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“Picks and Pans Review: Blue Bell Knoll

  • By People Staff
  • People Magazine
  • 16-Jan 1989

Picture a calm sea rippled by gentle waves. Overhead a balloon floats, buffeted aloft by gusts of wind, then swooping down lazily to skim the water’s surface. As soothing as this scene would appear to the eye, so too is the music of the Cocteau Twins to the ear.

While Robin Guthrie and Simon Raymonde provide a rhythmic background on guitars and synthesizers, singer Elizabeth Fraser leaps through octaves with vocals that sound like a cross between a lullaby, a yodel and a Middle Eastern chant. Blue Bell Knoll, the Cocteau Twins first major label U.S. release, provides the perfect background music for mellow socializing or studying. This may explain why the previous EPs, imports and miscellaneous compilations by this misleadingly named trio became such a hit with the artsy college crowd. But unlike New Age musicians who win points only for their ability to put insomniacs to sleep, the Cocteau Twins stimulate a listener with their originality. Fraser, who like Guthrie grew up in Grangemouth, Scotland, sings carefully scripted nonsense syllables mixed with a few real words, which add up to a homemade kind of musical foreign language. The band’s melodies match the strangeness of its lyrics, including unusual high-low, dark-light contrasts. Yet the bass guitar rhythms of Raymonde, a Londoner, keep the songs from becoming abrasively weird. Because the differences between many of the songs are very subtle, they all tend to meld into one style that could get tedious if the Twins don’t tackle new turf on future albums. But for now they still sound fresh. With Blue Bell Knoll playing in the background, real life starts to feel like a movie dream sequence, or if you close your eyes, you may see that balloon floating over the sea, like a mind that has been temporarily set free from the restraints of the world. (Capitol) ▣

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