Wednesday, 8 February 2012

The 2kDozen 500: #53 - Cocteau Twins, "Stars and Topsoil: A Collection 1982-1990"

This is being re-issued following its original appearance in 2000, a compliation of songs the Twins released on 4AD between 1982 and 1990. Seems pretty timely too - a less scribbled-over template for the dream pop that drips from the blogosphere today.

I was aware of Cocteau Twins at the time - especially by the time their last album on 4AD "Heaven or Las Vegas" in 1990 - but never listened to any of their albums properly. So ears on and let's (un)rock.

Interesting to hear how things have changed in twenty-odd years. The Eighties arrangements are crystal clear, not gauzed in fuzz; and the vocals sit cleanly on top, not swallowed as today by layers of angsty noise. And there is the matter of the made-up language that Liz Fraser trilled and swooped about with: not so many folk have run on with that baton. In fact, I can't really think of anyone else.

Big, icy drum machine beats set the first few tracks firmly in the era of Mutually Assured Destruction and Thatcheromics. But as the tracks are roughly chronological, you can hear the chill of the drums shrink into the background as Joy Division fades and New Order looms. The melodic bass throughout sounds like Peter Hook is chugging away in his Revenge-era, leather trouser pomp. After opening with tortured guitar on "Blind Dumb Deaf", confidence grows through the album until by the end, the jubilation has won out.

"Pearly Dewdrop Drops" is perhaps the closest thing to a hit that I recognise, not counting the 1990 stuff - as I devoured that year musically with the enthusiasm of a recently-socialised seventeen year old. It soars and swoops and swings its head from side to side at the indie disco as expected. Tickled a new coral shade of pink I am.

They can take as long as they like on this, it feels; time is as irrelevant as language. Something to be bent to their will. "Pandora" is certainly in no hurry; and Fraser's curious Latinate lyrical scat is in full swing. "Pink Orange Red" is Twin Peaks slow and (obvs) dreamy.

By the time of the tunes from "Blue Bell Knoll" in 1988, the band have achieved a pop self-confidence that has wormed its way into the structure of "Orange Appled" and "Cico Buff" as songs, reflecting the confidence that indie guitar music was building up with Pixies and REM and The Smiths and a myriad of other acts towards the end of that decade. It's not a straightforward version of pop; it's pop with its head inside out and the dreams trailing outside like a massively unruly hairdo.

"Fifty-Fifty Clown" and the last track, "Watchlar", have a very contemporary mix of some dessicated guitar wail, fluttering vocals and panther-like electronic throbs that could as easily have come out this month as 22 years ago. I can just hear them sound-tracking "Skins" now.

Impressionist and opaque. Were they the least Scottish-sounding Scottish band ever? (Possibly excluding Average White Band.)

Rating: Bluebell Dewdrop out of Orange Sugar Luck

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