CULT CLASSIC: COCTEAU TWINS-BLUE BELL KNOLL.
Cult Classic: Cocteau Twins-Blue Bell Knoll.
By 1988, the Cocteau Twins’ star was in the ascendancy. They were officially, one of music’s rising stars. So it’s no surprise that major labels were starting to take an interest in the Cocteau Twins.
That wasn’t surprising. The Cocteau Twins had already served their musical apprenticeship. They had already released four solo albums and nine E.P.s since forming in 1980. Critical acclaim accompanied each released. This included the Cocteau Twins’ collaboration with Harold Budd on The Moon and The Melodies, released in 1986. The Moon and The Melodies further reinforced the Cocteau Twins’ credentials as the hottest indie band of the eighties.
Since releasing their debut album Garlands in 1982, the Cocteau Twins had been indie darlings. Garlands reached number four in the UK indie charts and was certified silver. For the Cocteau Twins, this the perfect start to their career.
The followup to Garlands, 1983s Head Over Heels reached number one in the UK indie charts and number fifty-one on the main UK charts. Just like Garlands, Head Over Heels was certified silver. It seemed the Cocteau Twins could do no wrong.
Treasure, released in 1984 then reached number two in the UK indie charts and number twenty-nine on the main UK charts. Two became three when Treasure was certified silver. With each release, the Cocteau Twins’ popularity was growing.
This continued with Victorialand in 1985. It reached number one in the UK indie charts and number ten on the main UK charts. By then, major labels were beginning to show an interest in the Grangemouth trio of Liz Fraser, Robin Guthrie and Simon Raymone. So were other artists.
Among them were Harold Budd, the American avant-garde composer and poet. He collaborated with the Cocteau Twins on The Moon and The Melodies, which reached number one in the UK indie charts and number forty-six on the main UK charts. This high profile, critically acclaimed collaboration increased the Cocteau Twins’ profile.
Before long, major labels were showing an interest in the Cocteau Twins. Eventually, a deal was struck where Capitol Records would license the Cocteau Twins’ releases from 4AD in the US. This suited everyone, as the Cocteau Twins had still to make a breakthrough in the lucrative American market. With the marketing muscle of Capitol Records behind the Cocteau Twins, maybe, just maybe, their fifth album Blue Bell Knoll, would chart in America?
For the recording of Blue Bell Knoll, recording took place at September Sound, Twickenham, London. That’s where the Cocteau Twins recorded the ten tracks on Blue Bell Knoll. Each of these tracks were penned by the three members of the Cocteau Twins. They played their part in ten atmospheric, ethereal and cinematic soundscapes full of imagery.
At September Sound, the three members of the Cocteau Twins got to work. They picked up where they left off on Treasure, the Cocteau Twins’ previous album. Liz Fraser added her inimitable vocals, Robin Guthrie played guitar and Simon Raymonde added bass. Once the ten tracks were completed, Blue Bell Knoll was released on 19th September 1988.
When Blue Bell Knoll was released on 19th September 1988, it was to almost overwhelming critical acclaim. Blue Bell Knoll, was perceived as the Cocteau Twins’ finest album. Despite that, the usual contrarian critics had their knives out for Blue Bell Knoll. That was to be expected, as these critics enjoyed the controversy that came with such contrarianism. However, what mattered was sales.
Blue Bell Knoll reached number fifteen on the main UK charts and number one on the UK indie charts. This was the Cocteau Twins third number one indie album. However, things however, got even better for the Cocteau Twins. On its release in America, Blue Bell Knoll reached number 109 on the US Billboard 200 charts. The combination of Capitol Records’ marketing muscle and the Cocteau Twins’ considerable talent, the Grangemouth trio were well about to reach new heights of commercial success and critical acclaim. This started with Blue Bell Knoll.
Opening Blue Bell Knoll, is the title-track. What sounds like flourishes of harpsichord are joined by Liz’s inimitable, ethereal vocal. She delivers the vocal in what’s akin to a secret language. It is, however, heartachingly beautiful. Especially, with a subtle bass, drum and harpsichord for company. They take care never to overpower Liz’s vocal. Only when her vocal drops out, does a wall of music assail you. This includes a fuzzy and later, searing guitar. They play their part in a post punk soundscape that’s variously beautiful, dramatic and ethereal.
The drama continues on Athol-Brose. It comes courtesy of Liz’s impassioned vocal. It’s multi tracked and accompanied by a plodding drum, bass and chiming guitars. They add an element of urgency, as Liz unleashes a heartfelt, soul-baring vocal that’s akin to a cathartic unburdening.
Deliberately Carolyn’s Fingers Robin runs his fingers down his guitar. It shimmers and glistens, before a wash of sound encircles Liz’s deliberate, soaring vocal. Soon, her vocal grows in power, as ethereal harmonies are panned right. Behind her, the arrangement is melodic and dreamy, the perfect foil to the ethereal quality of Liz’s vocal.
