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4.7 out of 5 stars
Stars And Topsoil: A Collection (1982-1990)
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24 of 25 people found the following review helpful
on 11 September 2005
Stars and Topsoil is a fairly definitive cross-section of Cocteau Twins material from their near-legendary years on 4AD. The collection includes carefully selected tracks from the period, which began with their debut album Garlands, before progressing right the way through to what some consider to be their ultimate masterpiece, Heaven or Las Vegas. As with the majority of these collections the choice of tracks included is merely subjective, with no single-disk career retrospective ever likely to please the die-hard fans, who will no doubt be too busy bemoaning the fact that a lesser song has been included over their all-time favourite. As a result, Stars and Topsoil works best an introduction to the band for those who don't already have all the albums and are curious as to the style of music the Cocteau Twins create.
This collection also best demonstrates the evolution the Cocteau's underwent from those first two albums, Garlands and Head Over Heels - which were a lot more rooted in the sound of the early-80's post punk scene - into the band that created the lush dream pop of definitive albums like Blue Bell Knoll, Treasure and Victorialand. The 18-tracks run pretty much in chronological order, progressing on from Blind Dumb Deaf from their first album and beyond into the utter delights of those watershed albums that would follow. Both Sugar Hiccup and My Love Paramour from second album Head Over Heels show early signs of that Cocteau's sound beginning to emerge, with the style and overall integration of Robin Guthrie's layered and cascading guitar tones with the sublime and intoxicatingly opaque vocals of Elizabeth Fraser.
Treasure was the first album in which the three units of the band (Guthrie's guitar, Fraser's vocals and Simon Raymonde's bass) came together most distinctively, leading to an album of astounding diversity and an overwhelming sense of originality. Lorelei and Pandora are both fine examples of the genius of this album, though, if I had my way, it would have also included Ivo, Persephone and Amelia... three of my favourites from Treasure. From hereon in, Cocteau Twins were a band like no other... their influence can be seen all over the place, from contemporaries like Felt and Talk Talk, through to the shoegazers (acts like Slowdive, Ride, Pale Saints, My Bloody Valentine, etc) and in acts as diverse as The Sugarcubes, The Cranberries and Goldfrapp, and yet... the actual Cocteau's sound has yet to be as successfully (or as distinctively) reproduced.
The later run of songs, i.e. those taken from albums like Treasure, Victorialand and Heaven or Las Vegas, sound as far removed from any kind of contemporary rock or pop music you could ever imagine... with the Cocteau's really creating and defining a sound and a style of music that is probably completely alien to those of us raised on whatever the NME considers to be real music these days!! The sounds that Guthrie gets out of his guitar on some of these tracks is absolutely astounding, developing a chiming, shimmering style that seems like even more of an anachronism when we compare it to the style of a lot of other guitarists from the same era (Guthrie, as a performer, is easily on a par with other 80's UK guitar heroes, like Vini Reilly of the Durutti Column, Johnny Marr of The Smiths and Maurice Deebank of Felt). The overall sound that the band create on songs like The Thinner The Air, Iceblink Luck and Heaven Or Las Vegas is absolutely enchanting, with Fraser's beguiling vocals presenting an aural puzzle for the listener, as we desperately try and work out what exactly is being sung??
The closing run of songs all stem from the era of Heaven or Las Vegas, their final album for 4AD and a good place to end. Overall, Stars and Topsoil is a great primer to the sound of one of the most interesting and original bands to come out of Britain in the 80's (or any decade for that matter!!). The packaging and art-work is lovely and very much in keeping with those lush album covers for Head Over Heels, Treasure and Victorialand (they're all great really, but those three are my personal faves in terms of evocative cover-art) and also in-keeping with the gorgeous and indescribably music found within. If you're interested in discovering the bizarre and beautiful music created by the Cocteau Twins, but can't really commit yourself to buying all their albums, then this lovely collection is probably the best introduction you'll find.
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18 of 19 people found the following review helpful
Stars&Topsoil is a pretty definitive selection of Cocteau Twins career on 4AD from 1982 to 1990- their work after was slightly less interesting (though the Bella-Union sampler'At Least You Can Die With a Smile On Your Face' showcases the later work of Fraser, Guthrie&Raymonde- as does MassiveAttack's Mezzanine). This is a pretty definitive single compilation, one that takes in their whole 4AD career, rather than focusing on singles like the lovely boxset or compilation'The Pink Opaque'.
The opening track is a curious choice- more of a product of their obssession with Siouxsie&the Banshees (which wouldn't be completely expunged till 1984's Treasure). I'd have preferred Peppermint Pig personally- though as with every compilation there are so many titles that YOU feel should be hear (eg Blue Bell Knoll, Crushed, Musette&Drums, Rococo,The Spangle Maker, Love's Easy Tears,Pitch the Baby, Cherry-Coloured Funk etc).
We get the early highlights- the sublime Sugar Hiccup, Head Over Heels' My Love Paramour and the kind of hit single Pearly Dewdrops'Drops (one of Fraser&Guthrie's most popular moments, along with This Mortal Coil's Song to the Siren & 1990's Iceblink Luck). Next up are two tracks from the wonderful Treasure, where Simon Raymonde came on board & the classic Cocteau's sound was born and developed on- there is a wild feel to the drum machine, which is more akin to EricB&Rakim at times (no surprise that the Cocetaus would influence AR Kane and PM Dawn- bands who fused beats with those obligatory sonic cathedrals & palatial chimes!). It gets better with a selection of ep tracks from 1985- the huge Aikea-Guinea and the sublime Pink-Orange-Red...Raymonde went off to work on the second This Mortal Coil album in 85/86- so Fraser&Guthrie made the minimal, more acoustic ambient Victorialand- which is certainly underrated in their back catalogue- Lazy Calm and The Thinner The Air don't come more gorgeous or more perfect. The Harold Budd compilation is ignored, though Love's Easy Tears b-side Orange-Appled is a most welcome addition- here the acoustic sounds of Victorialand fuse with the bands previous band ethic (the trademark chimes found themselves on Gun Club's awesome Guthrie-produced The Breaking Hands, alongside AR Kane's debut work).
