12 February 2010

Blue Bell Knoll / Cocteau Twins

Blue Bell Knoll is the sixth album by Cocteau Twins, and was released in 1988. It followed The Moon And The Melodies, a collaboration with minimalist composer Harold Budd, and was followed two years later by Heaven Or Las Vegas.

As is common with Elizabeth Fraser's style of echolalic singing, very little in the way of lyrics are definitely audible as words. The style of the album, short as it is, is relatively cheerful, the band long-ago having abandoned the darker sound of their first album, despite the blackened-looking fingernails of the Blue Bell Knoll cover. In fact, once you're past the title track, the album is very warm and ambient sounding, suffused with joy. The track For Phoebe Still A Baby hints as to why, and Liz's transition into motherhood had a marked effect on the next few albums' sound.

Blue Bell Knoll is also notable for its change in style. Previous Cocteau Twins releases were entirely guitar-based; well, that and the drum machine. Simon Raymonde would get quite agitated in interviews, saying 'The idea is that we are a synth band. We have none. Our only keyboard is a piano, treated'. Nevertheless, Blue Bell Knoll experiments with marimba, xylophone and harpsichord. If it's not a synth, then what is it? (Actually, it's possible it was an actual marimba, xylophone or harpsichord, I guess...)

Seven and twelve-inch singles were released for the tracks Carolyn's Fingers and A Kissed Out Red Floatboat, and promotional videos exist for Carolyn's Fingers and Cico Buff. Later on, singles of Athol-Brose and Iceblink Luck were released to the Japanese market.

Incidentally, there are two meanings to the word 'knoll'. One is a kind of grassy hillock. The other is more closely related to the word knell - a mournful ringing. Part of old English mythology, to hear the bluebell's knoll - that is, to hear them tolling - meant that death was upon you. The sleeve cover of the album, perhaps Carolyn's Fingers, seems dark, maybe even frightening. The title and cover, strangely, seem at odds with the warmth of the music. Another Cocteau Twins mystery to add to the rest...


01 Blue Bell Knoll
02 Athol-Brose
03 Carolyn's Fingers
04 For Phoebe Still A Baby
05 The Itchy Glowbo Blow
06 Cico Buff
07 Suckling The Mender
08 Spooning Good Singing Gum
09 A Kissed Out Red Floatboat
10 Ella Megalast Burls Forever

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