Billy Mackenzie - Satellite Life Recordings 1995-1996
Although he is best known as the co-founder and frontman of the Associates, Billy Mackenzie also had a short solo career with several outstanding releases, but unfortunately most were released after his death in 1997. Now, coinciding with the twenty-fifth anniversary of his death, Cherry Red Records has released the excellent three disc box set Satellite Life, which was curated by Steve Augle from sessions he and Billy recorded, and is comprised of thirty-nine tracks, sixteen of which are previously unreleased. Augle says he was never happy with the way the songs were originally presented, so he has resequenced them more cohesively with each disc having it’s own theme.
The first disc is titled Winter Academy and contains the ballads. Most of the tunes here are stripped down with him accompanied by some combination of piano or keys and violin with guitar or a string section on a few. Opening things are "Sing That Song Again", a gorgeous torch song, and "Winter Academy", which has an insanely emotional and expressive vocal performance. Next up is "Wild Is The Wind", the first of three covers on disc one and a song that has been covered by many other artists, most notably Bowie, Nina Simone and Johnny Mathis. In Mackenzie's hands it sounds like it written for him. The other covers are the Sparks tune "Mother Earth", which is more stripped down than the original, but has a similar vibe, and Randy Newman’s "Baltimore", a haunting version with vocals that border on spoken word, except in the chorus, with Dennis Wheatley’s keys swirling around them. "The Soul That Sighs" is a subdued atmospheric ballad with subtle electronic elements, while "And This She Knows" contains another haunting vocal performance and also includes a little guitar accompaniment. "When The World Was Young" is slightly more upbeat than the rest of the songs on disc one and contains some gorgeous harmonies with his voice layered over itself. On the slow, dreamy sounding "Beyond The Sun", he shows just how incredible his vocals are with a delivery that sounds like he is using his last breath, while “Return To Love” is a slower, hypnotic track with a hint of electronica. Quite possibly the high point on disc one, and one that is definitely unlike anything else here, is the previously unreleased “Tallahachie Pass”. With new music added by Aungle, Tom Doyle and Anth Brown, the gorgeous acoustic guitar, subtle drumming and keys come together to create a country flavored tune reminiscent of Glenn Campbell or Jimmy Webb.
Disc two, titled Consenting Holograms, collects his electronic and more dance oriented songs. After kicking off with some nightclub ready dance tunes including “3 Gypsies In A Restaurant”, with it’s techno beat and middle eastern flourishes and “Falling Out With The Future”, things move in a more experimental direction. High points here include “Hornophobic”, an aggressive drum ‘n’ bass tune with some melodic, almost industrial elements, that comes off a little Bowie-ish, “14th Century Nightlife”, a hard driving industrial soundscape that is definitely unlike anything else here, and the high energy electronica instrumental “Consenting Holograms Have More Fun”. Next is the upbeat “Fear Is My Bride”, which has a really strong vocal performance and is closer to a more traditional Mackenzie sounding track, a solid electronic dance cover of Eurythmics’ “Here Comes The Rain Again”, and “Mysterious Lover”, an upbeat track with a driving beat that takes you back to the clubs. Other highlights here are the beautiful, dreamlike version of “Return To Love” that has a bit more of an electronica sound than the version on disc one, and a subdued, nine minute remix of “Give Me Time”.
The final disc is titled Liberty Lounge and is primarily band oriented songs, many of which had the potential to be hits if given the chance. The disc opens really strong with “Tomorrow People”, an extremely catchy pop tune. Next up is the gorgeous sixties sounding ballad “The Mountains That You Climb”, a tune that would fit perfectly on disc one, with a vocal performance that is one of the best in the box, and superb musical accompaniment including organ, which is a brilliant touch. “MacArthur’s Son” has a nice soul pop vibe with another of his strongest vocal performances. The next two tracks move in more of a rock direction with “Liberty Lounge” being a slower tune complete with electric guitar and an everpresent organ, while “Sour Jewel” has a bit of a glam Roxy Music feel. Things are a bit more pop again with the laid-back “14 Mirrors”, a tune that shows up again a few songs later, with a previously unreleased version that is stripped down to just piano and vocals. The pace slows down on the next couple of tracks with the original version of “Give Me Time”, which draws you in with it’s synth blasts and slow burning beat, and “At The Edge Of The World”, a moody trip hop tune that was produced by Simon Raymonde of Cocteau Twins fame and sounds like a lost James Bond theme song. “Satellite Love” is a very captivating tune, again stripped down to vocals and keys, that has an air of mystery about it. For “Your Own Fire” Mackenzie collaborated with Stiv Lester to create a strange tune that is raw and edgy with a bit of a garage rock feel complete with a ragged honky tonk piano rattling in the background, and is quite unlike anything else here. Closing out the box is “Van Hamburg”, a nice little piano and violin instrumental. Rounded out with a twenty four page booklet containing notes from Augle and a couple other collaborators this is an outstanding, highly recommended collection that shows just what a talent Mackenzie was.