1988 saw the Cocteaus reach their peak form with Blue Bell Knoll, from which Carolyn's Fingers and Cico Buff stem; this quality would be topped in 1990 with Heaven or Las Vegas- which provides the source for the final tracks. Hit single Iceblink Luck, b-side Watchlar, the albums title track and fave Fifty-Fifty Clown show that there was more than a formula to the Twins work. Fraser was stressing words more: "emotions are emotional/emotions are..."-
& to be fair, many shoegazing bands would encroach on the Cocteaus' turf and like Talk Talk they would be forgotten for the likes of Chapterhouse, Lush, My Bloody Valentine, Ride & Slowdive. Stars & Topsoil is the perfect intro to Cocteau Twins, whose version of Pink-Orange-Red on The Tube in the mid80s so beguiled me! Though personally, I'd plump for ANYTHING they did from 84 to 90; but if funds are mildly limited- this is the one! The perfect soundtrack to dreams, love, sex and wondering: a blissed out poetry that perfects itself with the passage of time...
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
on 24 February 2001
This is probably the best introduction to the Cocteaus, although for me nothing tops "Treasure" for total album perfection. For me this album though catapulted me back 15 years to my teenage years, being all moody, dressed in black and totally, totally hooked on the magic of the Cocteaus. Nothing can ever top Liz Fraser's voice for sublime beauty. Or the rage from proles who say "but you can't understand the words" ...GRRRR...they're not songs! Once you understand Liz's voice is another musical instrument then you can float away on the magic of it all. The sax and gradual climax to Lazy Calm is for me fabulous - when Liz's voice finally kicks in it blows the top of your head off. I also cannot get over Lorelei - is it me or does it remind you of Christmas? Buy this album now. And begin to appreciate the finer things in life.
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16 of 17 people found the following review helpful
on 23 January 2002
Play this and remember when the british record industry made little sense or had even less credibility (except for Liz's BRIT)than today. There in the glare of mullets, rolled-up jacket sleeves and white footwear shone the black-light of the Cocteaus and along with fellow hooded guardians 'the Chain, Smiths, Cure and New Order maintained the balance between the lameness of 'pop' and what really mattered . Anyone who had a thought in their head during the 80's will remember that this was the reason late-night radio existed. Nearly two decades on and the pretenders of ambient and trance are still pretending. Long dormant memories and emotions manifest in the form of Sugar Hiccup, The Thinner The Air and Fifty-Fifty Clown. You'll have your own reasons for owning this compilation but to me and anybody with children named Pandora, Carolyn or Phoebe it's what being in-love sounded like.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
on 17 October 2000
Emerged in the aftermath of the punk era, alongside Siouxsie & The Banshees or Cure, the Cocteau Twins have, in the fifteen years they were together, invented a unique combination of foggy guitars, hypnotic bass lines and ethereal vocals. Stars & Topsoil retraces eight years of their collaboration with legendary label 4AD. From their first album, Garlands, released in 1982, to 1996's Milk & Kisses, the Cocteau Twins have skilfully developed their craft, the waves of layered guitars engulfing the exceptional voice of Liz Fraser, to the point where it became an instrument in its own right. To add to the mystery, Liz has, over the years, perfected her own language, in which a few English words only would filter. She has also given the strangest titles to her songs, sometimes using first names, on Treasure, or butterfly names, on Tiny Dynamine and Echoes In A Shallow Bay. Stars & Topsoil compiles tracks taken from nearly every single EP or album released by the band on 4AD, and follows last year's BBC Sessions, released on Robin Guthrie and Simon Raymonde's label Bella Union. The eighteen tracks, in chronological order, demonstrate more than ever how the Cocteau's universe has remained so tightly sealed over the years. Ignoring fashions, Liz Fraser, Robin Guthrie and Simon Raymonde have remained consistent in their art, faithful to their original sound. Stars & Topsoil includes some of the finest moments ever recorded. Sugar Hiccup, Pearly-Dewdrops' Drops, Pale Clouded White, the magnificent Lazy Calm, with its icy saxophone, Orange Appled or Iceblink Luck are as many reminders that the music produced by the Cocteau Twins is breathtaking, jubilant and peaceful. It is timeless.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
on 19 March 2012
Curiosity & a little nostalgia led me to buy the lovely white vinyl version of this compilation : having owned 'Treasure', 'Victorialand' & a couple of EP's back in the eighties, I wanted to revisit their unique sound & hear how they developed after I lost interest ( I fell for their support band Dif Juz instead! ).
The complaints were always the samey-ness of their (beautiful & influential) 4AD in-house sound, and also the (again) beautiful-but-meaningless vocals.
Drawing together numbers from across their career means there's good variation in approach & style, and the heavenly effect-laden washes don't become too much.
Finally, a reverse chronology tracklist might have improved this otherwise impressive CV, as it is their later period I was most curious about.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
on 21 October 2013
After years and years listening Cocteau Twins on CD, I was happy with the possibility of buy a nice collection in double LP.
This record is a very good introduction to the work who does not know the group, but also is a great opportunity to have beautiful songs in a beautiful double LP on white vinyl with great sound quality.
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on 4 December 2014
Re-live those bedsit days when romance was only a jasmine joss-stick away.

