Review Summary: Difficult but hugely rewarding, this is a stunning album.
Four albums in and the Cassidy sisters had changed so much from their first album that they had become barely recognizable, and they were on a bit of a downward spiral. La Maison de Mon Reve inspired hugely positive reviews, Noah's Ark garnered pretty good reviews, and the reaction to The Adventures of Ghosthorse and Stillborn was very, very mixed. They didn't need a critical hit to keep their career going (and they didn't, this album received unfairly average reviews), but they really needed a reality check. Their third album was fun but that sound could never have lasted, surely? Thankfully Grey Oceans isn't a sequel to the charmingly ghastly Ghosthorse, but more of a taming of that album, with elements of their previous two albums thrown in, too. Thankfully, they absolutely smashed it here, and pulled a near masterpiece out of the bag.
Yes, a masterpiece. It's not often you here that word associated with the divisive sister-duo, but Grey Oceans, along with Maison, stands as an outstanding piece of work, unique and inimitable, a world all to themselves. Grey Oceans nails something that La Maison also did exceptionally well in that it captures a mood, and a sense of place, and sustains it throughout the album, making it sound very cohesive and atmospheric. The difference here though is what comes across; whereas their debut sounded like the musty apartment in the tiny Parisian flat they recorded in, Grey Oceans sounds almost, well, medieval, like some old castle or village with years of history. The tracks here do a fantastic job of conjuring up that kind of ghostly, gothic feel, and all of them are rapturously pretty.
Things get underway with opener "Trinity's Crying", a meandering but very pretty track with a warped synthesizer that recalls "Promise" from their third album. Halfway through one of the sisters utters the title, and it's a moment of pure peace and serenity, something their previous two albums lacked. It's probably the best opener they could have chose, as it more or less eases you into the more difficult songs that come later. "Smokey Taboo" continues the atmosphere from this track with eastern sounding percussion and a half-sung rap from Bianca, and "Hopscotch" contrasts a vaudeville-style piano hook with a jungle beat to great effect, while childlike voices eerily sing the chorus. All fairly pretty so far, but the album pretty much leaves planet earth when it gets to the fourth track and never returns for one second. "Undertaker" is a hauntingly pretty piano -led track, with creepy, processed vocals singing/rapping through a wonderful arrangement.
The titular track is another standout, as Bianca drops her baby-voice for 5 minutes of pure bliss, while Sierra accompanies her with signature operatic wails. It's an unusual track for the pair, as the lyrics are concerned mostly with love, but it's very welcome. "R.I.P. Burn Face" allows Sierra to sing over a hip hop beat that recalls "Werewolf" a little bit, and "The Moon Asked The Crow" features a very pleasing boom-boom-POW aesthetic that kicks up the tempo, just a little bit. "Lemonade" is a show-stopper, a piano-led ballad with what seem to be autobiographical lyrics. The arrangement is pleasingly subdued and natural, and the chorus is strangely triumphant sounding after the slow, atmospheric verses. Next track "Gallows" sounds a lot like one of the interlude tracks from one of their previous albums, fleshed out into an actual song, and while it doesn't really go anywhere, the music-box motif and background-sounds are highly affecting. Penultimate track "Fairy Paradise" is probably the strangest thing here, and feels like a dance track more than anything else. It's unique, certainly, like a crack-party at Tinkerbell's... but I wouldn't have included it, at least so late in the album after such an amazing run. Still, taken on it's own merits it's a great track. Album closer "Here I Come" grounds things a bit more, a repetitive but ultimately celebratory sounding track that recalls "Armageddon" from "Noah's Ark". It's a great closer to such a good album.
The reason this album works so well is simply because it feels far more grounded than their previous two albums, a lot like how La Maison didn't feature anything except the two sisters and their instruments. Cocorosie sound their very best when they tone things down a notch and actually let their compositions breathe a bit more, and when they do, things are much more interesting. Tracks like "Lemonade" and "Undertaker" benefit greatly from the quieter production, and even when things kick off, like on "Burn Face", they still keep the music just so that we hear the admittedly impressive writing underneath. In the end, whereas The Adventures of Ghosthorse and Stillborn felt like someone plastered in pretense and makeup to appear better, Grey Oceans is more naturally pretty, and in the end it's the factor that makes it so good. Don't get me wrong, this is definitely their most difficult album, but give it a chance and it's hugely rewarding. A stunning work.
Best tracks: "Undertaker", "Grey Oceans", "Lemonade"