THIS MORTAL COIL Filigree & Shadow (4AD)

The second of the three albums lovingly hewn by This Mortal Coil, the collective brought together by 4AD boss Ivo Watts-Russell from whoever happened to be around at the time, 1986’s "Filigree & Shadow" finds itself almost exactly halfway between the glacial goth of "It’ll End In Tears" and the lush Technicolor fruit tree that was "Blood".

Using the tried and tested TMC formula of stunningly hip cover versions linked together by intricately detailed ambient pieces and instrumentals, "Filigree & Shadow" boasts a line-up drawn from Breathless, The Wolfgang Press, Dif Juz, Cocteau Twins, Dead Can Dance and the mighty Colourbox. Among the 25 tracks (it’s a double album, naturally) there are covers of Pearls Before Swine’s "The Jeweller", Colourbox’s "Tarantula", Judy Collins’ "My Father", Van Morrison’s "Come Here My Love", Gene Clark’s "Strength Of Strings", Tim Buckley’s "Morning Glory" and "I Must Have Been Blind", Colin Newman’s "Alone" and Talking Heads’ "Drugs", plus numerous others too obscure for me and "The Great Rock Discography" to trace the lineage of.

So much for the facts, what does it actually sound like? Well, allowing for the fact that it’s twelve years old now, and ignoring the lushness of subsequent TMC material, the answer has to be remarkably good. The production dates it a little - on some tracks Dominic Appleton’s vocals sound as if he was recorded in a telephone kiosk - and the numerous instrumentals seem to be more a way of filling time than carving new directions in music (TMC’s collective songwriting skill had improved by leaps and bounds in the five years before their next, and to date final, album appeared). Nevertheless there are moments of greatness here, whether they be in uncovering long-neglected genius (it was the Colourbox track on here that persuaded me to seek out that band’s only proper album, a work of incredible eclecticism and vitality, a bit like Massive Attack might’ve been if they had formed five years earlier and were snapped up by 4AD) or shedding new light on much-loved classics, such as an ethereal take on lonesome Timmy’s "Morning Glory" that cut through to the emotional core of a song that was buried alive under a bombastic Spectoresque arrangement on "Goodbye & Hello" (although not as good as Tim’s own live version, released years later on "Dream Letter"). Then there’s the thorough overhaul of Talking Heads’ "Drugs" which renders it almost totally unrecognisable (not a bad thing, incidentally). The angular fog of Byrne and Eno’s original has been hammered into a kind of paranoid, disorientated funk that seems more in line with the spirit of the lyrics, all topped with terrific vocals from a pre-fame Alison Limerick.

So should you buy "Filigree & Shadow"? There are better This Mortal Coil albums, but as an introduction to their wispy world of wonderful, hand-picked songs and eclectic, genre-hopping melancholy I’d recommend it without reservations. Perhaps the clincher is the fact that I managed to pick up a shiny new copy (a double on vinyl, remember) for a derisory 4.90 as part of 4AD’s specially-priced re-issue bonanza.

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