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Transmission Impossible

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Album Review

While Beyond the Sun was seen by many as a lovely if unintended farewell to Billy Mackenzie following his tragic demise, in truth it was a compromise release, drawing on a variety of sessions and pared down by record company wishes to reflect the darker, piano-based songs he had been working on through much of the '90s, primarily with Steve Aungle. The 2004 reissue program on One Little Indian provided a new way to look at Mackenzie's last years, with the material on Beyond the Sun split between two releases. Auchtermatic covered the electronic/techno work, while Transmission Impossible, much like Beyond the Sun itself, focused on Mackenzie's torchier side. Rather than simply re-release those songs as they stood, however, his estate and their collaborators sought instead to release the songs as originally recorded, lacking the posthumous overdubs on the Nude version, as well as including a variety of material that had either surfaced elsewhere or not yet at all. The result is an hour-long winner, starting with a version of his killer take on the classic "Wild Is the Wind," originally featured in a variety of early-'90s performances. Another cover, a nod to Mackenzie's open fandom of Sparks via a quietly sung take on "Never Turn Your Back on Mother Earth," had turned up on the Eurocentric collection but makes more sense here given the piano/violin/vocal arrangement. "Liberty Lounge," "When the World Was Young," and "Sing That Song Again" recur from Eurocentric, the former providing some amusingly downbeat rock & roll meat. The rest, drawn from Beyond the Sun — only one, the jaunty cabaret-flecked "Satellite Life," had not yet been released before — make the case even more clearly that all Mackenzie needed was a microphone and a melody to deliver stunning, emotional songs — the more familiar overdrive of his early-'90s hit singles was simply part of his ability, not the defining moment of it. The multi-track choir concluding "Nocturne Seven," the dramatic turns of the arrangement for "Fourteen Mirrors," the moving beauty of "Beyond the Sun" itself — each testify to the great loss of Mackenzie's unique gifts.


Born: March 27, 1957 in Scotland

Genre: Alternative

Years Active: '90s

It wouldn't be right to say Billy Mackenzie was merely a special talent. His voice might bear dabs of David Bowie and Scott Walker, but his soulful falsetto shoots clean through any possible comparisons. Depending on your preference, you'll either feel as if you're inside a dream or a nightmare when listening to him. Hear him once and that sound will cling to your memory bank indefinitely. With Alan Rankine as Associates, the man with a four-octave voice and mile-deep soul attained his highest level...
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Transmission Impossible, Billy Mackenzie
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