Cocteau Twins
Blue Bell Knoll


4.0
excellent

Review

by Johnny[Well] STAFF
February 10th, 2020 | 39 replies


Release Date: 1988 | Tracklist

Review Summary: Cocteau Twins' frosty precursor to Heaven Or Las Vegas is an intriguing and undervalued step in their discography.

Most bands can be considered fortunate if they manage to make one masterpiece, let alone two, and all the more so if those two masterpieces are held as religious texts for their genre of choice. Treasure and Heaven or Las Vegas are such astronomical albums both on their own terms and in the scheme of dream pop as a whole that they occasionally seem to stand as metonyms for the Cocteau Twins, eclipsing their wider discography. Given the indubitable quality of their other albums, it’s a shame when this happens, but in some ways it’s quite understandable: those two works are stylistic focal points as well as peaks of quality. As such, they really do act as twin spheres of gravity within the Twins’ oeuvre. That’s not to say that everything Fraser, Guthrie & co. put out can be shoehorned into relativity with one or the other of the albums, but consider how Treasure built on Head Over Heels’ brooding post-punk and then meandered off into Victorialand’s ethereal sparseness. And as for Heaven Or Las Vegas’ poppier, more panoramic sound? Well, the origin story for that one lies in a broadly overlooked album called Blue Bell Knoll.

If Heaven Or Las Vegas is a gorgeous sunset panorama conveyed by a seamlessly shot and very generously budgeted tracking shot that passes through the centre of a beautifully overdeveloped city, Blue Bell Knoll is a morning amble through a frozen meadow in the middle of Highland nowhere. The same songwriting and arrangement principles that underpinned Heaven… are here, but in a purposefully skeletal form of what they would later become. ‘Crystalline’ is a word so often used to describe Cocteau Twins, albeit accurately, that I was going to forego it altogether, but it applies so strongly to this album even in the face of their sound in general that there’s no two ways around it: crystals are beautiful and evocative of nature in a way that sometimes seems oddly otherworld, but they are also hard, brittle and frigid if you can’t help yourself and starting getting hands-on with them. So it goes for Blue Bell Knoll. It’s not nearly as sparse as, say, Victorialand, but in many ways its tone is twice as cold; an impressive feat given that the other album took its name from a colonially named region of the Antarctic. Much of the Twins’ best work has a magical allure to it, and immersive feel that seems to draw you into a whole new world of calming gloom and structural ambiguity; not so here. This is an album to be appreciated and marvelled at just as much as any other superior Cocteau Twins release, but from a position of slight distance rather than up close and personal.

This sounds like a slight backhand, but it largely serves as a source of appeal quite specific to this album; a frigid atmosphere is an atmosphere all the same. “A Kissed Out Red Floatboat” and Cico Buff”, for instance, are as full of the group’s magnetic etherealisms as any track you’ll hear from them. It would also be an exaggeration to say that this album is completely cold - “For Phoebe Still A Baby” and the stunning closer “Ella Megalast Burls Forever” are as gooey-eyed and sweet hearted as the Cocteau Twins come. However, if we’re talking crystals, it’s no great step to also talk auras, and the aura here is unmistakably frosty. This is particularly evident in the mysterious title track, the impeccable but discernibly crisp single “Carolyn’s Fingers”, the distant wistfulness of “Spooning Good Singing Gum”, and across the album in general. As always, the Cocteau Twins weave their atmosphere seamlessly from start to finish, and so if you can get past Blue Bell Knoll’s marginally less inviting tone, you’ll find it as worthwhile an experience as any of their essential works.



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user ratings (309)
3.9
excellent


Comments:Add a Comment 
JohnnyoftheWell
Staff Reviewer
February 11th 2020


29329 Comments

Album Rating: 4.0

This was a really quick write, definitely not my best and in need of a proof (will get there when sober!) but it's about damn time this had a review!

Inb4 Ghandhi slams Heaven or Las Vegas hagiography or AAS tells me to move onto Four-Calendar Cafe (I'm gonna!)

