Billy MacKenzie’s “Satellite Life” Box With Steve Aungle, Stands As His Definitive Late Statement [part 1]

billy mackenzie satellite life cover art
Cherry Red | UK | 3xCD | 2022 | CDTRED856

Billy MacKenzie: Satellite Life Recordings 1994-1996 – UK – 3xCD [2022]

Disc 1: Winter Academy

1. Sing That Song Again
2. Winter Academy
3. Wild Is The Wind
4. Blue It Is
5. The Soul That Sighs
6. Mother Earth
7. And This She Knows
8. When The World Was Young
9. Tallahatchie Pass
10. Baltimore [alt.]
11. Nocturne VII
12. Beyond The Sun
13. Return To Love

Disc 2: Consenting Holograms

1. 3 Gypsies In A Restaurant
2. Falling Out With The Future
3. Put This Right
4. Diamanda
5. Hornophobic
6. 14th Century Nightlife
7. Consenting Holograms Have More Fun
8. Fear Is My Bride [alt.]
9. Here Comes The Rain Again
10. Eurocentric
11. Mysterious Lover
12. Return To Love 2
13. Give Me Time [remix]

Disc 3: Liberty Lounge

1. Tomorrow People
2. The Mountains That You Climb
3. McArthur’s Son
4. Liberty Lounge
5. Sour Jewel
6. 14 Mirrors
7. Give Me Time
8. At The Edge Of The World
9. Satellite Life
10. 14 Mirrors 2
11. Velvet
12. Your Own Fire
13. Van Hamburg

TRACK SOURCE LEGEND

billy mackenzie satellite life legend
10 songs10 songs1 song2 songs1 song1 song15 songs

Just a few years ago, I thought to myself that the last “new” Billy MacKenzie track dating from the fertile end period of his life had been the “Return To Love” alternate 7″ released in 2010. The last six or seven years have seen two disc sets of the early to mid period Associates material, but Billy MacKenzie’s music dating from the final three years of his life seemed to have been served by a trio of posthumous albums [two with Steve Aungle and one with Paul Haig], a pair of compilations further anthologizing this period, and a pair of singles. But to fans who had been paying attention to sources like Steve Aungle’s blog, there seemed to be yet more material unaccounted for. When would it reach our ears?

Meanwhile, the posthumous releases seemed to go out of print in the blink of an eye. There was much push and pull behind the scenes by MacKenzie’s estate, as well as by the musicians he recorded the material with. Billy was writing and recording material in the last period of his life that were earmarked for at least three different names/stylistic conceits acting as an umbrella for it all.

  • Winter Academy – piano led ballads
  • Outerpol – dance-oriented electronica
  • Case – glam inspired pop-rock

It was MacKenzie’s peripatetic muse which had scuttled his late period reunion with Alan Rankine, his old Associates partner, in 1993. Having been once bitten and twice shy, Rankine would not commit to becoming Associates again unless MacKenzie would give it his all. No “extracurricular activity” permitted. In the end, he could not sign off on such a limitation. He had too many different songs to write and to that end, he preferred not to. Billy walked away from the commercial lure of Associates in order to pursue a body of work which we now have in this delightful package.

“Satellite Life” was the curation of this work by Steve Aungle, the man who co-wrote the material here. The earlier posthumous releases adopted a mix-and-match aesthetic which saw them as stand-alone compilations drawing from a diverse period. Mr. Aungle has now sequenced and separated the songs into three distinct discs which have a greater sonic integrity compared to what have heard earlier. Nude Records may have seen the Winter Academy material as being commercially astute, but they still hedged their bets with jarring inclusions of upbeat electronica that broke the spell they should have been trying for. Now is the time when we can listen to these three CDs to make for a grand gesture that served MacKenzie and his late legacy to the fullest.

DISC 1: Winter Academy

Disc one, or “Winter Academy,” began with the elegiac classicism of “Sing That Song Again” that set the tone for the baseline of this disc. The spotlight was on Billy MacKenzie’s voice, with Aungle playing piano and Kenny Brady adding violin to the mix. This was timeless music that could have been written and recorded at any time during the last quarter century. And it served to remind us that Billy was a singer’s singer. He was capable of caressing a song with more delicacy than any other vocalist I could name. Confident and accomplished in his androgyny beyond all others.