This is a super swoony selection of tracks from the sensitive young man and woman's favorites:The Cocteau Twins. In roughly chronological order you can count the heartbreaks, get lost in the dense language-less moans and ride the wave of pink reverb from the pop rush of Sugar Hiccup to the sublime Carolyn's Fingers.

My memory gongs were struck hard by the outrageous scales Liz is rippling up and down in Lorelei and Aikea-Guinea. In my one man Karaoke I sang along beside her. A smokey burr to her hummingbird flutter...that was until the kids caught me and poked a rib shouting 'Goth Dad, Goth Dad' sucking in their cheeks and dancing The Murphy. Wait till i put on the Birthday Party. Heads will roll!

Only cheated out of a star coz there was nothing from their immense Harold Budd collaboration. Apart from that it's damn near perfect.

Backcomb that barnett and sway with stiff arms.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on 18 April 2010
If you are looking for the a album to buy of the Couteau Twins to see what All the fuss is about there are a few to chose from. I would surgest you go by the root of buying Treasure, Heavan or Las Vagas and this one. The other two albums are in my view their best work and this album is more of a singles album and is spread across their career.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on 24 January 2013
Yes, I'm one of those Cocteau Twins virgins. (What on earth was I doing in the 80s?).

I've just had this a few days but I've played nothing else. I like some tracks more than others, but it's superb music overall, well recommended.
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