Billy Mackenzie

Auchtermatic

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Part of the 2005 reissue series covering the last years of Billy Mackenzie's life, Auchtermatic bears a general resemblance to the earlier posthumous compilation Eurocentric as Transmission Impossible does to Beyond the Sun -- a resequenced and more specifically focused presentation of his work, in this case the electronic side as opposed to the torch/cabaret efforts. That said, Auchtermatic starts off with one of Mackenzie's most brawling, straight-ahead rockers ever, "Soul Jewel," a wake-up call that leads into a kaleidoscopic collection of songs. Half the album covers work with his key final collaborator, Steve Aungle, and at their songs' best Mackenzie plays off an off-kilter mania in the arrangements to good effect, thus the matter-of-gender subject matter in "Hornophobic" and, in a nod to another famous Scots-fronted band of the '80s, a techno rampage through Eurythmics' "Here Comes the Rain Again." Meanwhile, "The Soul That Sighs" is the dark gem, Mackenzie's warm, passionate performance mixed with a murky, tropicalia-in-the-shadows beat suggesting the impulses behind "No" and "Breakfast" refracted through the Bristol-centered cinema nightmares of Portishead or Massive Attack. What makes Auchtermatic a really stellar collection is the inclusion of many of his last collaborations with other artists, in some cases only released as singles or obscure albums. Besides the inclusion of one last bow with his longstanding musical compatriots in Yello -- "Norma Jean," the original, Marilyn Monroe-referencing version of "The Rhythm Divine" -- three other songs are gathered. "Achieved in the Valley of the Dolls," a stunning effort from Barry Adamson's Oedipus Schmoedipus collection, and "Anacostia Bay (At the Edge of the World)," a moody slow-crawling techno number done by Loom, are both captivating. But pride of place as the album closer goes to "Pain in Any Language," done with Apollo 440, as majestic a sorrowful ballad as "The Rhythm Divine" was for Shirley Bassey, sung with absolutely perfect delicacy. It is a heartbreaking, unintentional hail and farewell from one of modern music's greatest voices.

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