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

Review of Victorialand

  • By Ted Mico
  • Melody Maker
  • 16-Aug 1986

How time flies when time is time and again.

Another Cocteau Twins album, another gilded pillar of excellence, another review of waxing lyrical ballads.

Nothing is new, but the news is good—the progression is complete.

Time marches on, and passes by the elusive Twins whose work is neither updated, nor outdated, but sieves through another calendar in another place. Once more they are left out on a limb—playing in limbo—playing in the isolated peace and secret splendour of ‘Victorialand.’

Nothing is as it seems. The cover’s weathered and slightly distressed style conceals the haunting umbrella of perfection that lies within.

This time the Cocteaus’ quest for that perfect ethereal serenade has even meant the album must be played at 45rpm. The slower the speed, the coarser the quality, and the Twins’ flawless production has no room for mistakes—only mystery. Though ‘Victorialand’ is not as immediate as ‘Treasure,’ nor as ornate as ‘Tiny Dynamine,’ its jewels glisten in a sensual languor of intrigue that outstrips its predecessors.

Spikes of Robin Guthrie’s crystalline guitar stake out a fecund landscape where Liz Fraser’s beatific voice is free to swirl and entwine stroking chords before all dissolve in the cascading chant of ‘Lazy Calm.’ As usual, the Cocteaus’ titles swing between the abstract and the absurd with songs such as ‘Fluffy Tufts’ heralding the nursery rhyme stroll of ‘Oomingmak.’ The songs chime with innocence not incense and it all almost makes sense. Almost.

But what does it all mean?

What does it matter—the guiding hand of true genius is at work here. No clatter of percussion, no Simon Raymonde, no clutter, and gargoyles of replica. It’s so simple, and simply unique. From the first breathless elemental touch of ‘Throughout the Dark Months of April and May’ the duo conjure wistful spectres of serenity and submission that cast no shadow. The balalaika-like refrains of ‘Little Spacey’—wings spread wide, eyes alert, scything through the depths of dreamtime, the vocal hieroglyphics of ‘Whales Tails’—triggering a stampede of a heart that beats in unison with the very stirrings of the soul.

For a full half-hour, the lush and the barren thread through the amorous caress of ‘How to Bring a Blush to the Snow’ and the brittle cataracts of “Feet-Like Fins’ before culminating in the wavering cries of ‘The Thinner the Air.’

How time flies in the face of beauty. And the music stops, the clock starts, and all that remains are fragments of beauty torn from the paradise of the Gods.

Nothing is new.

All good is renewal. ▣

Review of <cite>Victorialand</cite>
Sleeve for Victorialand by 23 Envelope for 4AD, 1986.