This Mortal Coil – It’ll End In Tears
By Paul Rigby
It was a grand experiment for the 4AD record label, but more so for its founder and in-house producer, Ivo Watts-Russell – often known, simply, as Ivo. A method of hand-picking and reinterpreting selected songs as well as introducing original works by a collaborative group taken from the label’s roster. Over the three albums that This Mortal Coil would release, the amalgam of talent would range with sweeping effect to include members of Dead Can Dance, Cocteau Twins, Cindytalk, Howard Devoto, Shellyan Orphan, Colourbox, Wolfgang Press, Dif Juz, the Breeders and more. Applying an almost gothic ambience to each song, this was the first LP of the trio, released in 1984.
In practical terms, the project was triggered after Ivo saw the then 4AD band, Modern English, on tour in the USA, “For the encore, they used to play two old songs and run them together,” Ivo said. “I encouraged them to record those two songs like that. They weren’t interested – but I still thought it was a good idea. It was a good excuse to get Elizabeth Fraser and Gordon Sharp to come in and do vocals.”
This was supposed to be the A-side of a proposed single, at that time, “For the B-side, I thought of [Tim Buckley's] ‘Song for the Siren’. Liz said she’d love to try it.”
But then the project grew from there, as did Ivo’s love of the sweeping, almost anthemic soundtrack style, “I like the idea of something unfolding,” said Ivo. “Having to take the listening seriously, to give yourself over. It isn’t the only type of music that is important, but it is something I felt was worth pursuing. A bit self-indulgent, I suppose.”
It was during my early 20s that, having heard the voice of Cocteau Twins lead vocalist, Elizabeth Fraser, I decided, there and then, without even seeing her picture, that we would get married and live happily ever after. Her affecting vocal didn’t just move myself – although, admittedly, my reaction was a tad extreme – because her performance of that Ivo-envisaged B-side, which would become the second song on the first side of the eventual album, ‘Song To The Siren’, was one of the highlights of the project as a whole. Normally, Fraser’s non-sensical lyrics, utilising a fictional language all of her very own, was grist to the Cocteau Twin mill but here, she enters the English language to devastating effect. Her interpretation of the Tim Buckley original is almost ethereal.
“The human voice is the most important instrument to me. Until later, until say the Red House Painters, I don’t think there were very many great male vocalists. David Sylvian, Ian McCulloch. I approached them, but they weren’t interested. While there are many good and individual female singers.”
The ‘Song To The Siren’ vocal performance is accentuated by co-Twin, Robin Guthrie’s guitar effects but also the production of both Ivo and John Fryer who both deserve a lot more of the credit for how the album sounded than has thus been afforded. For example, Fraser’s voice includes a forward echo, an effect that allows the effect to sing the lyric before she does giving a ghostly, foggy, floating soundstage.
When comparing this remaster with the original, the remaster has a more focused stereo image with the Fraser vocal sounding more concrete and stronger with new hints of power in reserve, if required. Her voice is also lifted upwards in the soundstage which leaves the more subtle and fragile sonic additions to be more easily recognised and enjoyed.
Speaking of Cocteau Twins, the last track on Side One, the instrumental, ‘The Last Ray’, is performed by both Guthrie along with Simon Raymonde. The mastering has the principle bass drum centred in the middle of the stereo image a micro-second before a right-hand percussive burst appears. The original’s bass is softer, more woolly with less definition, giving the percussive direction a right-pulling, wayward supermarket trolley effect. The acoustic strings on the remaster are far more detailed and rounded too while the distant warble at the very end of the track on the original, reveals itself, on the remaster, to be an aural snatch of ‘Kangaroo’, the first track on Side One.
Listening to the B-side of the new remaster and ‘Waves Become Wings’, a solo outing by Dead Can Dance’s Lisa Gerrad, who plays a treated accordion that emanates an electronic wash, the new remaster brings more urgency to the Gerrard vocal with a more incisive tone to her presentation. The great sense of transparency and clarity even gives the drone-like accordion more immediacy.
The album itself works better as an over-riding concept, as one project featuring interconnecting songworks than as, with most albums, a collection of individual songs. But then, that, to all intents and purposes, was what Ivo wanted in the first place. As such, it is a rare sonic experience of great beauty.
Stand-out track: Another Day
‘Song To Siren’ is an obvious stand-out but, in hi-fi terms, this song is arguably more challenging for your midrange drivers to sort out the melange of violas, cellos and violins. The subtle tone changes will give your system a real test.
Stand-out track: Barramundi
An instrumental track that poses similar challenges to ‘Another Day’ but, in this particular case, we’re talking about guitars and how they interact with a treated accordion plus a ye olde Yamaha DX7. Simon Raymonde’s guitar work is complex – your speakers will need to be on top form to disentangle them from the mix.
It’ll End In Tears – A Recorded History
1984 Vinyl CAD 411
1993 CD 4AD/Warner Bros. 45454
1998 CD 4AD/Ada 70411
2008 CD WEA 20021
2011 Vinyl ORGM 1002