Their last album of the 80's was their most ambitious and successful to date. After the spacious, gothic "Treasure" and the minimal underwater echoes of "Victorialand" they threw all their efforts into this. Robin Guthrie and Simon Raymonde create a rich, glittery curtain with chiming guitars, and smooth fuzzy guitar and keyboard sounds, for Liz Fraser to perform her famous vocal gymnastics over. She has fewer inhibitions than ever, harmonising with herself to create intricate vocal webs. Check out her stratospheric whoops on "Carolyn's Fingers". This must be their album with the least amount of English in it - the only obvious lyric I can detect is "very very silly boy" from "Athol-Brose".
All the tracks have tunes to take home, apart from maybe the plodding "For Phoebe Still A Baby". It's quite constant in style, and the tracks seem to flow into each other cleanly. Songs of note include "Athol-Brose" with a brilliantly simple little-steps-upwards tune and infectious chorus. "Itchy Glowbo Blow" builds up a great gloopy atmosphere with another fine tune. "Ella Megalast Burls Forever" is their version of a power ballad - a suitably broad finale.
Fans thought that they wouldn't be able to improve on this, until they heard the astounding "Heaven or Las Vegas". It's only listening to that which reveals the one flaw of "Blue Bell Knoll". It tries to overegg the production, putting in layer and layer of guitar fuzz, bass and drum-machine, two independent vocal lines from Liz, and a bit of xylophone for extra prettiness. But the music needs to breathe sometimes. Although maybe "Heaven..." just had stronger tunes, so they felt more confident just presenting them as they are.
March 18, 2004