Paul Haig / Billy Mackenzie

Memory Palace

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Assembled from the variety of sessions recorded by the two singers between 1993 and 1995, when both found themselves at loose ends and disenchanted by the record business, Memory Palace makes for both a welcome addition to Billy Mackenzie's tragically limited canon and a fine example of Paul Haig's own magpie-like musical pursuits. The breadth of both performers' listening ranges can be heard in the end results, and if it shows that both were following and not leading trends, the songs work much more successfully than as mere pastiche. "Thunderstorm" and "Give Me Time," for instance, are pure Bristol trip-hop in feel, Portishead and Massive Attack echoing up northward, but Mackenzie's winning lead vocals are subtle magic, controlled but never less than passionate. Much of the album concentrates on smoky neo-disco crossed into house, topped with enough mysterious Euro-sheen to reward late-night listening. "Transobsession" and "Trash 3" are two Mackenzie highlights in that vein, his magical vocals as always seeming to provide that extra spark for a song. In a nice compare/contrast effort, one song appears in two guises. "Listen to Me," with Haig on lead vocals and Mackenzie on sweet backing touches, makes for a fine, gently driving guitar-meets-beats combination. "Listen Again," meanwhile, features Mackenzie's main '90s collaborator, Steven Aungle, on keyboards as Mackenzie rips into his rarely heard full-on rock & roll growl over Haig's feedback, sounding almost like what "The Witch"-era Cult could do if Ian Astbury had a greater singing range. If there's a dramatic core to the album, the semi-title track, "Stone the Memory Palace," is it, beginning with a mid-'80s Depeche Mode-styled arrangement before exploding into an industrial dance groove. The linguistically playful, whispered list of names from Mackenzie ("Egophant, Givosant, Kissonchant") makes for a great touch against the fine lead vocal, and together it all adds up as one monster of a song.

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