This Mortal Coil

It seems fitting to begin  discussing "Incomparable Past" releases with This Mortal Coil as they had quite a profound influence on my college years.  This Mortal Coil was a cornucopia of talent that I harvested for years to come, indeed am still farming.  But I didn't know that when I first encountered them in my local Sound Warehouse.  Back in the days before internet and sampling, often you just had to go with your gut when trying to find new music.  I remember being drawn to the image and colors of the record, It'll End in Tears, and loving the poetry of their name and album title.  I new 4AD as the label for Cocteau Twins and Bauhaus, so I took a chance.

I remember starting the record and after a few minutes realizing I couldn't just listen to it.  I had to go around and turn off lights, light some candles, and prepare myself to be transported.  So I restarted the record and snuggled into a comfortable chair with the album cover and was in awe.  I was unfamiliar with Big Star, Gordon Sharp, Alex Chilton, or most of what I was hearing, except for the Cocteau Twins, but when has Elizabeth Fraser every sounded this compelling.?  I didn't think about all that at first though, I just listened, dried my eyes and listened again.  I think I played it through 5 or 6 times that night.  Those were the days of never ending nights that I didn't need sleep as long as there was something beautiful and mysterious to be explored.

Kangaroo is a spellbinding ode to a lost love.  Gordon Sharp sings it so perfectly I found myself feeling every aching heart-string.  Song to the Siren follows in an equal measure of yearning and unrequited longing.  The next tracks, Holocaust and Fyt, seemed to bring the entire world at the moment crashing down to a fitting ending as all love and humanity spilled out into the cosmos.  Fond Affections slinks in at the last moment and reveals that all is not lost, but it is precarious and precious, and must be preserved with delicate care and intention.  Again Gordon Sharp is just stunning in his delivery of this message.  The last song on side one, The Last Ray, lets the emotions mellow and brings a sense of peace.

This is definitely a great example of why vinyl is a better listening experience.  Side one deserves it's separation from side two of this amazing record.  Although side two has another great song from Elizabeth Fraser, Another Day, and one from Gordon Sharp, A Single Wish, it is altogether a dramatic departure from side one. Side two introduced me to Lisa Gerrard (Dead Can Dance).  Side two is much less challenging to listen to than side one, in some ways it is easier to enjoy.  It is certainly much more of a casual listening experience.  But side one is the side I want to experience repeatedly.

So.  Things I garnered from It'll End in Tears:

  • Elizabeth Fraser has a beautiful voice and can sing "words" 
  • Gordon Sharp is .....? I had to do some research to find anything out, but I felt compelled to - He was just to magical to be believed, like he was fae, or ethereal.  Once I found Camouflage Heart (Cindytalk) and experienced his darker nature I knew I would be a fan for life.  
  •  Ivo is a genius that can recognize genius in others and material that work together to tell a story that might otherwise have been lost
  • Lisa Gerrard and Brendan Perry =  Dead Can Dance - just incredible
  • 23 Envelope does amazing art - easily spotted and generally for groups I am going to like
  • Big Star and Alex Chilton were just waiting for me to find them - became essential listening
  • Tim Buckley wrote some amazing songs and I had to find out more about him
  • Jeff Buckley dated Elizabeth Fraser - just a connection that seemed perfect  - wish they had made more music together - All Flowers In Time Bend Towards The Sun was just not enough
There was even more, but those are the highlights of how much It'll End in Tears gave me over the years.  

When Filigree & Shadow came out I figured it couldn't possibly be as good, but I hoped it would be good enough.  I was shocked when it came close to surpassing It'll End in Tears.  Actually on the whole it probably does.  It just doesn't have anything to challenge the highs of side one of It'll End in Tears, or talent quite up to the marks of Gordon Sharp or Elizabeth Fraser.  But it also doesn't change direction halfway through and gives a solid beginning to ending experience.  

The songs here are tightly wound together and from side to side seem like chapters in an ongoing story.  Side one has The Jeweler and Tarantula telling tales of living an existence without knowing real love. Side two has My Father, Come Here My Love and Morning Glory moving from familial love to obsession and companionship.  Side three, I Want To Live and I Must Have Been Blind explore knowing and loving yourself.  Side four doesn't leave us with a happy ending, Alone and Drugs end the album noting we don't always love ourselves and make it hard for others to love us.  

All generalities, but it's the impression the album gives to me.  It is an example of an album as an art piece and not a collection of individual songs. More than half the tracks are instrumentals that bind together the lyrical songs in a musical mosaic. There was less discovery in this record with only Colourbox as an unknown I had to research.

And then there was Blood.  I was very disappointed in Blood.  It was a collection of songs. It did not have the atmospheric, immersive feel of either of the other two albums.   The two best tracks by Chris Bell (Big Star), I Am the Cosmos and You and Your Sister, were empty and much less compelling than the originals.  I Come and Stand at Every Door is a good song and featured Tim Freeman (Frazier Chorus) and I also like Mr. Somewhere, but 4 out of 21 songs doesn't make for a great record.  As usual my taste didn't reflect that of those around me as Blood was much more popular on my college radio with You and Your Sister getting a lot of airplay.

Ivo tried to continue the concept with a new "group", Hope Blister - not bad, but still a far cry from the first two albums.  Maybe genius has it's limits.  Maybe he was doing it for the wrong reasons.  What ever the reason, I am just glad, eternally grateful, and in awe of the first two records.  Maybe they were just too good to be followed.  


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