The synth pop, new wave and New Romantic genres of the early '80s certainly contained their share of musical variety, but Scotland's Associates carved a distinctive niche on the strength of the brooding beauty of frontman Billy Mackenzie's gloomy yet urgent vocals. Armed with equal nods to punk rock, post-punk and cabaret pop styles, the band reached its creative peak with 1982's Sulk, a full-length statement that should have made Mackenzie and chief collaborator Alan Rankine into household modern rock names. Alas, such recognition was not to be - partly because the the new wave market was flooded at the time and partly because the duo's creepy Goth rock sound was ahead of its time.
The record featured several singles that became popular in the U.K., but several album tracks are also more than worthy of music lovers' attention. In particular, "It's Better This Way" serves as a fluid showcase for both Rankine's haunting guitar tones and Mackenzie's highly versatile delivery that variously combines the theatrics of heavy metal with the aggression of punk. As I continue to mine the great expanse of '80s music for this regular feature, I'm continually amazed at the tremendous bounty of deserving music that remains hidden by the mainstream veil. Contemporaries ranging from early T.S.O.L. to '90s band Smoking Popes exhibit similarly operatic vocal overtones that end up going very well with alternative music. Still, Associates was one of the first and most interesting bands to genuinely exploit such an approach.
- Listen to "It's Better This Way" in its entirety here.
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Album Cover Image Courtesy of Beggars Banquet/Sire