Billy MacKenzie’s “Satellite Life” Box With Steve Aungle, Stands As His Definitive Late Statement [part 2]

billy mackenzie ©1996 mark guthrie
Billy MacKenzie © 1996 Mark Guthrie

[…continued from last post]

DISC 2: Consenting Holograms

The transition to the very upbeat disc two, started off with a “bang” as “3 Gypsies In A Restaurant” gave full rein to Finitribe’s John Vick as producer to harness tightly coiled tech energy to combine effortlessly with Romani Flamenco rhythms. How many other songs feature jackhammer drum programming and clapping rhythms together in harmony? The tubular bells and Billy’s humming on the middle eight gave brief respite to the roiling tensions of the song that eventually evaporated in a white hot puff of spittle and steam at the track’s abrupt ending. The programming kept the energy “up” as “Falling Out With The Future” continued apace with relentless techno energy. It’s slipstreaming electronica bookended by Greta Garbo sound bites. It took confidence to start the disc off with the two energy peaks of “Beyond the Sun” and “Eurocentric” placed back to back. But more was on the horizon.

Next we heard two new tracks as produced by Laurence Jay Cedar, an associate of Yello and Pet Shop Boys who enticed Billy to collaborate with a studio full of analog synths and the notion of making some banging hi-NRG tracks. “Put This Right” was storming Eurohouse with a vibrant and committed MacKenzie vocal performance. He unleashed his soulful wail in the climactic fadeout. Listening to this track, bursting with such life, it seemed hard to reconcile that the singer would take their life soon afterward.

“Diamanda” was cut from more left field cloth as the frantic panting sample rhythm from the start surely attested to. It gave the intro a hint of Yello before locking into a pulsating hi-NRG vibe with a multi-tracks Billy in falsetto. Mr. Cedar had the vision to include flute patches for some more radical energy in the middle eight. And Billy had a new wrinkle with the spoken word coda to this one, complete with his racous laughter playing off of the sampled laughter from earlier in the intro. The tempo dropped in the fade and the song ended on a slight Jazz note. Tasty.

“Hornophobic” brought us back to the Steve Aungle sessions that were the bulk of this release. This one was a skittering track of Drum + Bass inspired electronica. But it also featured Paul “Lefty” Wright’s sustained guitar to bring minor key Rock energy to it all. Beating Mr. Bowie to the Rock/Drum + Bass hybrid by at least a year. And doing it better.

The Medieval Techno of “14th Century Nightlife” sounded like little else I’ve ever heard. One can easily imagine this track being the flashpoint for a new genre we’d maybe call “Dungeon” a good 10-15 years before it actually happened. It was mostly instrumental with a stentorian Billy vocalizing over intense Industrial/Techno stomping grooves with him frantically singing the title as the only lyric content. It was a relentless and grinding example of hellish electronica.

billy mackenzie and synth monktone
Billy and a synth; altered from Peter Ashworth’s “Auchtermatic” cover photo

“Consenting Holograms Have More Fun” followed as another largely instrumental track for the more abstract part of this disc’s song arc. I caught a slight bit of Kraftwerk energy added to the groove as the song’s rondo energy circled without any release until the drum solo [?!] at its climax.

We’d previously heard “Fear Is My Bride” on the “Auchterhouse Demos” Billy recorded with Alan Rankine, [as released on “Double Hipness” in 2000] but the version here was as far from the Rock energy of that recording as possible. After a deceptively cinematic intro, the song settled into its vibe as a bit of prime Eurohouse that could have found it slotted effortlessly into the “Outernational” album. The groovy bass synth gave strong interplay with the song’s downtempo chanson energy in its chorus.

The only cover version on disc two recast Eurythmics’ “Here Comes The Rain Again” as a minor key Arabic nightmare soundtrack with Billy in a Muezzin role. The sweet strings of the original supplanted here by an enervated, restless energy. Next was the heretofore unheard title track to the 2004 posthumous MacKenzie album. “Eurocentric” was all pulse gated synths and unusual wah-wah sequenced synth leads that almost ended up sounding like banjo picking.

The Philly strings and beatbox combo of “Mysterious Lover’s” intro quickly devolved into the closest thing that Billy ever did to a Handbag track. A little of the repetitive, singalong chorus was something unfortunate. This song was on the cusp of being something tragic for Billy; a rare misstep. The Italohouse piano in the climax didn’t help either.

Fortunately, “Return To Love 2″ came along to trim the sails of this album. This was the alternate demo version of the track as released on 7” single a dozen years ago on Gilbert Blecken’s Destination Pop label. And apart from a slightly different intro edit here, it was the same as on the wax. I had to love the hints of the John Barry “You Only Live Twice” melody wafting through the piano lines here. This was a more airbrushed and gossamer version of the song, with the juxtaposition of breathy vocals and a faster tempo than the other recording.

Finally, the remix of “Give Me Time” was a new one as produced by Dennis Wheatley. It was a very different recording to the “Give Me Time [version]” on the “Wild is The Wind” EP. Unlike that version, it contained no rapper, and was full force Billy on the vocal track. The over nine minute track had an echoey, expansive vibe which, combined with its slow tempo that held its minimal, insect energy in check, allowed Billy to the song’s focal point. This was a slow simmer fo a song with Billy ad libbing for over half of the track’s length. Three minutes of coda was a bit much.

Next: …Mirrors + Jewels

About postpunkmonk

graphic design | software UI design | remastering vinyl • record collector • satire • non-fiction
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8 Responses to Billy MacKenzie’s “Satellite Life” Box With Steve Aungle, Stands As His Definitive Late Statement [part 2]

  1. Echorich says:

    I must now hear Mysterious Lovers! Then we can discuss further!


    • postpunkmonk says:

      Echorich – Are you a Handbag fan? Do we need to have a discussion?


      • When this sort of excited discovery happens in another, altogether different fandom I’m involved in, the cry is “Quick! Form a panel!” :)


      • Echorich says:

        As a matter of fact I think there is a good deal of enjoyable “Handbag” House out there in the ethers…When made by artists that aren’t, typically, full on Dance Artists, such as say, Pet Shop Boys, it works for me… The soft pink adrenalin of some Handbag is a direct descendant of Late 80s/Early 90’s Nightclub House by artists such as S-Express – all Glitz and Glamour and pulsing keyboard rhythms…
        Monk – sometimes I just want to loose myself in the joys of the dancefloor and not worry about who’s watching…

        Liked by 1 person

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