All ten songs on The Affectionate Punch are nearly swollen with ambition and swagger, yet those attributes are confronted with high levels of anxiety and confusion, the sound of prowess and hormones converging head-on. It's not always pretty, but it's unflaggingly sensational, even when it slows down. Having debuted with a brazen reduction of David Bowie's "Boys Keep Swinging" to a spindly rumble, multi-instrumentalist Alan Rankine and vocalist Billy Mackenzie ensured instant attention and set forward with this, their first album. Mackenzie's exotic swoops cover four octaves, from the kind of isolated swagger heard in Bowie's "Secret Life of Arabia" to a falsetto more commonly heard in an opera house than a bar. (Dude sounds like a diva, so proceed with caution if you'd much rather hear a voice in line with PiL's John Lydon or Magazine's Howard Devoto.) Though the subject matter of the duo's songs would later veer into the completely inscrutable, there's some abstract wordplay here that scans like vocal exercises or Scott Walker at his most surreal: "Stenciled doubts spin the spine, Logan time, Logan time"; "If I threw myself from the ninth story, would I levitate back to three"; "His jawline's not perfect but that can be altered." Meaningful or not, there's always a sense of great weight. When Mackenzie runs through the alphabet in "A," he could be singing in code about the butterflies of love. Rankine, with help from drummer Nigel Glockler and a background appearance from then labelmate Robert Smith, covers most of the other stuff, specializing in spare arrangements that can simultaneously slither and jump, crosscut with guitars that release weary chimes and caustic stabs, as well as the occasional racing xylophone. Two years later -- a year after the genius run of bizarre singles collected on Fourth Drawer Down and the same year as the high-drama overdrive of Sulk -- Rankine and Mackenzie partially re-recorded and completely remixed this album to spectacularly layered and glossy effect. Get both versions.
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