|Studio album by The Associates|
|Released||14 May 1982|
|Studio||Playground in Camden Town, London, England|
|The Associates chronology|
|Singles from Sulk|
Sulk is the second studio album by Scottish post-punk/new wave band The Associates. It was released on 14 May 1982 on their own Associates imprint of Beggars Banquet Records for the UK and throughout the rest of Europe on WEA Records and in the US on 4 October by Sire Records.
It stayed in the UK Albums Chart for 20 weeks, reaching number 10, and it was crowned the album of the year by the critics of UK music magazine Melody Maker. Although it was the group's breakthrough record both critically and commercially, it was to be the last album recorded by the original pairing of Alan Rankine and Billy Mackenzie, as just four months after its UK release Rankine acrimoniously left the band when Mackenzie pulled out of a planned North American tour at the last moment. Subsequent Associates albums were effectively solo records by Mackenzie, aided by hired musicians.
Signing a distribution deal with WEA Records at the end of 1981 on the strength of the demos for "Party Fears Two" and "Club Country", Associates were given a £60,000 advance by the record label. Having spent half of the advance immediately on block-booking a studio for an indefinite period of time, the band moved into individual rooms at the Swiss Cottage Holiday Inn in London, including an extra room for Mackenzie's pet whippets, which he fed on smoked salmon ordered from the hotel's room service. The band also spent large amounts of money on other items such as clothing and drugs. In a 2007 interview bass player Michael Dempsey recalled that "we were all ridiculously profligate. But it wasn't entirely ridiculous to be doing things that way because Bill would coax money out of record companies in a kind of mesmeric way. He thought that the more money we owed them, the more obligation on their part to make this work to get their investment back." Rankine claimed that the excessive spending actually influenced the sound of the album: "If we hadn't spent the money, the album wouldn't have got made in the way it did. It was mental, but there was also a self-assured cockiness, because we knew we had these songs."
Sulk was recorded at producer Mike Hedges' self-built Playground studio, in a former warehouse in nearby Camden Town, and cost £33,000 to make. The stories regarding the recording sessions for this album have been well documented over the years. Rankine admitted that "I don't think there's been any exaggeration about what went on. If anything, I think people have been holding back a bit in their recollections. It was madness." He confirmed that the sessions included stunts such as urinating in a guitar and filling drums with water to see how it affected their sound, but that the story that the band had filled the studio with helium balloons was an exaggeration, stating that they had fooled around with a helium balloon that had been brought in one day, but no more than that. However, both Rankine and Dempsey insisted that despite the heavy spending and antics in the studio, the band worked long hours and were completely focused on the record they were making. Drummer John Murphy left the band shortly after completing the recording of the album, unable to cope with Mackenzie and Rankine's behaviour.
Release and promotion
The first single released from the album was "Party Fears Two". It became the band's breakthrough single, reaching number 9 on the UK Singles Chart in March 1982. A second single, "Club Country", was almost as successful, reaching number 13 in May 1982. The singles' success owed greatly to Associates' memorable appearances on the UK's best known and most watched television music show of the time, Top of the Pops. The group took the opportunity to subvert the family-friendly nature of the programme with absurdist pranks: on their second appearance performing "Party Fears Two", Rankine played the banjo while dressed in a fencing suit and wearing samurai make-up with chopsticks in his hair, while Mackenzie spent much of the song singing to the image of himself in the television monitors rather than face the audience or the cameras. For their final Top of the Pops appearance, Rankine had two chocolate guitars made by the London department store Harrods which he played during their performance of "18 Carat Love Affair", one of which he broke up and gave to audience members halfway through the song. Rankine confessed that the reason for their stunts was that "partly it was just a response to the boredom of having to be there at the BBC studio from half eight in the morning and not getting out until ten at night".
Following the chart success of "Party Fears Two" and "Club Country", the band released the double A-sided single "18 Carat Love Affair"/"Love Hangover" in July 1982, which reached number 21 in the UK charts. "18 Carat Love Affair" was a version of Sulk's closing instrumental track "nothinginsomethingparticular" with added vocals, while "Love Hangover" was a cover of Diana Ross's 1975 hit single. Problems started to surface within the group the following month when they began rehearsals with a nine-piece band for an upcoming tour of the USA and Canada to promote the forthcoming release of Sulk in North America. The demands placed on Mackenzie's voice caused him to develop pharyngitis, resulting in the cancellation of a string of August concert dates across the UK, including three planned headline shows at the Edinburgh Festival. In September Mackenzie pulled out of the tour the night before the band were due to travel, claiming that he did not feel the musicians were up to the standards required. This was the final straw for Rankine, who felt Mackenzie had thrown away the group's best chance to become famous in the US, and he quit the band.
