Cocteau Twins "Head Over Heels" Reissued by 4AD

Sounding more like the recording engineer accidentally fed only the reverb buss to the 2 channel master instead of the intended mix of "dry and wet", the Cocteau Twins' ethereal, reverb drenched Head Over Heels released in 1983 became a much imitated template for "wave", "shoe gazing" and other musical genres that followed in its wake.

The Scottish duo of vocalist Elizabeth Fraser and guitarist Robin Guthrie created this icy (but not at all harsh), reverberant production not accidentally but obviously intending listeners to get lost in thickets of crystalline strands produced by Guthrie's chime-like guitars and Fraser's distant difficult to decipher wailings. Everything in the mix of drums, guitars, vocals and hazy effects is drenched in reverb.

It is production taken to an extreme that you either love or wish you could hang out to dry for a few hours. After hearing "Sugar Hiccup" I think on KROQ in Pasadena, CA, I immediately went out and bought the album either at Aron's or Rene's on Melrose Avenue. After a painful breakup It was exactly to where between my Spica TC-50s I happily retreated.

Admittedly it's not been on the turntable for quite some time so when this reissue cut from a "high resolution digital file" arrived, I paid a visit to the original (pressed at French MPO) and enjoyed the trip back in time and echoey "fun house" space.

Then I played the reissue. One of these records is "right" and one is "wrong". They both can't be right. First of all the bass on the reissue is far more robust and muscular. That often happens on reissues where the original's bottom end was purposely shelved to make sure the record would play on the turntables kids owned at the time. That's why The Beatles' mono box set cut from analog tape features much better bass. It's not that Sean Magee added bass. It's that Harry T. Moss "shelved" it for the originals.

So here, more bass isn't surprising and it's welcome. However, the top end where all of the ethereal "space" and crystalline three-dimensionality resided is pretty much gone. Not only is the top end extension less expansive, all of the soundstage depth and width has been pressed into a flat pancake that produces more mundanity and less mystery. The "spacey" environment into which a listener could immerse him or herself no longer exists.

At the same time it's true that you can now more easily pick out the individual elements put into the mix and Fraser's voice, which formerly floated ghost-like in the backdrop is now more up front. The glassy but attractive snare on the original's "In Our Angelhood" is on the reissue dampened.

So there are two possibilities: one is that the reissue is a purposeful revision because those involved decided they no longer liked the original's bright, crystalline top end and perhaps pushed up the bottom end as well, or it's just a flat transfer to digital and is closer to what the artists intended than is the original. If you loved this record but wished it could have been "hung out to dry" a bit. Here it is!

I don't know which is correct, but as much as I like the reissue's bottom end weight, the top doesn't cut it. It removes the "spacey" mystery and enveloping three-dimensionality even as it clarifies the mix's elements.

If you have an original I think you're all set, unless you want to hear a revised version with better bass but missing the top end extension and enveloping 3D spatiality. No doubt some reading this will conclude "I don't think I want that record in any version." I thoroughly enjoyed revisiting this special space and the flood of memories it brought back, both exhilarating and painful though the reissue brought me only so far. The original took me the full way. (Also reissued by 4AD is the group's 1984 release Treasure (CAD3710) both nicely pressed on 180g vinyl at what appears to be GZ Media.

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Roy Martin's picture

"Throw Momma from the train a knish. Don't leave her hungry behind."

hjc001's picture

where she sings "HONEY CREAM CHEEZE BAGELS AND PANCAKES..."? 99% of CT's allure was guessing at the ullulations, trills, growls, jibberish, french, esperanto, ... i gave up. :)

AAA's picture

Nice to see my favorite Cocteau Twins album reviewed here! Thanks!
IMO the first track of the album that lasts for only 3 min is one of the most creative and compelling pieces of music I've heard.
I think all the Cocteau Twins music was made (or manipulated?) with a sound intended by the band and the 4AD producer Ivo, and like it or not, it's part of the package. I'm not sure if the sound of the reissue, though it's still made by 4AD, based on how MF describes it, is Cocteau Twins anymore.
This is also the same reason why I always prefer the original UK 4AD pressings of the Dead Can Dance (another 4AD band) albums "Labyrinth" & "Spiritchaser" over the MOFI reissues.

hjc001's picture

I bought downloads of CT "remasters". I enjoy hearing actual musical instruments in their songs now, but definitely miss the Gothic "space", ambiance, and veiling of the originals. As a long-time fan, I doubt the band would be eager to remaster for hi-res, or any other reason, so it's probably a 4AD idea. Guthrie liked the gear, so I like to imagine that if he'd remastered, then there would be preservation of the veiling and space. Yet, I am most pleased to discover that Mr. Fremer was a fan (for the same kind of reason that we all were): KUDOS!

hans altena's picture

I totally agree, I am very happy with my old copy, as I am delighted to see the appreciation for it, how memory can turn dark times into something bitter sweet! Still I like it for them being rereleased. My old Treasure was botched, looks like I spilled something over it (sounds like a Zappa situation doesn't it, but be assured, must have been wine...), and this edition sounds okay, and somehow I think the remastering here has a better effect, Head over Heels is just more hazy from the beginning and should have stayed that way, treasure was meant to sound more open I guess...

Devilscucumber's picture

Having bought a number of these 4AD re-issues of both Dead Can Dance and Cocteau Twins (both from MPO and the US pressings) I am continually dismayed at the lack of quality control. I went through 4 copies of Spleen & Ideal from MPO, all had Side 1 pressed well off center and were warped to varying degrees, I also had issues of warping and a glitch on "Severance" from Serpent's Egg. I contacted 4AD and they sent me a test pressing of Serpent's Egg (which retained the glitch) showing that nobody cares about product defects. (I also bought several US pressings of Serpents Egg, all of which were marred by audible scratches). So I too recommend looking for clean original pressings.

dbowker3d's picture

As a huge fan back in the day of the band, it's really too bad the reissue doesn't add much to to the original. Personally that album's overall sound was my least favorite of their catalogue. Usually the 4AD stuff sounded pretty good, sometimes great, but obviously a lot got trimmed from the lows and highs. I got a Japanese pressing of Treasure that sounded phenomenal though!

jimhb's picture

A lot of people think the lastest two rereleased Cocteau Twins lp's are simply the 2003 Gutherie mixes pressed to vinyl. This is probably why these don't sound good, especially when compared to the original pressings.

I, maybe stupidly, expected a lot more from 4AD.