Single Review: Elizabeth Fraser – Moses

by Jason LeRoy on January 22, 2010

“Moses” is the first song that iconic Cocteau Twins vocalist Elizabeth Fraser has ever released as a solo act. This either means something profoundly significant to you, or it doesn’t. For an entire generation of music fans, Fraser’s was “the voice of God.” But it has been 12 years since she’s had any real involvement with the music world. Why pop up again now? Then again, disappearing for a decade between releases seems to be working just fine for Sade, so why not Fraser?

It has been 14 years since Milk and Kisses, the final Cocteau Twins album, which Fraser recorded under the stress of a lapsed relationship with bandmate and longtime partner Robin Guthrie. Then, in 1998, she made perhaps her most recognizable musical contribution: lending vocals to several tracks on the classic Massive Attack album, Mezzanine, most notably “Teardrop,” which has been reverently covered by José González and remains the theme song of the massively successful (and inexplicably long-running) medical drama, House. Fraser also recorded an unreleased duet with the late Jeff Buckley, “All Flowers in Time Bend Towards the Sun,” which can be found floating around online in an unfinished form (much to her dismay).

“Moses” is a collaboration between Fraser, Damon Reece (Massive Attack drummer and Fraser’s partner of over a decade), and Jake Drake-Brockman (Echo and the Bunnymen). It was recorded some time ago and never intended for public consumption, but when Drake-Brockman was tragically killed in a motorcycle accident last September, Fraser and Reece decided to release the single as a tribute. All proceeds will go to Drake-Brockman’s family. It is currently available digitally, and will get a physical release on 12″ vinyl in the U.S. on January 26 via Rough Trade. The single consists of “Moses” and two remixes: the first by Thighpaulsandra (Julian Cope, Spiritualized, Coil) and the second by Andy Jenks (previously of Alpha and presently of The Flies, Spaceland).

If you’re a Fraser fan, it matters little how “Moses” actually sounds — you’re ecstatic to hear her voice in any format, song be damned. So, there is little to say about the track itself. It is not a “tribute” in the sense that it’s about Fraser’s dearly departed friend; the song was written and recorded with his collaboration, before his passing, so it’s not “Candle in the Wind,” fortunately. It features a fairly standard Fraser vocal (ethereal, sensual, unintelligible) over a whimsical, somewhat Gallic concoction of gentle trip-hop. It would have made a great tie-in single for Amélie.

Each remix succeeds in exploring completely unique and separate dimensions of the original track. The Andy Jenks mix is slower, more brooding, dramatic. It invites Portishead comparisons from its mixture of trip-hop beats and Western-style guitars, and is a lovely showcase for Fraser’s vocals. The Thighpaulsandra mix, on the other hand, is a bit more up-tempo. Bits of playful electro-lounge, à la The Bird and The Bee, interact with snippets of harpsichord that anchor it to the more baroque sensibilities of the original.

So, a good song for a good cause. And while “Moses” remains a standalone single for the time being, notorious perfectionist Fraser hinted to the Guardian UK that she and Reece have recorded “what might become an album,” if she decides it is ready for the public to hear. I think I speak on behalf of Fraser’s fans worldwide when I say: we’re ready when you are.

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