Album: The Affectionate Punch – Associates
Review: NME, 16 August 1980
Author: Paul Morley
RUMOURS have been dripping down from Scotland about a diverse horde of determined post Skids/S. Minds/Scars groups all ready to shift our attention. Positive Noise, Altered Images, Josef K, Orange Juice . . . the newest rumours centred around The Associates, who it seems were refining the vision of Station To Station, who it seems had a singer who sang like that particular Bowie. He wasn’t copying, that’s how he really sang – from deep inside, neo-operatically.
It sounded ponderous, but The Affectionate Punch is too good, too spectacular to be merely the work of yet another group set to make a career out of one of Bowie’s stops. The Associates have further defined Station’s eerie combination of vitality and disorientation, drawn from is melancholia, and share its European feel. It’s a debut almost as sensational as Real Life – The Associates have things in common with Magazine worth talking about.
That European feel for a start, which basically stems from their liberating remoteness from standard r’n’r influences: the logic and out of the blue maturity of their sound: a Kurt Weill caught up with John Barry cabaret tension: and a respect for the irrational.
Billy Mackenzie is vocally reminiscent of Bowie: but Bowie has never sung with so much delightful range and subtlety, never really had to. Mackenzie’s soul singing is in the pained, proud tradition of Holiday and Garland. He’d be comfortable and do a great job singing ‘Windmills Of My Mind’ (he almost does on ‘Even Dogs In The Wild’). An artist at communication, he takes intense care over enunciation – the shape of words and the space between them. His vocals are either a folly or something very special: I reckon a little of the former, a lot of the latter.
The Associates sound is somewhere between evocative Cure and dramatic Magazine: a passionate cabaret soul music, a fulfillment of the European white dance music Bowie was flirting with back then. It is a fabulist (as opposed to surrealist) entertainment vitiated by a cool sense of art.
Billy Mackenzie and Alan Rankine write the music; Mackenzie the words. Rankine appears to play all instruments with remarkable skill except drums (Nigel Glockler). The ten songs are consistently inventive, ironic, irreverent, written with a light sometimes self-mocking restraint, arranged from a post-Eno, point of view.
The opening two songs are immediately impressive: the stylish cynical title track, typically laced with incidental delights; the almost atomised, light-headed ‘Amused As Always’ – Mackenzie’s singing here at is most absorbed and absorbing. The side’s closer, ‘Transport To Central’, forgoes obvious percussion and is formed around bitter, hedonistic guitars. The guitar sound on the LP is of the Manzanera/Levene/Smith line, lyrical, splintered, very anti-formal.
Individually, Mackenzie’s songs don’t say anything in particular (you could say they’re fashionably vague, but I’m not going to). Nervy, inward-looking images are repeated, reviewed, suggesting a feeling or an action, a mood or a moment. Effectively simplistic, songs about chance, confusion, absurdity, failure, suspense, that never degenerate into the precious.
‘A Matter Of Gender’ is a lush example of The Associates’ private desperation and public drama. ‘Even Dogs In The Wild’ is decadent cabaret, feeling for warmth; a typically clipped swing, finger clickings, a lone whistler in the dark. Mackenzie goes right over the top on ‘Would I… Bounce Back’ but still doesn’t seem to be stretching himself; ‘A’ drags out the group’s amoralism from its usual corner.
Don’t look for message or moral – the songs affect a dreamlike incompleteness but are not unprincipled or uncaring. They develop an account of the various mechanisms by which people remain trapped in boredom, abstraction, essence.
With Mackenzie’s obsessive flamboyance, the invariably plangent melodies, the richly fragmented detail of the songs, The Associates are undoubtedly theatrical. But their sense of theatre is natural, even profound, not the usual pop flash-trivia. The Associates are real performers.
At their worst they are engagingly supra-whimsical, at their best they are potently sophisticated and sensitive. Their well-ordered flair and melodrama seems right for the times: decay music.
The Affectionate Punch is a kind of masterpiece.
It was in 1980, that my tastes began to develop and widen, thanks in part to Joy Division, Magazine, Echo & The Bunnymen and the Bowie of Ashes to Ashes/Fashion/Scary Monsters (and Super Creeps), all of which I felt were a cut above the norm, although there was still no question that The Jam were the singularly most important band ever to have graced the planet at any point in musical history.
