Stars And Topsoil - 2000

Stars And Topsoil    Blind Dumb Deaf
   Sugar Hiccup
   My Love Paramour
   Pearly-Dewdrops' Drops
   Pink Orange Red
   Pale Clouded White
   Lazy Calm
   The Thinner The Air
   Orange Appled
   Cico Buff
   Carolyn's Fingers
   Fifty-Fifty Clown
   Iceblink Luck
   Heaven Or Las Vegas

Two years after the Cocteau Twins disbanded the 4AD label suddenly came up with the Stars And Topsoil compilation album. All tracks included were released earlier, although they were remastered for this album. In particular the tracks from the older albums appear to have benefited by this as they definitely sound better than their earlier cd-versions. More recent tracks though are just louder than the originals.

The band stayed with 4AD from 1982-1990, and during that period they recorded no less than seven albums and eight EP's, so although 4AD had no shortage of material to choose from they also had their work cut out to make a proper selection out of the sheer endless number of great songs. With complexity being a major feature on many Cocteau tracks it is a bit unexpected to find the label seems to have used simplicity and faster appeal as the main criteria instead. From their debut album Garlands for instance they just took the fairly straightforward and not too complex Blind Dumb Deaf. From the sparkling Head Over Heels they ignored several compositions that would take a bit more effort to appreciate but did include the slightly monotonous and clearly simpler Sugar Hiccup to represent the band's most diverse album. The selection from their next album would appear even less obvious: the contrast of the loud and overwhelming Lorelei with the lighthearted Pandora is unlikely to communicate how incredibly fantastic and mesmerizingly beautiful Treasure really is.
From their later albums more challenging choices could have been made as well. From Blue Bell Knoll there is the calm and quiet Cico Buff rather than much more dynamic songs such as the title track. And it is a bit mystifying to find none of the last five tracks from Heaven Or Las Vegas, every single one of them showing the band at their peak in craft and creativity, was found suitable for this collection.

Despite all that Stars And Topsoil contains 18 wonderful tracks, it is a parade of elegance and refinement with songs from every album they made during their 4AD years, and by including both tracks that enjoyed anything near popularity as single releases (Pearly-Dewdrops' Drops and Iceblink Luck) the album should appeal to anyone familiar to those as well. Still, a compilation that would truly represent their work should definitely have included some of their more complex work. On this release we encounter most of the 'easier' tracks of the Twins, and it therefore just misses the mark when it comes to painting a true picture of the beauty, the magic and the unrivalled innovativity of the Cocteau Twins. Anyone listening to this CD should be aware that the contents represent only a fraction of the band's production rather than the pick of their work. If you appreciate this album you would be well advised to purchase most of their original releases as well - rest assured that every single Cocteau track is of the same high quality.

Blind Dumb Deaf

Taken from the Garlands album.

Some tunes sound so simple that it seems impossible they were ever composed - they were just there from the beginning of times, waiting for someone to pick them up and put them on a record. Blind Dumb Deaf is such a song. It has a theme so straightforward that you wonder why nobody ever thought of it before.

On this great track we find that the guitar keeps on playing the same notes over and over and over again. For the length of the entire track, which is just under four minutes, it never misses a beat. Sounds boring? It isn't. Most themes can not bear such repetition but this one can. And while the guitar provides us with a steady background the bass plays many loops and variations and creates ever more complex patterns as the song progresses. The band have the classical roles of bass and guitar cunningly reversed!

Liz' complements it all with an extremely simple chorus: the words Blind Dumb Deaf occur often and add to the song's apparent simplicity. But on listening more closely we appreciate the first signs of vocal overdub and the use of echo, which were to become such trademarks on later albums.

For once then we encounter a Cocteaus' song easy to remember. It might still be too good a song to top the charts, but the band convincingly show they can write an addictive tune if they want to.

 • As the earliest track on this album a remaster was always likely to benefit from the improved technical possibilities. The sound is indeed quite a bit clearer and the overall quality is definitely better. The song was shortened slightly as well. The original started out with a single note followed by ten seconds of silence, an oddity that was justly removed here.

Sugar Hiccup

Taken from the Head Over Heels album.

