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Robin Guthrie, "Continental"

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The latest instrumental offering from Robin Guthrie is a beautiful example of his evocative songwriting and production skills, and a testament to why his work has been the creamy center of the dream pop world for years. It's also a reminder of how much better his work is with the right vocalist.


I was never a fan of Violet Indiana, the post-Cocteau project that pitted Guthrie with Siobhan De Mare (that may be coming back if Guthrie's blog is to be believed). In a sense, anything that Guthrie does with a voice is going to be saddled with the heavy burden of outpacing the work of his legendary band that people are still just discovering now. It makes sense that Guthrie would work on instrumental music then, because his signature sound is in many ways inextricably tied to Elizabeth Fraser's voice, and making music without voices might be the only way to keep things going. 

When I listen to Continental, I can't help but think that these were meant to be Cocteau Twins songs as the instrumentation, arrangement, and style is unmistakable. With its reverb-soaked pianos, crescendos of guitar, subtle backdrops of synth and understated drums, the album sounds more than merely familiar. It sounds inevitable, which is disappointing in a way because the songs seem only half-finished. For Guthrie to climb out of that shadow, he needs to reinvent himself and his approach, which is something scores of devoted Cocteau fans have gone and done in making the next generation of dreamy pop and shoegaze records.

When I concern myself with what is part of Continental rather than what the record could be, I have to admit that Guthrie still makes some of the most perfect, blissful chill out music to be found anywhere. There are journeys in these songs that tell little four-minute stories, and I love that. In a few places, Guthrie even kicks on the distortion box to roar to an almost heavy haze of fuzzy swirl that's just short of pyschedelic. Through the layers and layers of guitars, bass, feedback, and droning keys, everything still has its place, and that's the kind of careful construction that Guthrie's emulators almost always miss.

I'm glad to have Continental to provide some richly emotional background music for those times when I want something more structured than a collage of drones, but something less tangible than pop music with vocals. If I'd never heard a Cocteau Twins record, this would probably be one of my favorite instrumental rock records, but the reality makes Continental more bittersweet. Despite the quality and passion in this record, I think most people will hear it and conclude that Guthrie needs to chart a new direction, find another muse, or make up with the last one for his music to keep moving forward.



Last Updated on Sunday, 30 April 2006 23:20  


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