Heel to toe to hair and hoof and it's head over heels and it's all but an ark-lark...

Review of BBC Sessions

  • By Kristin Sage
  • Pitchfork
  • 12-Oct 1999

Main entry: twomb

Pronunciation: ‘twüm

Etymology: tomb, womb: Middle English tombe, akin to Old High German wamba belly

Function: noun

1: an object that resembles a both a womb and a tomb

2: an excavation in which a corpse is buried in a space resembling a womb

2a: any Cocteau Twins full-length release

2b: a Cocteau Twins EP

3: a house, chamber, or vault that is intended for the dead but is instead filled with moody synths

Twombs got me through college. As the hours before essay deadlines slipped away, things would become more clear. You can call it an epiphany or you can call it a gimmick, but Edgar Allan Poe’s “Fall of the House of Usher” is like a tomb. It is also like a womb. You could write it as “(t/w)omb” and be beaten until you bleed all over your properly marked edition of “Derrida’s of Grammatology.” Or you could call it a twomb. As in, “that’s pretty twomby.” Here’s an example of the word “twomby” in a sentence: This week’s “very special episode” of “Dawson’s Creek” was twomby as all hell.

The Cocteau Twins? Dark, damp waves of warm nostalgia wash over cushions of gently layered synthesizers. It’s familiar somehow, but over-produced into something usually described as otherworldly or ethereal. The Cocteau Twins are the perfect example of twomb-rock. Twins are together in the womb. And the Cocteau Twins were also womb to the development of a new generation of independent rock, including groups such as Dead Can Dance and Pale Saints. The two-disc compilation of live BBC Sessions recorded between 1982-1996? You got it—buried alive! Trapped and kicking to get out, in a twomb with a drum machine!

Let’s go through the contents of this twomb. There are 30 versions of 28 songs spanning two discs. Yes! There are two versions of “Hitherto” and “Musette and Drums.” The record is largely devoted to Garlands-era early work and to BBC recordings of songs from their mediocre 1996 release, Milk and Kisses, with a few songs from Treasure and Head Over Heels sprinkled about. This leaves a significant portion of their 15 year career unrepresented—specifically, material from Blue Bell Knoll and Heaven or Las Vegas. This conspicuous absence prevents the album from serving as a retrospective or greatest hits compilation. Instead, it can be categorized as either an inadequate introduction to the band, or as one more morsel for completists.

From the FAQ in the “Cocteau Twins Café:”

Q: Why such an odd track listing for the BBC Sessions Double CD?

A: The selections for this double album may seem a bit sporadic, there is a big chunk of their musical career missing for one good reason—it’s just BBC Sessions!”

From the FAQ in the “Pitchfork Café:”

Q: Why would anyone decide to release “just the BBC Sessions,” which leave out the stronger period of Cocteau Twins’ work?

A: They’re milking it!

As Neil Diamond once told us, “Money walks, but it don’t sing and dance and it don’t talk.” That’s BBC Sessions’ bottom line—it’s one more release issued by the floundering U.S. label Rykodisc (and Simon Raymonde’s own Bella Union imprint in the U.K.) that will be sold and bought and maybe sold again. Although these BBC Sessions hold a certain amount of economic potential, this compilation is not only too long for such a quirky track listing, but the Cocteaus’ strength is not their live performance. Fussy production provides the suspension of disbelief that entering the Cocteaus’ twomb properly deserves. In a live setting, their studio aesthetic of densely-layered shimmering dissolves and sugar-coated textured noise becomes washed out sentiment lacking in urgency.

Although BBC Sessions contains a few inspired performances such as the 1983 version of “Hitherto,” and an unusual if slightly grating cover of Billie Holiday’s “Strange Fruit,” for the most part, it isn’t. This compilation may just be a ploy to fund a private school education for the daughter of Liz Fraser and Spiritualized’s Damon Reece, but that doesn’t mean certain fans won’t find pleasure in these slightly more course versions of classic Cocteau Twins tracks. For the uninitiated or casual Cocteau fan, though, Heaven or Las Vegas, Treasure, and Blue Bell Knoll are twombs that should certainly be explored first. ▣

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