The Cocteau Twins have never been afraid to experiment with musical styles, rhythms or patterns. Blind Dumb Deaf was an early attempt to obtain creativity from repetition, and they explored similar lines during their Head Over Heels period with Hitherto and, in particular, Sugar Hiccup.

The main musical line of the song is a fairly slow guitar rhythm, repeated throughout the entire song. The sound is pleasant, very smooth and sees the band now totally abandoning their rougher edges from the Garlands era. There are subtle variations on the main theme, which none the less totally dominates the composition from start to finish. And although the lyrics as usual are either unintelligble or appear to make little sense the phrase Sugar Hiccup can not be missed: it occurs no less than 26 times!

All this makes Sugar Hiccup easy to recognize or remember, but it also results in a track awkwardly close to monotony. The main theme is quite strong, but it can still bear only so much repetition. Oddly enough though the Twins still decided to include this very track on both the Head Over Heels album and their Sunburst And Snowblind EP.

 • The remaster on this album produced a rather louder version than the original, with better sound quality as well. Definitely an improvement compared to the original.

My Love Paramour

Taken from the Head Over Heels album.

The strength of Head Over Heels is its variety. Almost every song features a different musical style. On My Love Paramour we encounter a song in which the bass guitar is taking on the leading role for a change.

One is very much tempted to forget the band had actually lost their bass player just before recording this album. All through this track the sound is dominated by the rich dark bass beautifully interwoven with the gentle wailing of Robin's guitar. The overall effect is a fairly relaxed atmosphere in which one can dream momentarily away.

But the Cocteau Twins would never be content to write a song just like that without supplying the listener with quite a bit more. To counterbalance the rather calm melody there is another guitar effect, a very rapid little chord recurring often throughout the song. Note towards the end there are quite a few interesting stereo effects in the percussion as well.

The vocals are sparse in this track, which is almost Garlands revisited. For good measure though Liz shows us several times how well she can deliver long drawn out notes. In whatever lyrics there are the line Ooze Out And Away, Onehow can plainly be heard. It was later to become a song title on The Moon And The Melodies.

The song eventually ends in quiet harmony, leaving the first time listener quite unprepared for the raw force erupting out of the original album's concluding track Musette And Drums.

 • The remastered version is quite a bit louder than the original, but both sound and balance were significantly improved as well.

Pearly-Dewdrops' Drops

Taken from the EP The Spangle Maker.

Easily the most famous track the Cocteau Twins ever recorded Pearly-Dewdrops' Drops sent the band onto an unexpected journey into the British singles charts in 1984 after a large amount of airplay on the BBC by John Peel.

An incomprehensible title, magnificent vocals and a catchy chorus, those must have been the key elements of this song's success. The enigmatic character of the band and the intangibility of the shimmering musical layers all contribute to a feeling of inexplicable magic. Liz' vocals, enriched with many creative overdubs, appear to display a whole range of emotions. She in turn sounds romantic or exuberant, defiant or plaintive, and one could probably describe her moods in a handful of other ways still.

As so often there's greatness in simplicity. Pearly-Dewdrops' Drops is not a very complicated track. A subtle and fragile episode introduces the song, after which firmer stuff arrives. There's a well defined verse and chorus, and in both of them the song title can easily be recognized - one of the last Cocteau songs with this property as Liz would soon abandon including the song title into the lyrics. After an interlude the latter parts clearly work towards a final conclusion, which eventually ends the song in beauty and harmony.

It's not all that clear why Pearly-Dewdrops' Drops entered the charts when so many other Cocteau songs never came close. Obviously it's a great song, but so are at least fifty other Cocteau tracks. One explanation is that this is one of their more accessible efforts. Or it may simply have been a matter of being at the right place at the right moment.

• The remaster sounds somewhat clearer and richer than the original. Unfortunately the 7-inch version rather than the full length 12-inch version was included here, which means the original subtle introduction is missing, and the beautiful conclusion is replaced by a fade-out at an arbitrary point.


Taken from the Treasure album.

Lorelei - the famous rock in the Rhine. Legend has it a famous treasure is hidden nearby. One wonders whether this is where the inspiration for the album title came from. Lorelei, in any case, is a song as solid as a rock.