The titular “Winter Academy” introduced Josef K’s Malcolm Ross on acoustic guitar, into the music to keep the songs unfolding in different ways, in spite of their “piano ballad” origins. The song had appropriately frosty and reticent verses, while the chorus managed to soar on lyrical quotes from the stylistically definitive influence of “Breakfast,” from the “Perhaps” album of 1985. The real string section supporting here was aided Billy’s vocal in having the song take flight.

Then came the coup de grace of “Wild Is the Wind.” It was not an original song, being a cover of the Dimitri Tiomkin/Ned Washington chestnut sung by everyone from Nina Simone to Mr. Bowie. But once we’ve heard Billy wrap his tonsils around it we can well and truly say that he now owned it. As we’ve waxed rhapsodic about this one before, rarely does one hear such a definitive treatment of a classic.

Another guitar and piano song followed. Often was the time in the last month when “Blue It Is” would capture my mental Walkman for long hours at a time. The way Billy caressed the song with his delicate vibrato that would win me over every time. It’s not every singer who can employ vibrato without alienating me, but MacKenzie was certainly so slouch there.

Following these four songs, Aungle threw the listener a curve ball by upping the ante just when we least expected it. “The Soul That Sighs,” featured a much fuller arrangement of synths and guitar to create an eerie dreamlike vibe with sampled bongo percussion in outer space with dubbed out sighs and gently psychedelic wah wah guitar. Listening to this one was almost like hearing a lotus blossom blooming.

Billy had always looked to Sparks for inspiration and was there truly another vocalist on the globe who could offer a falsetto that dared to compete with that of Russell Mael’s on the original? Here was where piano, violin and voice attained a purity of form to justify the result, with Aungle’s piano getting the final word here.

“And This She Knows” was a spare, diginifed ballad with Billy’s occasionally double tracked vocals sharing the spotlight with Malcolm Ross’ gently distorted guitar providing a moody chiaroscuro for the nearly weightless song. The grace with which he sang this one was truly breathtaking. It was just down to Billy and Mr. Aungle’s piano as gossamer webs of MacKenzie’s voice built a crystal castle in which to retreat. The coda where voice and piano rose higher and higher was just lovely.

We were eight songs into this disc, with all of them familiar, yet energized by their new sequencing. Then we heard the first new song in this release thus far. “Tallahatchie Pass” was an astonishing new wrinkle for Billy singing what could only be described as a country music number. Moreover, his phrasing on the number was also something new; like Mae West singing Jazz and unlike anything else I’d heard from him before. The song was all acoustic guitars from Anth Brown with sweet string patches and a theremin-like ascending synth hook that added just the right touch of left field 1975 mojo to it all. What I wouldn’t give for a whole album in this rich vein!

Fans who bought the “Wild Is The Wind” limited edition CD single back in 2001, have already heard his stunning take of Randy Newman’s “Baltimore” as its B-side, but the mix here was quite different. This was a track recorded with Dennis Wheatley [Atlas] who played all of the keyboards here, with the deep space probe, synth loops in the intro driving deep into the dark heart of despair. The somber cello patches drove the glacial tempo to nearly twice the length of the more typical versions of this song, and we’re all the richer for its spectral grandeur. Unlike the earlier version, there were no beats at all in this string-heavy version. This was yet another famous Nina Simone cover that Billy walked away with.

After that rich peak, the album settled back into a pair of piano led songs with “Nocturne VII” also adding a string section to frame the choir of Billys that climax the song with a heavenly uplift. “Beyond The Sun” was a crystalline ballad, delicately sung by MacKenzie, and the title track to his posthumous album of 1997. The interplay between the stately piano and the hollow, distorted synths that manifested halfway through the song added a queerness to its melodrama.