I’d love to tell you that I raced out the next day after reading this review and bought The Affectionate Punch, but I’d be lying. It would take me until the following year, when I had started university, and hearing White Car In Germany for the first time that totally stopped me in my tracks, thanks to it being included on a compilation tape made by a new mate I’d met at university that led to me buying a copy of Fourth Drawer Down, the compilation released in late 1981 bringing together all the singles which Alan and Billy had released that particular year.
I’d love to tell you at the purchase of Fourth Drawer Down then led to me going back to the shop to buy the debut album from the previous year, but again I’d be lying. I’d not too long fallen in love for the first time with someone who I’d been at school with and her musical tastes were very much on the conservative side, and so I was spending money and time trying to get her to appreciate the more pop-orientated elements of my weird vinyl, which meant anything that didn’t chart stood very little chance of being bought. But as I started to spend more time with my new pals from uni, and she with her new friends at the bank where she had been taken on as a school-leaver, the relationship withered; it broke my heart at the time, but the consolation was that I threw myself deeper than ever into music.
Fourth Drawer Down wasn’t bought until after the Associates had become famous; even then, it was from someone who, having rich parents and a bulky wallet, bought loads of records on a whim and had found that early Associates was nothing like the pop-era Associates of 1982. He more or less gave it away to me…..
mp3: The Associates – The Affectionate Punch
mp3: The Associates – Amused As Always
mp3: The Associates – Transport To Central
mp3: The Associates – Even Dogs In The Wild
Paul Morley was right to say that The Affectionate Punch is a kind of masterpiece. It sounded like nothing else back in 1980. Sadly, most folk only know of it through the 1982 remix, released by Warner Brothers after the success of Party Fears Two/Club Country/18 Carat Love Affair/Sulk, in which the songs were given a fairly radical makeover in terms of production and from Billy being asked, nay forced, to re-record some vocals. It was a fatal mistake as it found no favour with those who had liked The Associates from the outset and, despite the tweaks, it was ignored by those who wanted a repeat of the chart hits.
And, of course, the album has given its name to a Glasgow-based collective who have featured a few times on this blog over the past two years. Things have been a wee bit quiet of late with the collective, but watch this space for developments…..
11 thoughts on “ALL OUR YESTERDAYS : THE AFFECTIONATE PUNCH”
The Affectionate Punch in my mind is one of the best debut albums ever, and like JC I’d love to say I had read about it and got it early on in 1980 – but alas, in a small Swedish town 1980 NME were scarcely found and I was (un)happily unaware of its being. Then in fall 1981 my parents went a week to London and I asked my mother to pop in to one of the record stores on Oxford Str and buy me 5 singles (I might have said New Romantic singles, but this can also be a later construction of my memory). Of said 5 singles I only remember 3 now, The Nolans – Gotta Pull Myself Together (!!! – the person selling this must either been wacko or having a bit of fun on me…), Thomas Dolby – Urges/Leipzig and The Associates – A/Would I… Bounce Back. The Nolans’ is since long not in my collection anymore, Thomas Dolby is a great bit of plastic and still here and since then I have an interest in what he’s up to.
Then, playing A I was, what was I?, amused and confused maybe. Basically singing the alphabet, a bit weird I thought – but then flipping it and hearing Would I…Bounce Back I was totally knocked down, I had never heard anything like this before. The voice, the intense and rich music, it was the greatest music moment of my life. I played it 18 times in a row and since then I have been a devoted follower. A year later, Christmas 1982, we spent in London and I picked up litteraly everything I could find by The Associates, and I even got the family to take the train somewhere outside London to visit Adrian’s record store. My father complained about the risk of overloading the car when he saw the bunch of records I tucked in the boot going home…
Had it not been for Sulk this would have been the masterpiece. The original release captures the band at their sparsely produced best. My copy is second hand – bought, I think, in 1981 – definitely from Listen with a gold (sadly, not actual gold) imprint “Limited Edition Special Price £2.99”
Lyrically, vocally, musically and the aforementioned production make it one of the kookiest and most loved LPs I own. Transport to Central captivated me and it remains one of my all time favourite songs, ever.
The remix LP, well … I don’t care for it. I bought it about 20 years ago and it sounds, in places, like the music industry castrating the band’s creativity and individuality. By coincidence I listened to it only last week. I remain unimpressed.
Just listen to the original of A. Here is someone quite literally signing the alphabet and making it sound glorious.
The Associates – a band out of time.
As the great comments above from Martin and Flimflanfan show, those of us who “got” the Associates really got them, almost to the point of obsession. Everyone else kinda ignored them. Even in Iain Rankin’s novel named after Punch track Even Dogs in the Wild, the band get name checked and dismissed out of hand in one line.
