Why 1984 Ruled #2: Frozen Heart
August 28, 2009
A super-group formed. Born from an idea originally intended for Modern English. This idea manifested itself into an underground force comprised of the best 4AD records had to offer that churned out 3 spectacular Dream Pop records. Or Goth records. Or Darkwave records, call it what you will, there is no denying its impact.
This Mortal Coil was the brainchild of the head of 4AD records, Ivo Watts-Russel. 4AD was quite the label in its heyday 1980-1994. Though the early 90’s were sort of weak on releases, Red House Painters alone makes up for any crap act they might have pressed. 4AD was responsible for releases from Goth-Rock heavyweights such as Bauhaus and The Birthday Party and would be home for The Cocteau Twins, Pixies, A.R Kane, Dead Can Dance, Pale Saints, Lush and many others. Originally, Ivo wanted Modern English to re-record “Sixteen Days” and “Gathering Dust” as a medley since they were ending their live shows with those two songs, but the declined. Ivo then recruited members of Cocteau Twins, Colorbox and Cindytalk to record it. The B-side was a Tim Buckley cover, “Song to the Siren”, performed by Elizabeth Fraser and Robin Guthrie of Cocteau Twins. The strength of this cover made its way on to the A-Side of the 7″ release, with a reprise of Sixteen Days being the B-Side. From the success and reception of this, Ivo made the right call to further pursue this idea and make an LP. The first LP, the subject of this entry, is “It’ll End in Tears”.
This album would set the trend for the other two LP’s that would follow. It consists of covers of a wide range of artists, from Singer-Songwriters to Post-Punk acts that only occurred a few years before this. This record preceded “Treasure” by Cocteau Twins by a month, a record that would become a staple in any fans collection, often in top 3’s of fans, yet dismissed quickly by the band. The Twins had released their Spangle Maker EP, a significant release because it would foreshadow the direction Cocteau Twins would take, hinting at their abandoning of goth/post punk roots and more processing pop sensibilities through ethereal means.
From start to finish this record is a few things, but all things solid. Its a sad tale, starting and ending with a whimper. Using the power of other people’s words, this album holds true to its title. This is not a record to be taken lightly. The first three tracks are enough to make you crawl into a ball and hide beneath the covers. Side One opens with a very much organized take on Kangaroo by Big Star. Its a perfect beginning to this 44 minute dream-like opus. The original version of this song is to say the least, a mess. It was from Third/Sister Lovers, which in itself is a mess on the whole. A good mess mind you, but this song was one of the weaker parts of the album, and This Mortal Coil breathed life into that was never there. Following this we have “Song to the Siren” which wouldn’t be anything new to already acquainted fans of this group, seeing as it was on the first release by this group. But touching on this song, hearing the original from “Starsailor” they play it very similarly but with much more space and atmosphere and Fraser’s angelic voice definitely suits it more than Buckley’s baritone bore. The second of the two Big Star covers follows, “Holocaust”, sung by Buzzcocks/Magazine front-man Howard Devoto. So far we’re 3 for 3. This piano-driven song is very pretty. The focus becomes on the voice while the piano sounds oh so distant, slowly making its way back to the forefront. The Piano line flows much nicer and doesn’t sound like a turtle struggling to keep moving forward. Another thing that makes some of these songs successful in execution is the orchestral aspect to them, using strings to thicken up the sound beautifully. The next song, the first original/instrumental on the record “FYT” is conceived by Ivo himself along with John Fryer, but performed by Mark Cox and Martyn Young and this resembles the 4AD sound fans would have come to know at this point in time. Drum Machine with samples creating a dark landscape drenched in synthesizer and other effects. One could argue these kind of songs to be some of the basic groundwork for what industrial would become. Maybe. I’d have to look more into it but I don’t want to. Flowing from one to another, Fond Affections is up next. This was originally by Rema Rema, which was only a few years before this. A group that released an EP on 4AD, the members would later go on to form The Wolfgang Press. Its sung by Gordon Sharp of Cindytalk, but it sounds like a woman. I don’t know what to tell you. We’re at the end of Side One, we close with Instrument and Incidental entitled “The Last Ray” performed by Robin Guthrie, and new member of Cocteau Twins, Simon Raymonde.
Side Two starts with a song that is drastically different from the original. Another Day, a somber folk song by Roy Harper turns into a Violin/Viola/Cello driven song topped with Elizabeth Fraser’s vocals. This is one of my favourite parts of the album. Its the strings that really gives this collective life of its own, and not making it a run of the mill goth rock project on a goth label. It gives it life and room to move around and not get buried beneath better things. Following this, we’re treated to the first of two songs by Lisa Gerrard. Its my understanding that this song was composed by her. Beneath the title “Waves Become Wings” in the LP, it only mentions her name and credits her as the only artist on the song. Lisa Gerrard was 1/2 of the band Dead Can Dance, a band that defines acquired taste if you ask me. They took elements of post punk and goth rock along with dream pop and channeled it through songs that would better be suited under the genre of World Music. A talented woman, with a powerful voice, that’s for sure but I’ve never been able to stomach her group. This song teeters more along the lines of ambiance with a minimal arrangement that sounds large. If i’m right, there are no proper lyrics to this song, in fact no words at all. Lisa Gerrard doesn’t go away, and stays on the next song by taking the role of just looped accordion on “Barramundi” with Simon Raymonde handling the duties on guitar and dx7. Another song that sort of foreshadows later Cocteau Twins circa Victorialand and their instrumental LP “The Moon and the Melodies”. This side deals less with constructing dream pop songs persay, and tends to blend together into movements. Up next, “Dreams Made Flesh” another song that credits Lisa Gerrard with yang t’chin (I believe to be some sort of cymbal, possibly Tibetan or perhaps Middle Eastern) and vocals. If this is a movement this is the 3rd part, the last part. After this we’re back to the dark wave sound most will be craving at this point with “Not Me” by Colin Newman, formerly of Wire but this song was taken from his solo career. This song sounds like something you would definitely hear on a new wave radio station at 1 in the morning. It features vocals by Robbie Grey of Modern English. This track is good, I might like it more than some of the Side One songs, but for me its the weakest part of Side Two. But with saying that, I prefer side two of this album. It feels much more original in its approach, branching out from the 4AD sound to more of a Brian Eno influenced ambient style, without being too bare or boring, and with a healthy dose of creativity. We end on “A Single Wish”, with a quick appearance by Gordon Sharp on vocals, this song seems like a nice way to end an overall sad album. This feels like that single ray of hope we’d expect to get after this assault of darkness created by this album. But listen closely to the small amount of lyrics sung: “You and I, alone here. You and I, It’ll end in tears.” No way are we going to get off easy. Perfect end to this album. There is nothing else I can really say about it, except its brilliant. Simply brilliant.
I recommend this album to anyone and everyone. If not for me, check this out because of the fantastic Patton Oswalt joke! Even after writing this Ebert-esque post about this album, I still prefer the second release, “Filigree and Shadow”. It was the first one I owned on vinyl, and I spent many nights listening to it with my Dad’s headphones, and each side plays like its own EP. Its like an album of four movements. Maybe I’ll write about it someday.