Monday, 1 July 2013

Art of the Cover - This Mortal Coil's "1983-1991" Box Set (1993)

To die, to sleep. To sleep: perchance to dream. Ay, there's the rub; for in that sleep of death what dreams may come when we have shuffled off this mortal coil. 

-Hamlet: Act 3 Scene 1

The most beautiful box set ever? Yap, some majestic artwork here from acclaimed indie label 4AD - famed for its great aesthetic as well as great music - design associates V23

Founded in 1980 by Ivo Watts-Russell, 4AD soon established itself as one of the key labels in the British post-punk/ Indie movement.

As is the 4AD way, aesthetics and content go hand-in-hand, so typically, no small details are spared here. The lavishly-presented box set – overseen by 4AD owner Ivo Watts-Russell and Vaughan Oliver, the label's long-established visual guru – is indeed a thing of beauty.

Much of the artwork features gorgeous, previously unseen, evocative images shot by Nigel Grierson of stunning model Yvette (Pallas) Citroën - who became This Mortal Coil's sole cover star after the late Maria Schnieder rebuffed overtures from Watts-Russell.

In a 20011 interview, Ivo spoke of his role in TMC's artwork choices and how Citroën  became the band's cover art muse ...
The shoot for what became ‘It’ll End in Tears’ was actually done for the band Modern English. It was a suggestion for their ‘Ricochet Days’ album. We actually knew Yvette or Pallas as we now know her. She was living in the same squat as Modern English and Nigel did the shoot. He was friends with Yvette because she was going out with the photographer Chris Garland at the time.

For Modern English it was, however, a little bit too close for home. Here was this girl living in their squat and Nigel was suggesting sticking them on the cover and so they turned it down. At that point I turned around hastily and said, “Okay, I would like to use it on ‘It’ll End in Tears’.”
On the band's second outing, 1986's ‘Filigree and Shadow’ Ivo, however, wanted to replace Pallas with French actress Maria Schneider.
.... Maria Schneider was well known as being male suspicious. She was not happy that she was judged by her work where she was naked most of the time and for films like ‘Last Tango in Paris’, but I really was a genuine fan. The week that I phoned her I had been to the French Institute in London where I had to listen to a translation through a pair of headphones because there were no subtitles on it, so I thought I had a few brownie points there of being a genuine Maria Schneider fan.

The more I spoke to her on the phone about what was to a certain extent a vanity project with favourite songs and handpicked musicians and putting her on the cover the more I came across as a pervert. It was awful. At the end of the day, all I could say was “Look! I’ll send you ‘It’ll End in Tears'. I’ll send you the tapes for ‘Filigree and Shadow’, and a small book of Nigel’s photographs that had just been published and you decide.” I sent them and I never heard from her again, so it was like, “Okay! Why don’t we work with Yvette again?”

.... By the time of ‘Blood’ (1991) Vaughan and Nigel had parted company and (the artwork) involved more of my input than ever before.  

And housed within the beautifully packaged and compiled Box Set is a collection of some of the most sublime, timeless ethereal music you'll ever hear, featuring contributions from a veritable array of indie heroes.

Taking it's title from a rather well known passage in a rather popular tome by Willie The Shake, Indie supergroup This Mortal Coil was created in 1983 by Watts-Russell and producer John Fryer - technically the only two official members.

However, the band's wonderful recorded output featured a very large rotating cast of well known artists, many of whom were signed to, or otherwise associated with, 4AD.

Some of the folk involved in the moving feast that was the TMC project include ....
Alison Limerick: vocals, voice
Andrew Gray: guitar (The Wolfgang Press)
Anne Garrigues: voice
Anne Turner: vocals
Brendan Perry: bass drone, drum (Dead Can Dance)
Caroline Crawley: voice (Shelleyan Orphan)
Caroline Seaman: vocals (Heavenly Bodies)
Chris Pye: guitar
Dave Curtis: guitar (Dif Juz)
Deirdre Rutkowski: backing vocals, vocals, voice
Dominic Appleton: vocals, voice (Breathless)
Elizabeth Fraser: vocals (Cocteau Twins)
Gini Ball: violin, viola
Gordon Sharp: vocals (Cindytalk)
Heidi Berry: voice
Howard Devoto: vocals
Ikuko Kozu: voice
Ivo Watts-Russell: music
Jean: vocals
Jim Williams: guitar
John Fryer: programming
Jon Turner: organ, keyboards, music, programming
Keith Mitchell: guitar
Kim Deal: voice (Pixies, The Breeders)
Les McKuen: vocals
Lisa Gerrard: (looped) accordion, vocals, yang t'chin (Dead Can Dance)
Louise Rutkowski: backing vocals, vocals
Manuela Rickers: guitar (Xmal Deutschland)
Mark Cox: organ, DX7 (The Wolfgang Press)
Martin McCarrick: cello, string arrangement
Martin Young: synthesizer, guitar, bass, vocals (Colourbox)
Nigel K. Hine: guitar
Peter Ulrich: percussion (Dead Can Dance)
Pieter Nooten: music
Rain Parade: drums
Richard Thomas: saxophone (Dif Juz)
Richenel: vocals
Robbie Grey: vocals (Modern English)
Robin Guthrie: guitar, 6 and 12-string electric guitars, e-bow (Cocteau Twins)
Simon Raymonde: bass, (acoustic) guitars, DX7, gizmo, piano, keyboards (Cocteau Twins)
Steven Young: piano, drum programming (Colourbox)
Tanya Donelly: voice (Throwing Muses)
Tim Freeman: voice (Frazier Chorus)
Tony Waerea: didgeridoo

This Mortal Coil was not a band, but a unique collaboration of musicians recording in various permutations, the brainchild of 4AD kingpin Ivo Watts-Russell. The idea was to allow artists the creative freedom to record material outside of the realm of what was expected of them; it also created the opportunity for innovative cover versions of songs personal to Ivo.

When This Mortal Coil's astonishing first album It'll End In Tears emerged in 1984, it was a revelation. An amalgam of esoteric cover versions and eldritch atmospherics, it drew a line in the sand, signalling a shift away from the goth-tinged fripperies of The Birthday Party and Bauhaus to a much softer, ethereal 4AD 'sound' (the beginnings of which were evident in the Cocteaus' Lullabies EP and debut album Garlands).

With Robin Guthrie's oscillating guitars, swathed in FX-pedal atmospherics, and Elizabeth Fraser's spectral voice, the Cocteaus were certainly half-synergists for This Mortal Coil's entirely crepuscular oeuvre; but the project really took shape as an extension of Ivo's desire to allow 4AD artists greater creative expression, and the option of recording carefully-chosen covers of precious and forgotten songs.

This box set contains all three wonderful This Mortal Coil albums as well as a special disc containing original songs that were covered by TMC. All this plus a 30-page booklet.

CD1: 'It'll End In Tears' (1984)
CD2: 'Filigree & Shadow' (1986)
CD3: 'Blood' (1991)
CD4: 'Original Versions'



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