The album was issued in the USA on Sire Records on 4 October 1982 with a significantly different track listing. Along with an overall different track sequence, the UK LP tracks "Bap de la Bap", "Nude Spoons" and "nothinginsomethingparticular" were replaced with both sides of the "18 Carat Love Affair"/"Love Hangover" single and two tracks from the Fourth Drawer Down compilation, "The Associate" and "White Car in Germany". "It's Better This Way" and "Party Fears Two" appeared as versions remixed by Mark Arthurworrey, and "Club Country" was replaced by the 7" edited single version.
The original UK and European CD release of Sulk, released in 1988, also followed the US track listing, but contained edited versions of "Club Country", "Love Hangover" and "The Associate".
The remastered version of Sulk, issued in June 2000, finally reverted to the versions and track listing on the original UK release, apart from replacing "Club Country" with a different version from those on all previous releases. The remastered CD also included seven bonus tracks, including both "18 Carat Love Affair" and "Love Hangover".
Writing and composition
The bizarre antics in the studio were a result of the band experimenting with ways of creating new sounds. Rankine said, "We were constantly thinking of what we could do to make this sound different, what can we do with the tools that we've got—which was the musicians. We were the tools. It wasn't just for the sake of being different. But we'd look up lists of instruments and go, 'What the hell is a jangle piano?' The next day this piano would suddenly arrive with all these little metal bits. And that's what we used on 'Party Fears Two', for the intro." He also described their restructuring of the traditional drum kit to create an attention-grabbing sound: "What we did on ["Bap de la Bap"] and quite a lot of the songs on Sulk was take away all the tom-toms and make the whole drum kit out of snare drums. So there'd be a seven-inch metal snare drum as the snare and a five-inch copper snare as one of the toms, and then maybe a real deep nine-inch black beauty made out of ebony as another tom-tom. So it made the whole thing really explosive."
Mackenzie's lyrics on Sulk are often cryptic and ambiguous. Speaking to NME at the time of the album's release about the band's biggest hit single, Mackenzie said, "'Party Fears' could be about a whole lot of things. It could be about a husband and wife arguing with each other. It could be about communism and conservatism, political party extremes. It could be about schizophrenics. The lyrics of a song like that go deliberately to the extremes to get something across, like an actor using a heavy hand gesture when he speaks a line."
According to Rankine, "Nude Spoons" "was about an acid trip Bill had had, in his younger days, when he was fifteen or sixteen. Apparently, the spoons were copulating and there was a war going on between the spoons and the plastic flowers in the pot next to them." Rankine believed that "Club Country" was Mackenzie's response to attending the New Romantic clubs at the time and finding the scene to be very superficial.
|Mojo||very favourable (2000 reissue)|
Ian Pye of Melody Maker wrote "Chasing after the shadow of David Bowie, singers of a post-new romantic persuasion roar to the heavens striving for a forced grandeur that invariably reeks of overblown tack... To do this kind of thing properly, melodramatic aspirations should be backed with a voice that carries the classical overtones of real synth-funk gods. Billy Mackenzie has been blessed with this gift... these glorious vocal chords have distinguished the past two Associates albums and Sulk is the pearl of this classy triumvirate... In parts, Sulk is really over-produced, the stamp of perfectionists, and while there's nothing to match the commercial appeal of their two hotshots, this record has an almost timeless majesty that can only make Billy Mackenzie's rapturous grin grow wider still." Paul Morley of NME wrote "Sulk deals with everything, in its hectic, drifting way... There is an uninterruptible mix-up of cheap mystery, vague menace, solemn farce, serious struggle, arrogant ingenuity, deep anxiety, brash irregularity, smooth endeavour... Sometimes Sulk is simply enormous: and then again it is fantastically unlikely."
Reviewing the 2000 reissue David Peschek of Mojo called Sulk "their florid, hysterical masterpiece" and observed, "This remains extraordinarily potent music, a repository of the otherness contemporary pop so lacks".
