Rhythm Of Life ****
Posthumous release from late Associates frontman Billy MacKenzie, in collaboration with ex-Joseph K leader Paul Haig, available from rolinc.co.uk
On the night of Wednesday, January 22, 1997, Billy MacKenzie, outrageously gifted vocalist with The Associates and writer of some of the most extraordinary music of the last decade - or any decade - was found dead by his father, having taken a fatal combination of Paracetemol (a whole bottle) and the anti-depressant, Amitriptyline.
This was a complete shock. Not only was he the first star of his generation to commit suicide, but he had been working furiously on a variety of projects, and had just signed a deal with Suede's label, Nude.
It seemed as though, 15 years after the release of Sulk - notwithstanding its 250,000 sales, a criminally overlooked work of utter out-there genius - Billy was about to get his due as, at the very least, the Tim Buckley of postpunk British pop.
That may - ironically, inevitably - yet come. In his last years MacKenzie struggled with the harsh realities of sustaining a career in this business. Since his death, his life, cut short at 39, has begun to attain mythic status. Finally, those of us for whom the Eighties were our Sixties have our very own rock'n'roll legend.
Memory Palace, like Nude's Beyond The Sun (1997), is a fitting tribute. A palace of memories, if you like. There shall be others - right to the end, he was playing Billy Whizz: one-off exercises with exotic names like Winter Academy, Outerpol and Eclectatronica should be available over the next few months - but this will do nicely for now.
But, of course. Paul Haig is involved. Anything with the Haig imprint was bound to be steeped in Eurocentric melodrama and electronic melancholy. Recorded between December, 1993 and July, 1995, Memory Palace is the result of a series of nocturnal sessions at Haig's Edinburgh studio that ranged from the loose to the unhinged.
With both artists then deal-less, they were free to indulge their every whim. Hence the "completely bonkers" atmosphere of unbridled creativity. Fans of MacKenzie's Outernational (1992) and Haig's post-Josef K forays into blue-eyed funk will enjoy the mix of turbo-charged technopop, chilling balladry and Krautronica.
Of the nine tracks, Haig wrote three; the rest were collaborations (including a different version of "Give Me Time" from Beyond The Sun), "Beyond Love", "Thunderstorm" and "Transobsession" recall the James Bond noir of MacKenzie's team-up with Yello, "The Rhythm Divine", while "Stone The Memory Palace" is feverish. Throughout, MacKenzie flits between cool and hysterical. Only on Haig's oddly thrashy "Listen Again" does he go for the unexpected: a sort of strangulated roar. By way of contrast, the chanson-style "Take A Chance" features Paul's best Oakey/Iggy croon and Billy on spectral backing vox. A ghostly reminder of what might have been.
with PAUL HAIG
What were the Memory Palace sessions like?
"Absolutely surreal. Completely bonkers. We were both broke,so there were no constraints. We developed a character called The Goatee: a goat with diamante hooves who sat on your shoulder and told you what to do. No, we weren't taking drugs."
How was Billy feeling at the time?
"He was pissed off with things at Circa [his then-label]; they weren't promoting his work and he was getting despondent. He'd come to my flat and raid the fridge, or find mouldy quiches and give them to his whippets."
When did you last speak to him?
"The night before he died. He sounded very down. I said; 'I'll come and see you [in Dundee].' He said he'd get back to me... I went into shock [when I heard]. I found the Nude LP very hard to listen to - it was almost like a precursor to what happened."
How do you remember Billy Mackenzie?
"As a maverick eccentric surrealist with an incredible voice. The 21st Century Nick Drake? More futuristic than that. If he'd been around back then, you could imagine him singing with Kraftwerk. They'd have been even bigger with Billy."