One Little Indian mark what would have been Billy Mackenzie’s 60th birthday by giving his last album, which was left uncompleted due to his death, it’s first ever release on vinyl. Originally released 20 years ago, Beyond The Sun is filled with ballads, trip-hop and synth-pop leanings with a Leonard Cohen presence.
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The problem with the later career of the Associates maverick Billy McKenzie was that while he thought he should be making forward thinking electronic dance music, his record companies tended to think he was better off writing torch songs. It therefore took a posthumous release when he wasn't able to put his usual spanner in the works before we found out how good these torch songs actually were. 'Beyond the Sun' was the moment they were unveiled.
Generally its rare for a record company particularly in the '90s to be right but in this case they had nail on head. The best bits of this album are the moments 'McKenzie' is accompanied by just piano and strings. 'Winter Academy' is remarkable and spellbinding - a song full of deep autumnal regret, McKenzie's once wild voice now tamed to a near whisper. This and 'Blue It Is' prove why McKenzie was regarded as one of the most talented if deeply flawed singers of his generation. If he'd had the good sense to release these songs during his lifetime then...well who knows? It would have certainly put him back on the musical map. These songs are bleak but beautiful, and almost unbearingly poignant.
The album though is split between these outrageous ballads, good to great cinematic pop (the opening trip hoppy 'Give Me Time' and '14 Mirrors' with its astounding vocal leaps) and the odd moment of awful post Prodigy electronica that fitted McKenzie like the ill fitting wigs he chose to wear at the time ('3 Gypsies in a Restaurant' in particular is gruesome). Thankfully the rather cringeworthy moments are heavily outweighed by incredible twilit ballads ('And This She Knows', 'Beyond the Sun' and the closing 'Nocturne VII' are all breathtaking).
A stunning collection of a true maverick. How sad it is that he lived at a time where he got it into his head that he needed to keep producing hits. If he'd had the artistic freedom and encouragement afforded to later artists like Bjork and Anohni then he'd be much more than a footnote in the compendium of truly great singers.
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- Beyond The Sun by Billy Mackenzie
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