...listening to the oddball irreverence applied to these radio sessions reminds one...
Chris Jones 2003
Poor Billy MacKenzie: he was ever a round peg in a very square world. How many diminutive singers from Dundee with a multi-octave range and a penchant for whippet breeding can you name? Plus many would argue that, coupled with multi-instrumentalist Alan Rankine, his blend of disco, Low/Heroes-era Bowie, Frank Sinatra and Krautrock is very much an acquired taste. Unfortunately the world never got the chance to catch up with this maverick as he took his own life in 1997. Yet this album at least gives us a chance to see why his voice was at once his blessing and his curse.
By the time the first sessions on this disc were recorded, the original partnership of Mackenzie and Rankine was hitting its zenith. The first batch comes mainly from their masterpiece Sulk and displays exactly what made this pairing both exhilarating and frustrating. A re-titled track ''Me Myself And The Tragic Story'' (originally called ''Arrogance Gave Him Up'') demonstrates Rankine's canny way with a melody while still retaining a frantic arrangement that is vertiginous. Most of the gems from this period will have you worrying that the drummer is about to fall over himself. The most exhilarating example must be ''It's Better This Way'' where Billy's multi-tracked whoops and hollers echo Rankine's gloriously risqué guitar lines.
By the second visit to wonderful Radio One (as was) the partnership was fraying at the edges. Mackenzie's love of all things dance-oriented was pushing him away from the legendary excess-fuelled experimentation that had left their previous three albums sounding like pop produced in an alternate universe. His adaptation of ''Love Hangover'' (featuring Martha Ladly of Muffins fame) errs on the side of campness rather than plain old weirdness, and THAT voice is now intruding instead of intriguing. There is, however, a far lovelier early interpretation of ''Waiting For The Love Boat'' that outstrips its frantic final version.
By 1983 MacKenzie had parted with Rankine and with new partner Howard Hughes was setting his cod-surreal lyrics in a far less challenging musical landscape. This was still no ordinary band, however. Hughes' piano on ''Breakfast'' is swoonsome while Billy's delivery on ''God Bless The Child'' is half Mel Torme, half Orson Welles. Despite a couple of absolutely classic singles this outfit were always destined to be too left-field for mass-consumption. But listening to the oddball irreverence applied to these radio sessions reminds one that true innovators very rarely fit in. Remarkable and utterly unique.