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Rare and subtle
Laurence Upton | Wilts, UK | 07/09/2006
(4 out of 5 stars)
"Although the music of the eighties is best remembered for its over-produced bombast, beneath the mainstream was a diversity and creativity that should be envied by purveyors of today's roster. Four A.D. had a reputation for quality and distinction, and its founder Ivo Watts-Russell's project, This Mortal Coil, brought together some of the brightest talents from the label for their 45-minute debut album in 1984, It'll End In Tears. This collected new versions of a number of hand-picked songs, all beautifully performed and sung, and each linked by some newly-created instrumental passages. It was sufficiently successful for a follow-up, Filigree And Shadow, to be made two years later, promoted to double-album length.
In 1991, after a five year gap, came a second double album, Blood. Although the concept of This Mortal Coil remained the same after It'll End In Tears, the move to the double album format had the effect of extending the original instrumental material that interspersed the songs that were being reinterpreted. In my view, although they serve a valuable purpose in bridging and connecting themes and sounds, as full-length tracks some of them are more valuable as a source of revenue to Ivo, Simon Raymonde and John Fryer than as a necessary part of the artistic integrity of the record, and at worst have a bloating effect that can diminish the total effect of the music. There are also some newly composed songs, however, that are more successful.
The choice of artists drafted in for the project and of the songs chosen to be covered on Blood remains outstanding, and is proof of the taste and discrimination for which the project had earned a reputation, whilst the instrumentation, in particular the gorgeous use of chamber strings, is first class.
Caroline Crawley (from the underrated Shelleyan Orphan, on loan from Rough Trade) sounds sublime on the Apartment's Mr Somewhere, Mary Margaret O'Hara's Help Me Lift You Up, where she is joined by Deirdre Rutkowski, and on a radical reworking of Syd Barrett's Late Night, one of my favourites from the set. Deirdre Rutkowski gets solo dibs on the Gene Clark song With Tomorrow, and Carolyn's Song, originally by Rain Parade, as well as on some of the new material. Four A.D. had some major American names on the payroll, as well as their English and Scottish artists, and Heidi Berry revives 'Til I Gain Control Again, written by Rodney Crowell for Emmylou Harris, while Tanya Donelly and Kim Deal are gloriously combined on the popular Big Star song You And Your Sister, later done to advantage by Whale. Dominic Appleton (from Breathless) covers another Chris Bell song, I Am The Cosmos. Spirit's Nature's Way, from Twelve Dreams Of Dr Sardonicus, is given to Alison Limerick, who had first appeared with them on Lonely Is An Eyesore in 1987, and adds vocal support to other tracks.
I Come And Stand At Every Door is an interesting setting of a twentieth century Turkish anti-war poem written by Nazim Hikmet. The Byrds adapted it from a version by Pete Seeger, who had borrowed for it the tune Great Selchie Of Shule Skerry, and around the same time the Misunderstood recorded another setting of the poem, with the title I Unseen. More recently it was taken up by the Fall, who also did an instrumental version on their album Levitate with the title Jap Kid. This Mortal Coil's rendition is sung by Louise & Deirdre Rutkowski and Tim Freeman, and segues evocatively into the moving piece Bitter, with additional vocals by Ikuko Kozu.
Perhaps slightly too much to take at a single 77 minute sitting (bearing in mind it was designed to be played on two records), and slightly padded, this is nonetheless a rare and subtle pleasure"