Originally following straight after the subtleties of Ivo, this track hits the unsuspecting listener like a freight train. A loud, overwhelming electric guitar dominates the song. Relentlessly it delivers deafening chords, ably assisted by the kind of loud drums and cymbals so typical of Treasure. Together they form a wall of sound, a curtain of noise, setting the stage for Liz, challenging her to perform yet another magical vocal trick.

And she does, of course. Her style in this case is possibly best described by 'whispering at full volume'. It makes the vocal part sound rather innocent, and the rising pitch and the subdued way of singing contribute to this impression of youth and naivety.

Despite holding back though Liz somehow manages to stay on a par with the loudness of the guitar and percussion. In fact halfway through the song, when she finally allows herself to erupt into a fantastic interlude at full vocal strength, she easily comes out on top.

Lorelei is one of the songs by the Cocteau Twins that could really be categorized as 'hard rock'. It's a genre the band only rarely played (although on Treasure they had one more go with Persephone) but as one had come to expect by now the band showed once more they could make any style work for them.

 • This remastered version has in some places less emphasis on the vocal parts, which makes some of the subtler instrumental effects a bit easier to hear. In general this version is a bit more polished and balanced than the somewhat rawer original.


Taken from the Treasure album.

Pandora (mysteriously adorned with the indication for Cindy) is the track that brings a few calmer moments after the first four songs lavishly spent such huge quantities of energy and creativity.

It's the gentleness of the guitar section that makes Pandora flow by so easily. There are no loud chords to break the peace, no quick rhythms to disturb the quiet atmosphere. The percussion isn't particularly heavy either, though still typical for Treasure.

Under these circumstances Liz gets ample opportunity to show a few vocal variations, and she eagerly obliges. Most of the time two very different vocal melodies are mixed together, one very quick, the other much more stately. But note how she provides a few further melodies in what could perhaps be called the chorus, so that makes four in total.

Despite featuring the clearest vocals of the album the lyrics of Pandora remain shrouded in obscurity. A remarkable number of words appear to start with an 'F', and it has been suggested that Liz is simply reciting a list of names all starting with an 'F', but noone knows for sure.

Because of its quiet nature Pandora is perhaps the least striking song from Treasure, but its elegant vocals still make it a beautiful effort.

 • The version included here doesn't sound any different from the original.


Taken from the Aikea-Guinea EP.

Aikea-Guinea is about as close as the Cocteau Twins ever got to creating mainstream rock music. Far from being an average hit song the track at least features easily appreciated melodies, and a nice and simple rhythm.

While there are lots of percussion it is remarkable how totally different they sound from the Treasure fireworks. Gone are the heavy, spatial drums and the majestic cymbals. Instead we hear a rather straightforward rhythm, with lots of emphasis on count three out of four, something they'd also experiment with in Quisquose.

The vocals are arranged beautifully, switching continuously between several melodies. There's no verse/chorus structure, but just three vocal episodes. Liz presents us with two melodies during the first episode, then makes it three different melodies in the two others. The first and most obvious melody starts out on high notes, but then comes down in a series of ever descending pitches, probably the song's most conspicuous feature. In contrast another melody contains a number of rising pitches, while the third one seems to have hardly more than just a single note. Together they give Liz ample opportunity to create a marvellously varied vocal landscape.

Being a Cocteau production the track has much more to offer of course. There are more rising/descending effects in the guitar parts and great stereo effects in the percussion. There's a tambourine and a background that provides a 'grand' atmosphere. But in general Aikea-Guinea is just a lovely song, and also yet another proof that the band could almost totally abandon the style from previous albums and still come up with a wonderful composition.

 • The producers wisely opted to include the superior EP version rather than the less than successful remix from The Pink Opaque. Just as most remasters on this compilation this one is slightly louder but otherwise virtually identical to the original.

Pink Orange Red

Taken from the Tiny Dynamine EP.

No complex melodies, no layers of sound or changing rhythms. The keyword to Pink Orange Red is simplicity. A simple yet delightful tune built around vocals and the straightforward kind of guitar that is so typical for the band on Tiny Dynamine.