Ah, well, they’re special, and if you know you know…
Long time reader, but rare commenter, inspired by this glorious LP to put in my two penneth.
1979 and 1980, what a time to be a teenager with a weekend job and the NME. I will admit that for a few years Paul Morley turned me onto so much great music by a reference to the holy trinity (Joy Division, the Bunnymen & The Cure), and so I sought out the Affectionate Punch (yes, £2.99 !!) and became obsessed by the Mackenzie/Rankine partnership for its short existence. The debut’s sound is both unique in itself and compared to 4thDD and Sulk; no filler, all killer. So sad that their partnership didn’t last longer; Billy never found a collaborator to match him.
I don’t think you can ever match those early thrills of finding music so unique, that makes you feel so alive and the possibilities of the world seem infinite. The rest of your life becomes a fruitless search to recreate that buzz and nothing is ever quite good enough.
Thanks for the reminder of life’s high water marks.
No kidding. Finally hearing The Associates in 1990 when “Popera” was released after a decade of reading about them was what made me The Post-Punk Monk. I popped in that disc in the record store and had to hear “White Car In Germany” and it was even better than the cathedrals I was constructing in my mind from the title alone.
It was then and there that I realized that as much as I’d been soaking up amazing Post-Punk in the late 70s/early 80s, some of it missed me completely. And with the UK mad for House and Madchester in the time period, maybe I’d be getting much more for my money by turning my glance permanently backward to investigate the unexplored tributaries of music that for one reason, or another, I did not investigate in real time.
The Associates were always the band whose records I did not see, and they were never played on even college radio. Nothing at all on MTV. So they remained a mystery. Until 1990, when they became my obsession magnificent. How glorious is was to read Paul Morley’s perceptive review of this classic album! Some may look askance at Mr. Morley’s pretentious proclivities, but I do not count myself among that dismal crowd! I can read that and say such words could not be bettered. Though I will break ranks and state that my ultimate “Affectionate Punch” would be comprised of roughly equal amounts of the original and remix album! Maybe it was down to obtaining the remix LP first.
Such a great album, and if I’m correct both versions have been released on CD over the years? Morley is someone I always love to read and he was spot on here!
@kaggsysbookishramblings – Yes they were both released as CD’s, and the remix release story is pretty messy, the “original” remix had catalogue number FIXD5, then came a Mid-Price version, SPELP33, which was a mix of the 82′ remix and the 80′ original. Then in 1997 there was the CD version, FIXCD5, which again is a slightly different – some tracks are unique to the CD…
The original version was released on CD in 2016 by BMG.
(And yes, of course I have them all.)
I came to The Associates through Fourth Drawer Down, but DID roll back and get my hands on The Affectionate Punk right after.
Reading Paul Morley reminds me of how exasperated I always felt after reading one of his reviews or interviews. Morley takes pretension to whatever the next level must be – I’m sure he knows the word I’m looking for and could offer it up with about 3 paragraphs of explanation I don’t need.
Transport To Central is a song steeped in a certain past but completely ahead of its time. There’s my own bit of pretentious writing, but it’s certainly the truth.
I must be one of the few who reckon that the remix version isn’t that different from the original and certainly not that much worse. I bought it first, since the original was out of print, around the time of Sulk, though I’d already bought my favourite bit of Associates – the 12 inch of Kitchen Person, probably the most anti-commercial single they ever released, a screeching, abrasive, dissonant stomp with almost inaudible and wholly incomprehensible lyrics. A winner!
I can understand that the remix version was completely redundant for those already familiar with the original. I have both now, after finding a NZ pressing here in Wellington a few years ago. I find it somewhat amazing that it was released here around the same time as the original in 1980, long before the breakthrough singles of 1982. The market here for (then) obscure Scottish bands must have been ‘niche’ to say the least. At any rate, hearing both simply confirms that the remix was a pointless exercise with such minimal reworking that it was never going to turn the album into ‘Sulk: the prequel”. But if you’re a fan, you won’t be disgusted by the remix, and for newbies you wouldn’t be short changed or misled by it either.
That’s wonderful. Captures it all perfectly. I was directed here after I recently wrote a piece on Station To Station… https://theafterword.co.uk/12-bowie-albums-in-12-months-station-to-station/
If you’re interested I wrote a piece for Toppermost on The Associates https://www.toppermost.co.uk/the-associates/
Thanks for sharing the Morley piece 🙏
This completely missed me the first time round, so I have just listened to it for the first time. They really wanted to be Talking Heads, didn’t they?