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Kirsty MacColl’s Voice Was Singular. A New Box Aims to Bring It Wider.


“Steve took the song home and got Kirsty to sing the woman’s part just to see how it would sound,” said the band’s Spider Stacy. “But as soon as we heard Kirsty singing, we knew she was the answer.”

The song proved a hit on the U.K. charts that winter — on its way to becoming an enduring classic — and saw MacColl return to live performing, guesting with the Pogues in Europe. “The reception she’d get every night was unbelievable,” Stacy said. “She got a real lift from that. It helped get her past her nerves onstage.”

The momentum pushed MacColl to resume her solo career in 1989, with the release of her second album, “Kite,” eight years after her debut. “Kite,” which included a cover of the Kinks’ “Days,” was considered her greatest work — and even won the approval of her most ardent critic, Ewan MacColl. “Kirsty’s father had dismissed her career as being ‘pop,’ in the same way he had dismissed Bob Dylan when he started playing electric guitar,” Lillywhite said. “In fact, when I introduced Kirsty to Dylan at Live Aid, his first words to her were, ‘Wow, your father really hated me.’”

During a playback of the album, the elder MacColl read through the lyrics and finally praised his daughter. “I’m getting quite emotional just thinking about that,” Lillywhite said. “‘Kite’ was really the high point in our lives together.”

Low points soon followed, however, and the couple eventually divorced after more than a decade together. Musically, MacColl went on to incorporate a variety of styles — trip-hop, Latin, even rap — on her next effort, “Electric Landlady” (1991), before delivering a darkly themed breakup record, “Titanic Days” (1993).

Over the next few years, she found further inspiration globally, and brought sounds from South America and Cuba to her self-funded and self-produced swan song, “Tropical Brainstorm,” from 2000. “Much like the way Paul Simon integrated non-European music into his pop vision,” Marr said, “it was a very skillful thing she did.”