The song starts out with a single tremendous and instantly recognizable guitar riff, which although not played on an acoustic guitar succeeds very much in sounding like it is. Liz joins in with some very quiet vocals, the song speeds up a little bit, percussion is added, but the track still remains rather gentle for a long time.

As ever, the band saved the best for last. The last minute suddenly buzzes with life. A choir impression, very quick vocals, everything comes together to provide a beautiful ending to this simple yet simply lovely song.

Years later the band recorded an acoustic version for the Twinlights EP

 • This version doesn't sound very different from the original, but the sound quality - especially during the intro - has definitely improved.

Pale Clouded White

Taken from the Echoes In A Shallow Bay EP.

This is one of many tracks from Echoes In A Shallow Bay with a butterfly connection, since the title appears to be composed from Pale Clouded Yellow and White, both well known species of butterflies. It is not known whether the lyrics contain similar references - as usual one can hardly understand a syllable of them.

From an arrangement point of view listening to this track is like a voyage of discovery, where new instruments can be detected every time. The song starts simple enough though, with a piano playing a catchy little theme in three time. This piano will manage to keep going almost the entire song - building up tension tremendously, almost demanding a change in rhythm or key and for long periods refusing to yield. The piano is accompanied by bass and some rather creative percussion with lots of little variations in both rhythm and instrumentation.

It's not just the rhythm section that appears to be enjoying itself though. Liz produces some very fine vocals all along, and in particular in the chorus parts we encounter a host of different contributions. Electric and acoustic guitars, background clapping, the illusion of a grand choir, all melting together into a fantastic symphony.

Halfway through, as though the song needs to catch its breath from such instrumental wizardry, an instrumental part is inserted. The piano is once more the steady force here, keeping the track going, with just some additional melancholic melodies from an electric guitar and a few synthesizer sound effects. The other instruments eventually join in again for a final jubilant chorus. Liz then repeats the last line once more, the guitars die away, and even the piano finally gives up as the song, having spent all its musical ammunition, draws to a close.

 • This version may have been remastered, but it's very hard to hear any real differences with the original.

Lazy Calm

Taken from the Victorialand album.

Easily the longest track from Victorialand Lazy Calm is aptly named. Peaceful and serene the song provides a fitting introduction to the rest of the album, although there are also a few hints some livelier moments are to be expected.

The first few chords fill no less than a full three minutes. After a while a saxophone - played by Richard Thomas from Dif Juz - adds its melancholic contribution to the opening parts. The song remains instrumental throughout the first half while the pace is definitely no faster than that of a quiet stroll in the twilight.

When the acceleration does eventually happen it comes almost by surprise. Quicker rhythms and gentle vocals change the mood of the song into a much more optimistic affair. The chorus, although only repeated once, can almost be called catchy. A very simple but steady bass - fairly unusual on this album - results in an emphasized rhythm. The mood is optimistic and cheerful rather than melancholic.

After all that the song briefly returns to quiet mode once more. The saxophone makes another guest appearance and provides the final fading notes.

It is pretty tempting to think of the song as representing the entire Victorialand album, symbolizing overall serenity with occasional bursts of activity. One could also see it as sketching a typical polar day, painting a lengthy darkness with a brief spell of daylight. Or one could just see it as a nice song, which may well be the most sensible approach.

 • In this version the background sounds from the first few minutes are louder than they are on the original and consequently the song sounds quite a bit busier. In the context of this compilation that doesn't make a lot of difference, but the more serene Victorialand version was definitely the better choice for that album.

The Thinner The Air

Taken from the Victorialand album.

The Cocteau twins have always been remarkably strong in writing a suitable track to finish off an album. Most of the time a quiet track is performing this duty, and since Victorialand is rather a quiet album in itself one would expect the closing song to be written in similar fashion. But Robin and Liz rather outdid themselves in this case in creating what is surely the most melancholic effort of their entire career.

From the first chord of The Thinner The Air it is somehow clear that the last few minutes of the album have arrived. The constant repetition of a rather sad chord played on an acoustic guitar is foremost in creating an atmosphere of restraint. But all the other instruments are filled equally with grief, and as a result an atmosphere of farewell and sadness is predominant.

