Ivo Watts-Russell is one of the great under-celebrated pathfinders for UK 80s indie music. His 4AD label incubated a sharp, profound, melancholic musical aesthetic whose influence has reverberated ever since. The label’s ethos was best encapsulated in the three albums released between 1984-91 by This Mortal Coil, the multi-artist studio project helmed by Watts-Russell. Reissued now, these hushed masterpieces confirm that the label – and its founder – were always in pursuit of a rare, spectral strain of beauty.

The project’s first issue, 1984’s It’ll End In Tears, found Watts-Russell coaxing his rarefied roster of artists to cover his own musical favourites. Like most 4AD offerings, it came swathed in lush, gothic-romantic swirls of echo and reverb and was all the better for it. On Big Star’s Holocaust, Howard Devoto sounded like a hollow, haunted phantom.Review: This Mortal Coil - It'll End In Tears/Filigree & Shadow/Blood

Cindytalk’s Gordon Sharp and Dead Can Dance’s Lisa Gerrard were similarly ghostly, especially the former on Big Star’s Kangaroo, but the standout was Cocteau Twins’ reimagining of Tim Buckley’s Song To The Siren. Chaste and apparitional, Liz Fraser’s voice was unbearably lovely.

By 1986’s double-album (the first on 4AD) Filigree & Shadow, Watts-Russell had focussed the This Mortal Coil concept more on a few key contributors. Breathless singer Dominic Appleton’s rich baritone had become key, and future dance diva Alison Limerick reshaped Wire’s Alone and Talking Heads’ Drugs.

Watts-Russell often located pain and poetry in vulnerable female voices, which proliferated on 1991’s Blood. Tanya Donnelly and Kim Deal sounded phantasmal on Chris Bell’s You And Your Sister, while Shelleyan Orphan’s Caroline Crawley’s husk through Syd Barrett’s Late Night hovered near to silence.

Each CD arrives wrapped in gatefold Japanese paper sleeves and the vinyl LPs have hand-finished ‘reimagined’ artwork by Watts-Russell and the perennial 4AD in-house design guru/genius, Vaughan Oliver. Rapt and insatiable, they’re an essential purchase.

Review: This Mortal Coil - It'll End In Tears/Filigree & Shadow/Blood

Written by Ian Gittins. Released on 4AD.


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