When Blue Bell Knoll came out in the late 1980s, the Compact Disc format was pretty much a given thing and the go-to choice for many, if not most, of us fans of Cocteau Twins. Back in the day, I remember being distinctly underwhelmed by this album too, finding it somewhat imitative of earlier albums and seemingly very short.
That latter point is important to take into account given that by 1988 when it was released it was de rigueur for artists to "fill up" a CD with stuff regardless of whether it really benefited the listening experience. Thus we all got numerous albums on CD with "exclusive" bonus tracks and such.
The lesson we all learned is that size doesn't really matter and in fact can be a detriment.
Thus here we are in 2014 and I"m playing a really lovely reissue of Blue Bell Knoll on vinyl LP and it makes a ton of sense. Clocking in at about 35 minutes total, it puts five songs and about 15 minutes per side. The recording sounds much warmer and inviting than the old CD (even the bonus 320 kbps MP3 download sounds better than the old CD!).
So lets get real for a moment: The Cocteau Twins made some amazing music but I was always at odds with them in terms of sonics. The amazing early stuff was drum machines and reverb-drenched effects and soaring guitars, all presented with a decidedly digital edge, compact disc crunchiness aside.
This new 180-gram LP bears a sticker that says it was "Remastered from HD Audio" which I am assuming it means that they went back to whatever the original source the master recording was made in. I'm assuming it was tape of some sort, be it digital or analog -- they made a new 96/24 transfer according to the label's website. It is also available as a 96/24 HD Wav download (for a mere $14, which is $5 less than the vinyl).
How does it sound?
Pretty great! It certainly sounds better than the domestic CD (issued on Capitol Records back in the day) or the MP3 download. There are nice phase shifty acoustic guitars and (what sounds like) real drums in there and fuller bass than I've ever heard before on this album. By the time of Blue Bell Knoll, they were making better sounding records but it still was kinda harsh. There is still a little bit of that 80s production sound in there but its not awful and in fact has aged remarkably well.
Most importably, Liz Fraser's stunning voice sounds better than ever, lush and round and haunting.
I am also happy to report that the vinyl is thick, dark and dead quiet and -- at least -- my pressing is perfectly centered, so someone paid attention to the little details that matter to some of us in the audiophile world. The album appears to be distributed by Beggars Group USA which in addition to the 4AD label also handles Matador, Rough Trade and XL Recordings (the label behind Sigur Ros, among others). Bottom line, I have purchased some nice albums from some of these labels so I'm assuming they use the same pressing plant, wherever that may be.
They did a nice job!
Ok, so there you have it. The first of the Cocteau Twins remasters on LP.... I hope they restore Treasure soon!
Mark Smotroff is a freelance writer and avid music collector who has worked for many years in marketing communications for the consumer electronics, pro audio and video games industries, serving clients including DTS, Sega, Sony, Sharp, AT&T and many others. www.smotroff.com Mark has written for EQ Magazine, Mix Magazine, Goldmine/DISCoveries Magazine, BigPictureBigSound.com, Sound+Vision Magazine and HomeTechTell.com. He is also a musician / composer whose songs have been used in TV shows such as Smallville and Men In Trees as well as films and documentaries. www.ingdom.com Mark is currently rolling out a new musical he's written: www.dialthemusical.com.