Slowly, the dreamy arrangement for For Phoebe Still A Baby unfolds. Before long, it envelops, and cocoons the listener. What follows is a beautiful innovative dream pop soundscape that the Cocteau Twins started to pioneer on their previous album, Victorialand. Again, Liz’s fragile, tender vocal is key to the song’s success as it takes on what’s best described as an almost vulnerable sound. Especially when it combines with her dreamy harmonies resulting in an innovative, but timeless soundscape.
Driven guitars chime, and are drenched in reverb on The Itchy Glowbo Blow. They join drums and Liz’s cooing, floaty vocal. Together, they play their part in an elegiac, lysergic soundscape.
Cico Buff has a floaty minimalist, cinematic sound. A drum machine plays thoughtfully, and guitars chime and shimmer. They set the scene for Liz’s melancholy, tender dreamy vocal. This is easily one of her best vocals. It cascades above the arrangement, which is akin to a journey on a musical merry-go-round.
Suckling The Mender takes the cinematic sound of the previous track further. This could easily have been part of the soundtrack to a lost Wim Wenders’ movie. Indeed, if a followup to Paris Texas had been made, this would’ve been perfect. The soundscape is simplicity itself. Drums pitter patter, guitars shimmer and glisten. The final piece in the musical jigsaw is Liz’s cooing, ethereal vocal.
From the get-go, Spooning Good Singing Gum has the Cocteau Twins’ name written all over it. They combine a minimalist mixture of trembling guitars and crispy drums with Liz’s vocal. It veers between an understated, ethereal, cooing sound to powerful, impassioned and dramatic. The result is a potent, and heady brew that paints pictures and takes you places, places you’ve never been before.
As A Kissed Out Red Floatboat begins, it’s mostly business is usual. The only difference are a few sci-fi sounds that soar above the arrangement. Then when Liz’s vocal enters, her delivery is much more tradition. She’s not improvising as much. That comes later. By then she’s flitting been a traditional and her trademark style. It’s a captivating combination. Especially with the other Cocteau Twins creating a dreamy, otherworldly backdrop.
Ella Megalast Burls Forever closes Blue Bell Knoll. It has the perfect sound to close any album, especially one as good as Blue Bell Knoll. From the opening bars, Robin and Simon provide a dramatic backdrop for Liz’s vocal. It’s equally dramatic, and heartfelt as she delivers the lyrics, it’s with equal parts emotion, hope and sincerity. This proves a beautiful conclusion to Blue Bell Knoll, the first in what was a golden quartet of albums from the Cocteau Twins.
For the Cocteau Twins, Blue Bell Knoll was a landmark album. It was the start of an eleven year period where they could do wrong. From Bell Knoll, through 1990s Heaven Or Las Vegas, 1993s Four-Calendar Cafe and their final album, Milk Or Kisses, released in 1997 the Cocteau Twins enjoyed commercial success and critical acclaim. Their final three albums all reached the top twenty in the UK. The most successful of these three albums was Heaven Or Las Vegas, which was certified silver in the UK. That’s not surprising, as it’s one of the Cocteau Twins’ best albums.
Meanwhile, the Cocteau Twins were belatedly, enjoying commercial success in America. Heaven Or Las Vegas, Four-Calendar Cafe and Milk Or Kisses all reached the top hundred in the US Billboard 200 charts. No longer were the Cocteau Twins just an indie band.
Now the Cocteau Twins were now enjoying mainstream success. This had been a longtime coming. It had taken eight long years before the Cocteau Twins made their breakthrough in America with Blue Bell Knoll. Now, however, all the years of trying had paid off. For Liz, Fraser, Robin Guthrie and Simon Raymone, Blue Bell Knoll was a game-changer.
Of the five studio album the Cocteau Twins had recorded, Blue Bell Knoll was their finest hour. It featured ten tracks lasting thirty-five minutes. The music on Blue Bell Knoll was variously beautiful, cinematic, dramatic, dreamy, elegiac, ethereal, lysergic and otherworldly. During Blue Bell Knoll, the Cocteau Twins music washes over you, cocooning, enveloping and sometimes, assailing the listener. Its otherworldly sound is akin to a journey to a lost world. On this journey, the listener floats along, a spectator on this forgotten kingdom and its hidden secrets. Providing the backdrop are the Cocteau Twins, who provide music that’s innovative, timeless and unique.
Try as the pretenders may, no one can replicate the dream pop sound of the Cocteau Twins. They showcased this sound on Victorialand, and then perfected it on Blue Bell Knoll. Crucial to this sound was Liz Fraser’s beautiful, ethereal vocal. The Cocteau Twins’ First Lady played a huge part in the rise and rise of the Cocteau Twins. However, the Cocteau Twins weren’t a one woman band.
Far from it. Robin Guthrie and Simon Raymone provided the perfect backdrop for Liz’s vocal on the seven studio albums they released during a seventeen year period. Sadly, in 1997, the Cocteau Twins split-up. However, the Cocteau Twins left behind a rich, innovative and truly timeless musical legacy, including Blue Bell Knoll, which transformed the career of the Cocteau Twins.
Cult Classic: Cocteau Twins-Blue Bell Knoll.