The suite that was disc one climaxed with a transitional note as “Return To Love” had the same gentle tempo as all of these songs, yet Billy’s breathy vocals and the piano glissandos of the intro managed to frame a dreamlike scenario of romance on the dancefloor. All of the songs on this disc had lacked actual rhythms, apart from the bongos on “The Soul That Sighs.” This time there was synth bass and an actual shuffle beat, which for once, didn’t deliver boredom to these ears. Instead, this final song was a sumptuous truffle of whipped cream disco to luxuriate in. Capped, as ever, with that heavenly voice.

Next: …Holographic Equalizer

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9 Responses to Billy MacKenzie’s “Satellite Life” Box With Steve Aungle, Stands As His Definitive Late Statement [part 1]

  1. Roy the Wonder Boy says:

    I have recently found your posts about Billy MacKenzie & The Associates. The 8 part blog you posted on the band’s & Billy’s solo recordings was really interesting to me. I have been a fan since early 1982, when I chanced on a copy of Fourth Drawer Down in a record shop I used to pass every day on my way to college. I had vaguely heard of the band but had never heard their music & was taken by the cover & the LP was only £3.99, I thought I would take a chance & was very glad I did – it was like nothing I had heard before, with hints of Stationtostation era Bowie, early Roxy Music (when Eno was still in the band) & sounds that I could not categorise.
    Not long after, Party Fears Two came out & they enjoyed their all too brief moment of fame, which seemed to have ended before the year was out. I remember buying Sulk on the day of it’s release & I couldn’t wait to get it home to listen to.
    I was lucky enough to see Billy live, when he toured as The Associates back in 1985, as they played my home town, at Leeds Polytechnic (as was) & he was in terrific form.
    I thank I have most of the Associates/Billy Mackenzie CD releases, apart from the Country Boy & Pastime Paradise singles & the 2013 Cherry Red release of Outernational – as I already had the two previous versions. I used to have a fair amount of vinyl, but that went a long time ago & I have no plans to join the current fashion for records over CDs.
    I remember ordering the Wild is the Wind EP on it’s release, direct from ROL Records & even managed to get a copy of the four track promo V2 released at the time of the 2000 reissues of Fourth Drawer Down & Sulk, after I wrote to them asking if hey had any spare posters or press releases.
    I have seen the SDE version of the Sulk 40th anniversary reissue but will not be buying it, as I can’t justify paying over £50 for a vinyl copy of the LP which I would be unable to play, together with a fourth copy of the CD, as I already have all the tracks on the various versions that have come out over the years. I would like the live album & will just have to hope that the CD will get a stand alone release in the future.
    Needless to say, I am really looking forward to the Satellite Life box set, as it will be great to hear the songs as they were intended to be released. I greatly enjoyed Steve Aungle’s blog about the various recording sessions with Billy, it’s such a shame about the subsequent falling out with Paul Haig after the release of Eurocentric.
    I look forward to reading your future posts about Billy – regards from the UK.

    Like

    • postpunkmonk says:

      Roy the Wonder Boy – Welcome to the comments! I hear you on the vinyl, but Billy MacKenzie is one of the few artists I’m all in on. So I have pre-ordered that “Sulk” box. I’m hoping that the CD will finally be identical to the UK 1st pressing on LP. Every time it’s come to CD it’s been different in several different ways. We’ll cover it here in depth, you can be certain of that, so cross your fingers.

      You will enjoy the presentation of the “Satellite Life” period! It’s spectacular. Steve Aungle has mooted a possible LP of the first disc, “Winter Academy” and if your thought was that an all-ballad Billy program would grow tiresome, then you would be wrong. The arc of the songs was well nigh flawlessly sequenced.

      I love the whole body of work, save for “Wild + Lonely,” which stumbled for me. But at the end of the day my favorite would still be “Fourth Drawer Down.” For me it was the sound of a band operating without any limits. I’ve heard barely no other music that I could point to and cite Associates as an influence, with the exception of the first Goldfrapp album, “Felt Mountain.” That one certainly felt like they were fans of “The Affectionate Punch.”