There is hardly a melody in the song, or a verse or a chorus. Halfway through Liz simply starts singing, a bit held back at first, but then she appears to allow her emotions to overtake her as she cries out her feelings in an unbelievable episode, where line after line is delivered in both sorrow and beauty.

Her energy soon leaves her and as her sadness takes over again her voice dies away and the song does likewise. In truth, the album could hardly have received a more fitting end.

 • Richer in sound and louder, this remastered version puts even more emphasis on the dramatic effects in this song. A small but definite improvement.

Orange Appled

Taken from the Love's Easy Tears EP.

The most striking feature of Orange Appled are easily the chimes, which are being played during every chorus throughout the song. This makes the song a bit reminiscent of Band Aid's Do They Know it's Christmas?, number one in every chart by the end of 1984, and featuring chimes very prominently as well.

Be that as it may, the track is a pretty good indicator of the band's musical directions at the time. Many instruments, woven together into a tapestry of sound, work together to create what could easily have become a rather heavy sounding track. Actually the first part of the song, up to the second chorus, does sound pretty heavy, and it's the chimes that succeed in making it all really interesting.

At that point though the best part is yet to come. It is introduced when Liz rather unexpectedly changes the entire character of the song by contributing some lighthearted, almost trivial vocals. Next there is a sudden change of key, and a beautiful instrumental bit featuring in particular a few fantastic chords on an acoustic guitar.

After that there is just the chorus to reach a fitting end to a song which although rather brief still manages to supply quite a few fascinating moments.

 • This version is quite a lot louder but otherwise sounds just like the original.

Cico Buff

Taken from the Blue Bell Knoll album.

On Blue Bell Knoll the band apparently tried to find a balance between quicker and quieter songs. And it is pretty obvious that Cico Buff belongs in the latter category.

Everything in Cico Buff is happening at the pace of a quiet picknick on a hot afternoon. The song is like a gentle stream, flowing on without too many ripples or rapids, effortlessly delivering its steady rhythms and melodies. Liz' voice is particularly relaxed and carefree, as the song dreams on.

Halfway through Robin's guitar brings in a bit more action with a nice quitar riff, inciting Liz to a few more inspired notes as well. But peace is quickly restored and the track reaches the end without further interruptions.

Every album needs a few quiet songs. But in this case the band may have overshot the mark as Cico Buff is almost too inconspicous to be noticed at all.

 • The band went to great lengths to get the production On Blue Bell Knoll absolutely flawless. So it's hardly surprising that this version is virtually indistinguishable from the original

Carolyn's Fingers

Taken from the Blue Bell Knoll album.

A few simple yet fabulous chords by an acoustic guitar provide the introduction to Carolyn's Fingers, but that is where simplicity ends, because this song is filled to the brim with many different instruments and special effects.

This track has so much happening at any one time it's almost impossible to describe all of what's going on. Take the vocal part. Liz starts out with some quite high notes (note the faint echo on that bit), but then later switches to much lower ones in the chorus (most bands would need two singers to achieve that). The two lines are obviously mixed together, and towards the end there are still more vocal lines to be heard.

Then there is the bass, not always clearly audible, but especially in the middle part Simon delivers some great chords. There is ample percussion of the light yet very busy sort so typical for Blue Bell Knoll.

The main guitar theme, as played in the first second, is repeated later on an electric guitar, both in elaborate and very trimmed down versions. We hear the occasional return of the acoustic guitar as well.

And despite all this complexity the structure of the song is simple. The main line and chorus, alternating with each other, are effectively just variations on the same theme. How is it the band were able to write a great song from just one single theme? Because there are so many instrumental permutations being performed between the beautiful first notes and the perfectly natural ending that most listeners will never even notice.

 • Again, the original was produced so well already that it was almost impossible to realize any further improvement.

Fifty-Fifty Clown

Taken from the Heaven Or Las Vegas album.

Rhythm is everything in Fifty-Fifty Clown, where an otherwise lighthearted and carefree track is dominated by a continuous beat. And at roughly 180 per minute it's a fairly quick affair as well.

One would expect the beat to be set by drums or percussion mostly, right? Wrong. The rhythm is mostly played by a guitar, backed up by only minimal amounts of percussion. Especially in the first parts the vocals are kept really simple, with Liz singing as gently as though on a stroll in the park.

