Beyond The Sun
BILLY MACKENZIE WAS NARCISSISM made flesh, the Devil's grin on his dimpled face and the best white pop voice of the last 20 years gushing from his torso.
A dedicated fabulist and fervent bisexual hedonist, Mackenzie maintained an ambivalent relationship with the music business after his early-'80s heyday fronting progressive glam-pop titans The Associates. Sporadic solo records were critical hits but commercial flops. After signing a new publishing deal last year, he took his own life in January, apparently overcome with grief at his mother's death.
Would this collection of new tunes and revamped Associates archive material have precipitated his glorious comeback? Probably not. It is stupendous, sure, but Mackenzie always seemed bored by the mechanics of stardom and generally favoured his alternate career training whippets. No, really. Whippets.
Most of these tracks are tarted-up demos, though it scarcely shows. Even on a dry run, Mackenzie pours his whole essence into each vocal, from the sepulchral croak of 'Winter Academy' to the soulful desolation of 'Give Me Time' to the title track's devastating collision of agony and exhilaration.
Billy's brazen Bowie/Ferry infatuation still endures, only here it is tempered with a healthy dollop of Scott Walker's booming baritone and Billie Holiday's spectral purr. Meanwhile, genealogists seeking to trace Mackenzie's own seedlings need look no further than new labelmates Suede. There is certainly a flash of breathy Brett brilliance about the sublime ballad 'And This She Knows', quite possibly the best thing Mackenzie ever recorded.
The production, by Pascal Gabriel and Cocteau Twins bassist Simon Raymonde, is mostly pristine and timeless. The arrangements too: a spooked trip-hop rumble for 'At The Edge Of The World', a lush Euro-crooner twang for '14 Mirrors', but nothing intrusive or jarringly trendy. The prevailing backdrop is an eerie piano, and the foreground always That Voice, sighing and smouldering and soaring to new heights of magnificent self-obsession.
Whatever heavenly choirs are singing in the velvet-lined presidential suite Mackenzie has secured for himself in the afterlife, you can guarantee they won't sound half as throbbingly glamorous as Billy himself. And you can be damn sure the old poser will let them know.
8/10 Stephen Dalton