Billy MacKenzie (most lyrics, all vocals, eventually everything) and Alan Rankine (most music and all instruments except drums) – once attempted brilliance, but later settled for playing at being clever.
The Affectionate Punch boldly tried to stake a claim for some of the no man’s land between Bowie‘s theatrical, tuneful rock and Talking Heads‘ semi-abstract, intellectual dance approach, with a slight flavouring of the pair’s native Scottish traditional music.
Not fully mature, and sometimes almost burying its own best points, the band seemed a promise of riches to come.
Unfortunately, the Edinburgh-based duo veered off in a more art-conscious (at times wilfully obscure) direction, with harsh musical textures often dominating the melodies.
Fourth Drawer Down, a compilation of singles, gave the somewhat redeeming impression of determined experimentation that was lessened by the exclusion of certain B-sides in favour of later tracks which revealed Mackenzie’s growing preference for pose over accomplishment.
By Sulk (1982), the talent seemed strained under the weight of MacKenzie’s self-consciousness.
Rankine’s emphasis on keyboards over guitar was symptomatic of the defection away from rock and towards a sort of neo-pop, but the melodies were hindered by tinny sound, arrangements that muddled rather than clarified and vocal excesses that made Bowie’s worst sound tame.
The US edition subtracted three cuts, inserting instead a pair from Fourth Drawer Down and two subsequent singles. On the eve of its first major British tour, the band splintered.
Mackenzie then completed an album with Martin Rushent that WEA rejected in 1983; some of it emerged two years later on Perhaps, which sounded like Heaven 17 or The Human League making undanceable dance music.
A surprisingly strong new single, Take Me to the Girl, emerged later in the year, and (shortly after it flopped) was re-released on a five-track 10-inch, combined with a remix of Perhaps and three live cuts recorded in London that found Mackenzie crooning heartfelt if histrionic versions of songs like God Bless the Child and The Little Boy That Santa Claus Forgot.
Four years and another rejected LP (The Glamour Chase) later, Mackenzie re-emerged with a non-LP EP and, the following year, a garish Eurodisco album, Wild and Lonely.
The five-track Peel Sessions EP (from April 1981) contained rougher, rock-oriented versions of 1981-1982 material and would be highly recommended if it actually included Me, Myself and the Tragic Story (which was listed) instead of the far inferior Arrogance Gave Him Up (which wasn’t).
Popera compiled nearly all of the essential material (including a track from The Glamour Chase and a song recorded with Yello) from The Associates’ seemingly deliberate anti-career, resulting in the group’s most satisfying and wildly schizoid release ever.
Upon leaving the band in 1982, Alan Rankine moved to Brussels, working extensively with Paul Haig and releasing solo albums.
She Loves Me Not, the only one of his efforts to be issued outside of Belgium, offered clever dance-pop and impressively sung balladry, a smooth and appealing concoction akin to mid-period Thompson Twins but dolled up with a bit of continental suaveness.
Billy MacKenzie was found dead in the garden shed of his father’s house at Auchterhouse, Dundee, in January 1997. He overdosed on a combination of paracetamol and prescription medication two months before his 40th birthday. Depression and the death of his mother were believed to be the main contributing factors.
L Howard Jones