- Side A
- "Arrogance Gave Him Up" – 2:57
- "No" – 5:41
- "Bap de la Bap" – 4:13
- "Gloomy Sunday" (Rezső Seress, Sam M. Lewis) – 4:09
- "Nude Spoons" – 4:15
- Side B
- "Skipping" (Rankine, Mackenzie, Michael Dempsey) – 3:57
- "It's Better This Way" – 3:22
- "Party Fears Two" – 4:52
- "Club Country" – 5:29
- "nothinginsomethingparticular" – 2:16
- US release
- Side A
- "It's Better This Way" (remix) – 3:30
- "Party Fears Two" (remix) – 5:08
- "Club Country" – 5:33
- "Love Hangover" (Pam Sawyer, Marilyn McLeod) – 6:09
- "18 Carat Love Affair" – 3:47
- Side B
- "Arrogance Gave Him Up" – 3:00
- "No" – 5:45
- "Skipping" (Rankine, Mackenzie, Michael Dempsey) – 4:00
- "White Car in Germany" – 4:50
- "Gloomy Sunday" (Rezső Seress, Sam M. Lewis) – 4:08
- "The Associate" – 5:00
|2000 remaster CD bonus tracks|
|11.||"Love Hangover" (double A-side released in July 1982, full 12" version)||Pam Sawyer, Marilyn McLeod||6:15|
|12.||"18 Carat Love Affair" (double A-side released in July 1982)||3:42|
|13.||"Ulcragyceptimol" (B-side of 12" of "Club Country")||4:32|
|14.||"And Then I Read a Book" (previously unreleased)||4:28|
|16.||"Grecian 2000" (previously unreleased)||3:29|
|17.||"The Room We Sat in Before2"||3:31|
- 1 "Australia" is a version of the track "Voluntary Wishes", which appeared on the 12" single of "18 Carat Love Affair"/"Love Hangover", with a different arrangement and vocals.
- 2 "The Room We Sat in Before" is a demo version of "It's Better This Way" featuring just electric guitars and vocals, and produced by Chris Parry, owner of Associates' previous record label Fiction Records.
- The Associates
- Billy Mackenzie – vocals
- Alan Rankine – guitar, keyboards, other instruments
- Michael Dempsey – bass
- John Murphy – drums
- Additional personnel
- Martha Ladly – backing vocals, keyboards on "Club Country", "Love Hangover" and "18 Carat Love Affair"
- Steve Goulding – drums on "Love Hangover" (uncredited)
|United Kingdom||14 May 1982||Associates/
|United States||4 October 1982||Sire||LP||1-23727|
|Canada||Beggars Banquet||LP||XBEG 54861|
|Germany||WEA||long-play cassette (featuring both
UK and US versions of the album)
|United Kingdom||WX 24 C|
|United Kingdom & Europe||July 1988||WEA||CD||240 005-2|
|United Kingdom & Europe||19 June 2000||V2||remastered CD with extra tracks||VVR1012012|
- Thrills, Adrian (8 May 1982). "The Secret Life of the Associates". NME (London, England: IPC Media). pp. 24, 25, 47.
- "[Unknown title]". Melody Maker (London, England: IPC Media). 8 May 1982. p. 4.
- Roberts, David, ed. (2006). British Hit Singles & Albums (19th ed.). London, England: Guinness World Records Ltd. p. 31. ISBN 978-1-9049-9410-7.
- "Album of the Year". Melody Maker (London, England: IPC Media). 18 December 1982. p. 31.
- Petridis, Alexis (27 April 2007). "'If You're Brave, Do It Like We Did'". The Guardian (London, England: Guardian Media Group). Retrieved 8 May 2013.
- Reynolds 2009, p. 265.
- Reynolds 2009, p. 269.
- Reynolds 2009, p. 266.
- Sutherland, Steve (28 August 1982). "Confessions of the Odd Couple". Melody Maker (London, England: IPC Media): 10–11.
- Black, Billy (30 June 1984). "First Impressions: Guilty by Association". Sounds (London, England: United Newspapers).
- Reynolds 2009, p. 267.
- Raggett, Ned. "Sulk – The Associates | Songs, Reviews, Credits, Awards | AllMusic". AllMusic. Retrieved 16 December 2014.
- Pye, Ian (22 May 1982). "Review: The Associates – Sulk". Melody Maker (London, England: IPC Media): 17.
- Peschek, David (August 2000). "Review: The Associates – Sulk". Mojo (London, England: EMAP) (81): 115.
- Morley, Paul (22 May 1982). "Review: The Associates – Sulk". NME (London, England: IPC Media): 17.
- Quantick, David (August 2000). "Review: The Associates – Sulk". Q (London, England: EMAP) (167): 114.
- "Vital Vinyl – Albums". NME (London, England: IPC Media): 29. 25 December 1982.
- Reynolds, Simon (2009). Totally Wired: Post-Punk Interviews and Overviews. Faber and Faber. p. 265. ISBN 978-0-5712-3549-0.