Digging: Tricot - 10

TalonsOfFire
Staff Reviewer
February 11th 2020


19000 Comments

Album Rating: 4.0

Great review!



T/t and Cico Bluff are two of their best

Digging: Gorillaz - Song Machine, Season One: Strange Timez

Lucman
February 11th 2020


4859 Comments

Album Rating: 3.5

Oh sweet review Johnny, I'm excited to check this. I discovered Treasure last night and since the albums following are well-received I'm going to go chronological from there.

Digging: The Cure - Disintegration

JohnnyoftheWell
Staff Reviewer
February 11th 2020


29329 Comments

Album Rating: 4.0

Cheers Talons! Never understood the Cico Buff hype if I'm honest, but it's a solid track amongst many solid tracks here ;]

Luc my dude, going chronological from Treasure will bring you much happiness - absolutely go that way

ArsMoriendi
February 11th 2020


31457 Comments

Album Rating: 4.5

Cico Buff is one of their best songs probably my fave on here

Digging: Funkadelic - Cosmic Slop

ArsMoriendi
February 11th 2020


31457 Comments

Album Rating: 4.5

It wasn't even close to my favorite for a long time, but one day it just crept up on me



Also, good review

theBoneyKing
February 11th 2020


19587 Comments

Album Rating: 4.5 | Sound Off

Nice one Johnny. Couldn't believe this didn't have a review before. Lovely, lovely album.

Nice rating Ars!

Lord(e)Po)))ts
February 11th 2020


60560 Comments


You should be staff

Digging: Oklou - Galore

Gyromania
February 11th 2020


30781 Comments

Album Rating: 4.0

You said frosty twice in the summary. Haven't read the review but fuck yes Cocteau Twins rule!

JohnnyoftheWell
Staff Reviewer
February 11th 2020


29329 Comments

Album Rating: 4.0

Eww, so I did! Cheers, fix'd

CaliggyJack
February 11th 2020


3595 Comments

Album Rating: 3.5

This was where they started to go downhill.

Demon of the Fall
February 11th 2020


17211 Comments

Album Rating: 3.5

Nice review Johnny, you're doing welcome work here. You seem rather prolific of late (I think) and I like your focus on under-appreciated releases, or those lacking an existing review.

I enjoy the majority of CT's discog, this one sits in that comfortable middling area just behind Victorialand and way behind 'those two', but accompanies Head Over Heels in being ahead of everything else.

Digging: Ulthar - Providence

Trifolium
February 11th 2020


19080 Comments

Album Rating: 4.5

Johnnnyyy you are my hero ❤❤❤

rabidfish
February 11th 2020


6114 Comments

Album Rating: 4.0

this is pretty epic, tbf.

Digging: La Luz - Floating Features

Lucman
February 12th 2020


4859 Comments

Album Rating: 3.5

Only started this but "Carolyn's Fingers" is breathtaking.

JohnnyoftheWell
Staff Reviewer
February 12th 2020


29329 Comments

Album Rating: 4.0

< 3 < 3

Ah yeah Carolyn's is a damn staple, lovely lovely stuff

theBoneyKing
February 12th 2020


19587 Comments

Album Rating: 4.5 | Sound Off

I always read "Suckling the Mender" as "Sucking the Member" and now you will too

Lucman
February 12th 2020


4859 Comments

Album Rating: 3.5

Hmm, this album isn't quite moving me the same way. The sound is much more fleshed out here but individual songs don't seem to do much to distinguish themselves from one another.

Lucman
February 12th 2020


4859 Comments

Album Rating: 3.5

And maybe some of the things that made them so unique on Treasure have been sanded down a bit. This sounds very quintessential 80s.

GhandhiLion
February 12th 2020


9471 Comments

Album Rating: 3.5

Yep, and the next one is even more sanded down. Watered down even.

Digging: Young Jesus - Welcome to Conceptual Beach



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