I remember a time when nearly unlistenable cds of gimmicky nu-metal and corporate monopop cover songs whose best quality was generally the incongruity between the songs of their target group and the anonymous studio string quartets hired to play them were plague and bane of the bargain bins in the local record stores. However, I knew this would be no ironic novelty disc when I read Peter Christopherson’s response to This Immortal Coil, calling ‘The Dark Age of Love,’ “The most extraordinary, beautiful, and moving, re-interpretations of Coil I have ever heard!.” The level of talent curated by Stephane Gregoire to draw together the group and coordinate the international recording of this release is exceptional. Recently reissued by Ici d’ailleurs, (a French label that is also home to new works by members of This Immortal Coil Matt Elliot and Chapelier Fou,) ‘The Dark Age of Love,’ has been released again, this time the only format available is a cd digipack, the 2009 vinyl edition has unfortunately sold out. Even after three years this is still the best overall offering in wake of Coil’s demise. These songs are performed with unparalleled technical precision and emotional awareness. I would love to see live footage of the ensemble rehearsing and the incredible hard work that must have gone into this stellar project.
‘The Dark Age of Love’ begins with Yaël Naim giving a charged treatment of the tilted, shuffling dark cabaret of the title track. The dissociated gritty lyrics are supported by a hallucinatory backing band of shuddering violin, jazz drumming, and a twinkling interplay between electronics, double bass and accordion. The whimsical sound couples with the dark lyrics for a provocative entrance into the album, however for those new to Coil, this track may be the most accessible, for the disc steps off the deep end on the next track with one of Coil’s most dense and impenetrable pieces, ‘Red Queen.’ Matt Elliot’s subtle layered voices drift like black snow above Yann Tiersen’s demented burlesque piano as it crawls its way through this claustrophobic nightmare. Tiersen and Elliot ring true here, capturing the cthonic fragments questioning the horrors of interpersonal decay, invasive surveillance and paranoid insecurity delivering them with a conviction that is (like the entire disc) unexpected and laudable. Slightly changed, but still believable. Songs this deeply personal are rarely covered, and even rarer still, covered so well.
Bonnie Prince Billy uses the tortured passion and soft intensity for which his voice is known to illustrate well the existential seaside scene of Pasolini’s death in ‘Ostia.’ Coil’s sharp analog industrial is converted to a muted palette of soft blue and brown by DAUU and Christine Ott. The musicians create a scaffold march with the cello and double bass pushing forward, throbbing and insistent, while the accordion, clarinet and ondes Martenot develop a shimmering liquid atmosphere for the vocals to fight through. For the carnivalesque ‘Tattooed Man’, the listener is again treated to Yaël Naim solo, playing piano and a chair to accompany her heady vocals. A line that has always puzzled me in this song – “There is a man laying down in a bed somewhere with a different set of sex aspects…,” is given another level from which to look at it in this version. Hearing the lines I had always interpreted as self referential and disconnected sang with a woman’s voice makes me realize that maybe this song is about two physical people instead of two aspects of the psyche. Either way this is a great adaptation from the talented Naim, especially when heard in comparison to her song ‘She Was A Boy,’ released one year later, it is almost impossible not to hear inspiration from Coil in her songwriting with its confusion of pronouns and mood of displacement.
Sylvain Chaveau laments ‘Amber Rain’ over Nicolas Jorio’s wearily bouncing guitar and DAUU’s Han Stubbe and Roël Van Camp on clarinet and accordion. This song is one of the bleaker moments on Ape of Naples, a song of despair and surrender, of waking up to realize things are contaminated beyond repair. The theme of dirty water representing psychic pollution runs throughout the introspective work from the very end of Coil’s opus. This Immortal Coil do not quite capture the barren greywater of sirens and regret flowing through the original, but this version is still haunting somewhere off in the back of the mind like the sickly corrosive rain that seems to never end. This cover is beautiful for sure, but off; it is however, ambitious and laudable of This Immortal Coil to explore such a dark and representative work from the very end of Coil’s career.
DAUU and Christine Ott perform the standout track of the album, ‘Cardinal Points.’ Ott’s ondes Martenot and Stubbe’s clarinet swirl sinuous together through the intense highly ornamental melody originally composed for oboe in Billy McGee’s orchestral arrangement (who also arranged ‘Chaostrophy’). These lines swell, amassing unbearable tension before dropping into subito moments of silence only to rise again and again. Ott and Stubbe are an amazing pair in this. Stubbe makes full use of the clarinet’s special capacity for extremes in volume and tone color, his soft, velvety first octave trills and harsh high pitched fluttering plosives blend with the space opera chimes and surreal bent pitches played by Ott. She is a master on the ondes Martenot, a very early electronic instrument known for its mysterious voice, familiar from old science fiction films it is produced with a keyboard, slide mechanism and a set of electronic timbre controls.
The other members of DAUU, Roël Van Camp (accordion), Hannes D’Hoine (double bass) and Simon Lenski (cello), bristle and agitate underneath the twisting melody line, driving the incessant building tension towards higher and higher peaks of frenzy before the ensemble collects itself into a calm quiet resolve. The high level of musicianship reminds me of a tribute to Zappa by France’s Ensemble Intercontemporain under the lead of Pierre Boulez, both albums are notable for crystalline, flawless execution of incredibly technical and experimental works and both are showcases of high order ensemble skill. This track is a breathtaking cover of one of Coil’s most elegant forays into the realms of neoclassical.
This is truly a refreshing tribute album. It includes works representative of a wide range of styles found in Coil’s rich and varied career as groundbreaking experimentalists vividly played with inspiration and precision by a fantastic cabal of talented artists. ‘The Dark Age of Love’ should be required listening for all devotees to the visionary cult of Coil. I will be surprised should I ever chance to hear such another collection of songs so faithfully in tune with Coil’s chaotic and challenging voice.
Written by: Bryan Babylon
Label : Ici d’ailleurs (FR) Format: CD/Digipack / Cat. # IDA060
01 The Dark Age of Love
02 Red Queen
05 Love Secret Domain
06 Tattooed Man
07 Teenage Lightning
08 Amber Rain
09 Cardinal Points
10 Outro LSD
01 Tattooed Man (Third Eye Foundation remix)
02 Chaostrophy (Deadverse remix)