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Associates Singles Review

Compilation. Released 2004.  

BBC Review

...this singles collection tells us how little things like 'credibility' and...

Jaime Gill 2003

The career of the eccentric, extraordinary Scottish art-poppers The Associates can be read as a lesson in what matters about pop music.

For a start, this singles collection tells us how little things like "credibility" and "authenticity" matter, since the moment the band abandoned theirobscureelectronicafor the pop ecstasy of 1982's "Sulk" was the moment their blatant but latent genius finally flowered.

At the same time it demonstrates how important it is to stay true to artistic instincts. The ramshackle electro-dirge of 1981's "Tell Me Easter's On A Friday" will always be more fascinating than something as super-processed and blatantly commercial as 1984's vile attempt at soul, "Those First Impressions". And the fact it failed is proof that the British record buying public has rather better taste than many journalists would have us believe.

Singles also reminds us of how there is little lonelier in pop than a truly great voice in search of a truly great song, as David MacAlmont knows well. To say Billy McKenzie had a great voice would be to understate. His voice was so spectacular, so emotional and soaring, that it alone could make the listener feel the thrill of being alive. It is one of pop's greatest secrets.

What McKenzie did not have in his career was a wealth of great songs. The best were the most successful, the deranged melodic overdrive of "Party Fears Two" and the vicious, addictive "Country Club". These songs remain as incredible and enthralling as they ever did and pop would be much the poorer without them.

Elsewhere there is the wonderfully sinister stomp of "White Car In Germany" and the velvety melancholy of "Breakfast", but sadly little McKenzie wrote after 1984 was good enough for that voice (that voice!). The result is a collection that is a mix of extraordinary highs and the occasional low.

McKenzie tragically died by his own hand in 1997 but there is more life in these songs than most people ever live. Thank you Billy.

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