Most helpful positive review
24 of 25 people found the following review helpful
Good introduction to an underrated band.
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.