The Associates: J.J. Belle (guitar); Chester Kamen, Blair Booth, Danny Cummings, Philipp Erb.
Personnel: Blair Booth (vocals, strings, keyboards, programming); Chester Kamen, Mark Rutherford (guitar); Howard Hughes (strings, piano); Philipp Erb (strings, keyboards, programming); Anne Dudley, Gavyn Wright (strings); J. Neil Sidwell, Malcolm Duncan (saxophone); Martin Drover (trumpet); Izumi Kobayashi (piano); Danny Cummings, Moritz von Oswald (percussion); Carol Kenyon, Carroll Thompson (background vocals).
Audio Mixer: Julian Mendelsohn.
Photographer: Richard Haughton.
Unknown Contributor Role: Chester Kamen.
Although Howard Hughes continued to work with Billy Mackenzie, providing the excellent piano that appears throughout the album, Wild and Lonely, more than any other release before it, was essentially a solo album with a supporting cast of about 20 different musicians. Other performers included studio pros J.J. Belle on guitar and Guy Pratt on bass, plus Art of Noise core member/freelance arranger Anne Dudley handling the string performances. Following up the unreleased Glamour Chase album, it was something of a mixed delight; while Mackenzie's voice remains the pure and wonderful thing it always was, parallels to Bryan Ferry's later solo career suggest themselves. There's some of the same relative musical ennui, where everything is perfectly pleasant but rarely striking. Even more distressing, more than once, said music is little more than late-'80s glossy yup-funk that is singularly unappealing in its boredom, often saved only by Mackenzie's performing bravura and nice production touches ("Fever" would be dull as ditch water without the lead piano, orchestrations, and abbreviated choir blasts). Happily, the worse moments don't define the album, and when at its best, Wild and Lonely serves up a fine selection of new Mackenzie classics. "Fire to Ice" starts the album with a bright, shining feel, the relative gloss of the song offset by the strings and marvelous chorus. "Just Can't Say Goodbye," in feel echoing the similarly titled "Never Can Say Goodbye" as remade by Gloria Gaynor, is Mackenzie at his showstopping best, a song that combines Broadway theatricality and Euro-disco sheen in a way that only the Pet Shop Boys could rival. Particularly fine vocals from Mackenzie unsurprisingly run riot, especially in the closing section of "Where There's Love," working with backing singers excellently, and "Ever Since That Day." Concluding with the late-night smokiness of the title track, Wild and Lonely is imperfect, but with brilliant flashes nonetheless. ~ Ned Raggett