How can i write this review?
How can i seriously write about what i, in all honesty, consider
to be the ultimate zenith of recorded music. There is nothing
that i have ever heard that compares to this album, nothing
that soothes me, nothing as minimalistically complex as Victorialand
that i can get lost in.
I have listened to this album at least once a week since 1989.
I have spent years pouring through it's sounds, and am intimately
familiar with every beat, echo, and aching vocal line. In a
way, you cannot know PostLibyan without knowing Victorialand.
When i first read that Guthrie was going to remaster this album,
i sat and stared, unbelieving, at my monitor. How dare he? How
dare he re-touch this masterpiece? How dare he screw with something
that has become so essential to my being?
The problem is this: to me Victorialand is perfection,
so any change would have to be a change for the worse, right?
However, i had to order it. I just had to. And when it finally
got here, i stared at the unopened disc for hours. What were
the changes? What has he done? The answer, and i say this on
repeated listens, is not bloody much. A few volume levels are
tweaked here and there. The equalization is modified on a few
songs. It's still Victorialand, and unless i have
my headphones on i don't notice the difference.
Which is saying something after all. If someone as familiar
with this album as myself can't really tell that it's been re-mastered,
that means that the work is really subtle. So if you already
own a copy of the original release, there is no reason to rush
out and buy the re-master. However, this release does achieve
the goal of making Victorialand more available,
and hopefully many more people will listen to it.
And of course, it gives me the chance to review this album.
I will try to be brief. I could talk for days about this one,
but i will try and restrain myself. If you are the least bit
curious about anything i have ever said on this site, go out
and pick up a copy.
Before i get into the songs, a bit of history.
In 1985 the newest Cocteau Twin, Simon Raymonde, spent an
extended period of time working with This Mortal Coil, a sort
of "supergroup" made up of many musicians from the 4AD roster.
During that time, Elizabeth Fraser and Robin Guthrie went into
the studio and experimented. With the help of Richard Thomas
(from 4AD band Dif Juz) they created Victorialand.
So: their fourth full-length release, their fourth line-up (counting
the addition of Thomas on a part-time basis as a new lineup
different from the Fraser/Guthrie lineup on Head
Over Heels), and their fourth sound.
With Victorialand, the Cocteau Twins' evolution
had reached a certain peak. Gone are the goth sounds. Gone are
attempts at poppishness. This is an album of exploration, of
experimentation. I listen to it and i get the feeling that the
artists involved thoroughly enjoyed what they were doing, and
the music exists in this form for no other reason than that
it made them happy.
Earlier Cocteau releases have either influenced scores of bands,
or relied heavily on the sounds of the time. Victorialand,
on the other hand, is totally unique. There is nothing like
it, and very few bands even hint at this sort of sound. (Auburn
Lull and Seefeel being the only two i can think of, after
staring at my CD collection for a while.) Victorialand
is unique, and as such, it is timeless. Listening to this album,
it could have been made last week. It is totally out of touch
with any other music, and it exists on it's own in a timeless
Okay, i'll stop gushing and get to the music.
Lazy Calm kicks the album off with a subtle haze of
guitar. Eventually Thomas' saxaphone joins in, guiding you slowly
forward through the rich haze, until the beat starts. It comes
suddenly (after all these years, the start of the beat still
comes at me by surprise: such is the mesmerizing power of the
guitar/saxaphone haze), and at the same moment, the voice starts.
Elizabeth Fraser sings lightly, her voice spewing nonsense syllables
that dance with the now more prominant guitar and the simple
bass line providing the beat. The feel of this song is what
i imagine Nirvana to be like -- all softness and no real hurry.
The next song is a little more forceful. Fluffy Tufts
is constructed out of guitar arpeggios repeated and layered
with each other. Fraser's voice is heavily layered as well,
while in the background a faint whisper of a bass riff provides
a modicum of structure. For only three instruments, and mostly
only two, this song has a lot of depth. Of course, Guthrie has
said that sometimes there would be 15 tracks of voice in a song,
so given that the richness is understandable.
Throughout the Dark Months of April and May is a very
similar song, with a different rhythmic feel and different guitar
Whale's Tails is the only song from this album i ever
heard live in the two times i saw the band. Fraser isn't even
singing words here, only syllables, and Guthrie's guitar layers
are combine with some sort of synth sounds. It is sparse and
minimal and beautiful.
Oomingmak adds even more structure to the song construction.
Guthrie's arpeggios are fast here, and provide a strong rhythmic
base. Fraser sings fast here too, tearing through words in an
almost scat style. This song ups the structure on the album
just a bit, and in a good way.
The next track continues to up the tension, and is another
of my alltime favorite songs. It's called Little Spacey,
and Thomas's contributions are clearly heard in the lovely
saxaphone counter-melody he plays to Fraser's voice. The
sleighbell sound from Treasure is
back, and i swear (in my white, poor-rhythmic sensical way)
that this song is a waltz. Really. It lopes back and forth
over a happy little melody, and the interplay of voice and
sax give it a light, playful air. This is where the re-mastering
is most noticable: the sax is a little more subtle on the
original release, and bringing it forward in the mix was
a great idea. An improvement actually. Who knew?
Feet-like Fins starts slowly as an almost ambient tune.
Fraser is lightly singing strange syllables. And then, it pops:
some level of tension that had built slowly and unnoticed through
the drone is reached, and the guitars kicks into overdrive,
along with scattered cymbal crashes, and Fraser singing deeply,
tensely. This is an odd song, and one that has alwyas thrown
me for a loop. It is a good tune, but a strange spot of tension
in an otherwise tranquil album.
The tension carries over slightly in How to Bring a Blush
to the Snow, at least until Fraser's voice kicks in. Somehow
the worry of the guitar is comforted by the contrasting layers
of her voice. In general this song proceeds along at a decent
And finally Victorialand comes to a close with
The Thinner the Air. This is a stunningly complex and
beautiful song, with soaring voice and distorted sax over a
low bass rumble. Fraser's vocals here sound like a mournful
aria from some Italian opera about a lovesick, desperate woman.
It fades out slowly, imperceptibly. A wonderful end to the album.
An album that is, alas, over too soon. Victorialand
clocks in at just over 40 minutes. And yet, for that brief time
it creates such wonder, such majesty, that i just want to hear
it again. And again. And again. Like i said, i have been listening
to this album for years and years, and i find it continually
By definition, this album gets 7 sponges. In fact, i would
give it more if Brendan were to allow me. It is touching and
beautiful and utterly unique.
Should you buy this album? Heck yeah. It is the perfect accompaniment
to sitting and relaxing, however you choose to do so. At first
it might seem too minimal, too sparse, but if you give it half
a chance Victorialand will amaze you.
And here ends our history lesson. The first chapter(s) in what
is definitely my favorite band, as well as a band that did some
very different things musically.
One final historical rumination: sometimes, when listening
to Victorialand, i think it is incomplete. What
i mean is, the bass is barely present. I know that Guthrie
is capable of playing all the instruments on an album by
himself (he did so on Head over
quite well), and yet here he is restrained. Why?
In some ways, i think that what we hear in Victorialand
is a sort of demo. This is what he and Fraser recorded while
Raymonde was busy with This Mortal Coil. Some of the songs
in the middle scream out for the addition of some bass.
So i have always wondered: when they were recording this
did Guthrie and Fraser think that Raymonde would contribute
when he came back? If so, why was it released? If not, then
why did they go in such a minimalistic direction?
But of course, these are the wonderings of a diehard fan.
I mention them here because it might help give some perspective
on this work. And, incomplete or not, Victorialand
is the most beautiful thing i have ever heard.
I think i'll go put it on now.