"Your limitations are our every care"
The Associates (primarily singer Billy Mackenzie and multi-instrumentalist Alan Rankine) were a Scottish act, now identified as quintessentially "post-punk." But there's no way any taxonomic indicator could ever contain or expand enough to encompass the sounds embedded in "Sulk." Leading with the shrill blast of "Arrogance Gave Him Up"'s racing drums and fluorescent synth stabs, the record defies expectation at every turn. Predictably, Bowie genetic traces run rampant - but "Sulk" sidles into the outer territories of what "pop" might be/come, like an acid spill corroding the enervated gestures of everything else happening in 1982 (Bowie soul-boys, New Romantics, chart entryists, end-days disco). The record is overflowing with ideas and impulses - gorgeous, but like a still life of a swamp, harboring all kinds of unknown and carbonized creatures, sensations, and pitfalls.
No album is ever fully outside its historical moment. "Sulk" has "1980s" written all over its face - Thatcher-induced paranoia, the seemingly endless money-spouts pumping out of the pores of the culture industry, and a leashed but furious gnashing of the teeth at sex and desire's constraints. And drugs of course. Legend has it that Rankine and Mackenzie spent half of their 60,000 pound advance (massive for '82) on cocaine, clothing, cocaine, room service, cocaine, and inspired concepts like chocolate life-sized guitars for a Top of the Pops appearance. Mackenzie's lyrics are ultimately impenetrable but necessarily so. These songs are howls from the edges of a self-enclosed world that Mackenzie knew would never be able to carve out new space quickly enough for escape.
I'll end with Mackenzie's voice. It moves everywhere at once, sometimes following the often unpredictable musical pathways but just as often birthing new songs within songs, burning like brush fires that we know will eventually (though we don't want them to) self-exhaust.