100 Greatest Songs of the 80’s #12 The Associates – Party Fears Two

Released : 1982

Patience is a virtue that doesn’t always pay dividends, but the story of how Alan Rankine and Billy Mackenzie left Party Fears Two on hold for years after writing it one hungover Sunday morning in 1977 is a rare lesson in timing. Back in their native Dundee at this point they were astute enough to know that the rolling, ABBA-esque opening piano line and grandiose arrangement was radically out of step with the then dominant worlds of punk and disco, so quietly they pouched it for later.

As the eighties began to take shape so did the pair’s vision for avant-garde pop that fixated on Bowie and Scott Walker, a tangle of post punk, soul and funk all sprinkled with their mutually devilish senses of humour. None of it would’ve worked however without Mackenzie’s sensational, multi-octave voice, a weapon so complete it latterly made fans of Bono and Bjork amongst many others.

Reanimated for a more open minded world, Party Fears Two was the central tract on Sulk, one of the era’s most decadent and outlandish albums. Mackenzie soared operatically throughout it’s MOR subversion, but the lyrics touched in an oblique way on schizophrenia, the duo unable or unwilling to hold back the darkness which had always sat on the shoulder of their music. During a later Top of The Pops appearance the singer fed the audience pieces of a specially made chocolate guitar: as was their mantra, the strange could still be beautiful. A few months later their five year overnight success story finished abruptly with Rankine’s departure, leaving Sulk marooned but still one of the most brilliant capsules of madness ever to be released by a major label.

Read about Sulk here.

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