This Immortal Coil: The Dark Age of Love
I think it’s safe to say that without a doubt, the review of the new Coil cover album by various artists (released under the moniker of This Immortal Coil and entitled 'The Dark Age of Love') is by far the most difficult review I’ve ever been assigned to do.
On the one hand, I’m a long-time fanatical Coil fan, so I’m extremely familiar with their huge and diverse discography. On the other hand, perhaps I’m too familiar with their music to objectively critique an all-covers album. I’ll admit, the first time around listening to This Immortal Coil, it just made me want to run to the Coil section in my CD stand and play whichever one I grabbed first. There’s something about some of your favourite music being performed by a bunch of other people you have never heard of. At first, it’s a bit off-putting. Put it this way, I initially really felt like that little bratty kid from 'Problem Child'.....I didn’t want anybody coming into my home and trying to fill the shoes of my dead mother.
Turns out I was looking at things the wrong way, but my irrationality should probably be forgiven in this case, since it was the first covers album I have ever acquired. My criteria for most new music I review is pretty simple: interpret whatever immediate, guttural response I experience while I listen to the music into something tangible through the written word, as I’ve always believed that’s much more interesting to a reader then breaking down the sonic qualities of each track on the album. With a covers record though, it’s different, because I’ve already experienced those instinctual emotions through a different channel, from a different performer, so what I must do is differentiate between what I usually feel when I hear Coil music, and from what I experience while I listen to This Immortal Coil. No easy task considering they’re all original Coil compositions simply morphed through someone else’s breath.
Confusing to say the least, but after sorting out my thoughts, here is what I came away with. This is what a covers album should ideally sound like. A reimagining of Coil’s music isn’t complete just by being someone not in Coil, but performing their material. No, a successful cover isn’t just “Ok, here’s me doing a Coil song, and that in itself will automatically produce inherent differences”. There must be active interpretation, and the good news here, is it seems to come from a very heartfelt and sincere place. It’s also much more classical in nature, so that immediately makes it more accessible to people who may have been put off by some of Coil’s harsher material but still maintained some faint interest in the group.
As tricky as a balance it is for me to write about a cover album it must be even more difficult to actually create a covers album. Again, there are two sides of the coin. It takes guts to go berserk and release something that doesn’t sound one iota like the original, something we have to read the press release just be certain these are the same tracks, but that’s just not responsible. A cover is an interpretation, but it’s just that, an interpretation. It’s not a licence for you to put some bogus stamp on it in an effort to show off your inner avant-garde or whatever. It’s still based on someone else’s inspiration and personal emotions, so that cannot be discarded for the sake of experimentation.
On the other hand, a note-by-note cover isn’t really irresponsible, it’s just pointless. I’m not sure why we would need something like that, which is why Marilyn Manson’s covers are some of the worst examples of this I have ever seen (especially 'Personal Jesus', wow).
What I think is the key, is taking some creative liberties within the grand confines of the music, and making sure there is a small element of you that infiltrates the inner soul of whatever it is you’re performing. This Immortal Coil strikes that balance beautifully. As a loyal Coil follower, there was no point while listening to this album where I either cried out, “Oh c'mon, I don’t even know what song you’re covering!” nor did I ever think. “Why is this even necessary? It’s just a different voice layered overtop of Coil’s music.”
Instead, it achieved what I didn’t really think was possible, and the music stood alone while still being a very sentimental tribute to one of the U.K.’s greatest experimental acts. As far as the track selection goes, I was really impressed. To be honest I didn’t want to see some of Coil’s ultra-intense stuff included on here (I wouldn’t want to see 'Cold Cel' or 'Going Up' on there to name a couple, I don’t care how good a cover version you think you could come at me with). The songs covered a wide array of Coil’s huge catalogue, and were also ones that didn’t reek of bad taste.
Surprisingly enough, This Immortal Coil also has a tremendous flow to it; even with various artists’ tackling cover duties. There isn’t a bum cut on the album, but the standouts 'Cardinal Points' (Dauu and Christine Ott) and 'Teenage Lightning' (Matt Elliott) are brilliant, whether or not you are a Coil fan.
Do I recommend This Immortal Coil? Absolutely, it’s pretty amazing. Would I recommend it ahead of Coil’s material? Absolutely not. It’s still a covers album, and it’s still a tribute to Coil’s music. A very worthy tribute, but still a tribute. Yes, it can be enjoyed on its own merits even if you haven’t heard a lick of Coil’s stuff prior to hearing this, but I do hope that enjoyment of This Immortal Coil is not an island unto itself. I guess what I’m hoping is that at the very least, it leads you to original Coil compositions, and that’s probably the greatest compliment you could ever give this compilation.