      And you managed to see Billy perform live? That was a rare treat! Looking back, it’s hard to believe that I was on top of those ROL releases that went out of print immediately. I was not quite buying music online just yet. Before PayPal the payment issue was challenging as I recall. I also got the V2 CD5 EP with the unique alternate mixes of “Party Fears Two” and “Love Hangover,” but mine wasn’t a courtesy from the label! And I’m not sure what you are referring to about the falling out with Paul Haig after “Eurocentric.” I seem to recall Billy’s estate wanting it deleted, so presumably they were not pleased, though I certainly was! Thanks for dropping in to comment!

      Like

      • Roy the Wonder Boy says:

        I must admit “Wild & Lonely” was not my favourite, although the reissue does include the B sides from the singles of the period.
        I am not a huge fan of “Perhaps” either, apart from “Breakfast” & “The Girl That Took Me”, although reading the notes from the reissue, it’s no surprise it’s not a particularly coherent LP, with the number of producers involved. I think the reissue missed an opportunity by not include the three live tracks from Ronnie Scott’s, which appeared on the B side of the “Take Me To The Girl” 10″, or possibly the whole set – better than having three versions of “Waiting For The Love Boat” and four of “Take Me To The Girl”.
        Although I will not be buying it, as it’s vinyl, there is a Record Store Day release of a 12″ EP on clear vinyl – The Associates Covers. There are five tracks, Love Hangover, Gloomy Sunday, Boys Keep Swinging, Eloise & Kites – so no new tracks then.
        I picked up on the disagreement with Paul High from Steve Aungle’s blog about his work with Billy, in one of his replies to a comment. He says that the original “Eurocentric” was deleted two weeks after release by ROL and although the reason given was that it was at the request of the MacKenzie family, he says this is not the case & that it was because “Memory Palace” was released at the same time on ROL and that it was generally considered that “Eurocentric” was the better album & that “professional jealousy” was the real reason it was deleted.
        After posting yesterday, I managed to dig out a CDr someone from the Associates Yahoo group kindly made for me many years ago, which includes recordings of the “Heart of Glass” 12″ Temperament mix & the “Cinemas of the World” 12″, he sang vocals on – I had not listened to these for years.
        Looking forward to the Satellite Life set on Friday.
        Cheers,
        Roy

        Like

        • postpunkmonk says:

          Roy the Wonder Boy – So the RSD Associates “Covers” EP also has “Kites?” I missed that early on! I’ll be trying to source one of those but it’s painful to pay >$30 for music I already have on CD just because of… the collector’s sickness. I was in The Affectionate Bunch for a few years before radically changing my lifestyle. That sounds like a later CD-R I missed, thought I might have had the first 4-5 the group did. Speaking of Paul Haig, I am currently trying to soak up the dazzling DLX RM of “The Warp Of Pure Fun” while holding down the fort at PPM. I hope to get a review of that out soon.

          Like

  2. Echorich says:

    It is just a joy that Satellite Life exists!

    Like

    • postpunkmonk says:

      Echorich – I know! Who expected this to happen at this point? But the older issues were all OOP and it was 25 years since Billy’s death. What better time for this to happen, in retrospect?

      Like

  3. Dave Turner says:

    Just to note that the version of “Baltimore” is completely different to the one released on the rare ‘Wild Is The Wind EP’. It’s more of a stripped-down take and lacks the instrumentation of the EP version.

    Like

    • postpunkmonk says:

      Dave Turner – Welcome to the comments! Curse me for the novice! I actually placed rips of every track from “Beyond The Sun”together synched with the same track from “Satellite Life” and found that all of them were the same mixes, with no phasing artifacts or discrepancies. So I got lazy and didn’t made a CD rip of “Baltimore,” and relied on ancient memories. Until you set me straight! I listened this morning on the way to work, slack-jawed as the new version was heavy on the strings and ambience with nary a beat in earshot! So, yay! New mix!

      Like

      • Dave Turner says:

        Apparently “Nocturne VII” is a different mix to that released on Transmission Impossible with strings now added.
        “At The Edge Of The World” is faded out sooner than the version released on Transmission Impossible.
        And “Velvet” is an edit of the version released on Auchtermatic.
        There may be some more differences too.

        Like

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