The second half of the song provides a bit more depth though. Some vocal overdubs take care of the background vocals, and a few nice guitar loops are put in as well. After that the song simply resorts back to the same beat it started out with, and finishes without much more ado.

While many Cocteau songs contain a lot of hidden treasures, Fifty-Fifty Clown is a fairly straightforward track. In fact among the collection of complex and even more complex songs that make up Heaven Or Las Vegas it is possibly the least complicated one. Despite its rapid beat it therefore still provides one of the quieter moments of the album.

 • This remaster is definitely louder than the original, but in general the sound quality appears to have improved a bit as well.

Iceblink Luck

Taken from the Heaven Or Las Vegas album.

For once in their career the Twins came up with a melody that's easy to remember, a relatively simple song structure and a chorus you might even want to sing along to. So it is no surprise this track was also released as a CD-single - the first of their career after many, many EP's - to promote their Heaven Or Las Vegas album.

The track may be as straightforward as most of their repertoire is not, but that does not mean they did any concessions to the quality of it. There is an excellent introduction, the lead guitar is playing a beautiful duet with the bass, and towards the end there is a short but great instrumental part to introduce the final lines. And even though the chorus is very recognizable the band refrained from adding a fade-out, did not even play the chorus once again and provided an unexpected twist at the end instead.

Liz is sounding very steady and is not trying many vocal tricks. Even so the chorus features the usual overdub to suggest multivoiced background vocals. And in some other parts there are quite faint and easily missable traces of vocals as well - Liz singing background a few pitches higher.

Pearly Dewdrops' Drops and Iceblink Luck are probably the only times the Cocteau Twins composed something more or less playable to the general public. That in itself says a lot about how well they managed to steer clear of any commercial considerations.

 • The remaster has given several instruments a bit of improved sound quality, but again the most obvious difference is that this version is a lot louder.

Heaven Or Las Vegas

Taken from the Heaven Or Las Vegas album.

The band elected to name the album this track originates from after this track, and if they felt the title track should represent the sound of the album one can only feel they made an excellent choice, for it is one of the more typical songs of the album.

Heaven Or Las Vegas is pretty much heaven for the lead vocals. Liz is singing majestically and with complete authority. The usual vocal overdubs are sparse - no more than just repeating the song title a few times in the chorus. The lyrics are tantalizingly close to making sense. Several words and fragments can definitely be made out, and the song title clearly occurs a number of times.

Although the vocals are easily the most conspicuous element of the song, they are beautifully balanced against Robin's guitar, which is in great shape here. Its warm sound provides a wonderful background for the vocal parts, and the long drawn-out chords in the few instrumental parts are just great. The interaction between the vocals and the guitar is noteworthy as well. Liz is liberally using syncopes - already beginning her part of the verse or chorus just before the guitar actually starts a new bar. This makes the rather quietly paced track much more playful and much less predictable.

Despite all this creative efforts Heaven Or Las Vegas is still one of the more straightforward songs of the original album. It fittingly closed the first half of the album, which could also be called the 'less complicated' half. From here on listening to Heaven Or Las Vegas is like climbing a stairway to ever higher musical complexity.

 • The version included on this album might have been remastered, but it appears to sound just as great as the original.


Taken from the Iceblink Luck CD-single.

From the inclusion of Watchlar on the Iceblink Luck CD-single it appears it was recorded around that time, but the track itself definitely suggests otherwise. Far from the dynamic rhythms or multi-instrumental harmonies that are so typical for Heaven Or Las Vegas we are presented with a soft song, featuring simple themes, quiet vocals and just a few instruments that are almost too shy to show their presence. It is as though the song already gives us a glimpse of what was to be on Four-Calendar Café.

Quick but very light percussion and similar keyboards form most of the song's tapestry as Liz sings a pretty duet with her usual alter ego. Her vocals are well worth listening to even if the song just merrily skips along without anything really spectacular happening.

Towards the end a distorted guitar briefly joins the line-up to play some nice if gentle riffs. Even then the song remains unperturbed and eventually Robin's guitar waves us farewell as the track quietly rides off into the sunset.

 • The version included here is louder, but otherwise virtually identical to the original.