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A pretty definitive collection of 4AD Cocteaus
on 30 June 2003
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...