very popular at  the time; (don't forget that Ultravox's disgraceful Vienna and  Simple Minds' brilliant Empires and Dance were ploughing the same furrow), but, to my mind, no one caught the mood so effectively as Fourth Drawer.


Maybe it's got something to do with Mackenzie's voice, which changes mood and pace dramatically throughout the recording, never giving the listener a moment's reflection. Or maybe it's more to do with Alan Rankine's sparse, harsh soundscapes (a great example of this is the shivver inducing Q Quarters, which boasts a sonic delivery bleak enough to successfully conjure up images of Gulags in the frozen Siberian wastes). Other tracks in a similar vein are the two brilliant instrumentals, namely The Associate, which is a totally unhinged, suffocatingly paranoid attempt at recreating the atmosphere at a KGB disco, and the sublime, dandyish, but ultimately drugged to the eyeballs schmaltz of the closing track, An Even Whiter Car.


Other tracks on the album (sadly only eight on the original release though the CD re-release has a bundle more) are more introspective. A Girl Named Property and Kitchen Person are seemingly socio-political satires, the former a sad-ish lament on fashionable people (or so I seem to think, you are at liberty to disagree), replete with a gorgeous counter-melody, the latter a self consciously drunken but defiantly lairy stumble through a party full of young Thatcherite designers. Tell Me Easters on Friday and Message Oblique Speech could be about anything, but the melodies are catchy, at times hinting at the Baroque madness of later Associate recordings. It's a shame that the great intro on this version of Message isn't allowed to escape from it's (self imposed?) straight jacket, which always came off in the live recordings. Still, it's a fascinating piece. 


Oh, one more thing; the cover's a new romantic belter, with the two lads wearing futuristic swim suits at Dundee's local swimming baths. They don't do things like that any more in the kingdom of pop...