Starting in the middle 80s with It'll End In Tears, and continuing on in two more installments until the 1991 release of Blood, This Mortal Coil was like the super-group of the 4AD label. Not only did they have on-board some of the most amazing singers from that period in Elizabeth Frazier (Cocteau Twins), Lisa Gerrard (Dead Can Dance), and Caroline Crawley (of the late Shellyan Orphan, now of Babacar), but the music was cutting-edge as well. It straddled the line between acoustic ambient, gothic, and chamber pop, and it even had some elegant touches of electronic sounds within. Although all the tracks were covers of other artists, This Mortal Coil managed to set nearly every song in a completely different context and it worked nearly all the time.
Almost 15 years after the first installment of that 3-part series, it looks like 4AD may be trying to sort of re-create that magic with The Hope Blister. Again, the album is all covers of tracks by other artists (ranging from classics by Brian Eno and John Cale to more current 4AD artists like Heidi Berry and Neil Halstead of Mojave 3). Unfortunately, this time around the magic doesn't work quite as often, mainly because the new arrangement has more of a set group of musicians than a rotating cast. While it feels more cohesive, they also don't take as many chances with the source material, and the choice of one vocalist (although very nice in Louise Rutkowski) doesn't give enough different flavor to the proceedings.
In the case of the Mojave 3 track "Dagger," the Hope Blister version feels like it simply drags on too long and when it finally gets going, it just doesn't have the poignancy of the simple original. After a fairly straightforward version of the aforementioned Heidi Berry track, "Only Human," the group drops it's first bit of otherworldly-ness on "Outer Skin." With a ghostly chorus playing behind the vocals of Rutkowski, the minimal track is quite beautiful and ethereal. The group goes into another fairly straight cover of "Sweet Unknown" before the dark, chiming elegance of "Let The Happiness In" by David Sylvian. Perhaps the group just works better when starting out with more experimental tracks to begin with, because their string-drenched version of Eno's "Spider and I" is probably the best track on the album.
Those hoping for another This Mortal Coil may be a bit dissapointed in this release, although there still are some very atmospheric tracks to be found. For the most part, though, the tracks are more straightforward covers of the originals with a sprinkle of the 4AD dust over them. If you're a fan of 4AD music in general, you'll probably want to check it out, as it's sort of the brainchild of Ivo Watts Russell, and nearly everything he has a hand in is worth hearing at least once.