Cocteau Twins broke up in 1997, so it's time to clear the vaults of any salvageable debris. With that in mind, here's BBC Sessions, a double-disc set that unearths stripped-down versions of mostly previously issued material. There's no question that the package best serves the ethereal trio's hardcore fans, as it comes up woefully short as a career overview, virtually ignoring the period between 1984 and '96—including the band's breakthrough albums Blue Bell Knoll, Heaven Or Las Vegas, and Four Calendar Cafe. No explanation is given; in fact, BBC Sessions is so under-annotated that no one involved even receives credit. Still, most of what's included here is worth owning up to. The eight sessions, included in their entirety, were recorded live with just a few overdubs, stripping away a good amount of the willful obscurity that cloaked the originals. At times, singer Liz Fraser's multi-tracked, unintelligible phrases even reveal English words at their core, and sometimes, particularly on the oldest material, removing the layers of sonic shellac lays bare the fact that what was underneath was perhaps best left hidden. Still, songs like "Half-Gifts" and "The Tinderbox Of A Heart" become more pure and precious in their raw states. Many of these 30 tracks were broadcast in England and widely bootlegged—and some appeared on older import releases—but collectors and completists are no doubt delighted to have fresh copies. Who else would be interested in two inferior versions each of "From The Flagstones," Hitherto," and "Musette & Drums"? Of the two truly rare tracks here, a brief cover of Billie Holiday's "Strange Fruit" is the most memorable, a cavern of electronic echoes and Fraser's warbling, wandering voice. "My Hue And Cry" sounds like little more thana pedestrian, half-familiar older song without vocals. The 12-year gap separating two songs on the second disc is jarring, essentially rendering the collection an overview of the band's early-'80s formative years and 1996 swan song, with very little in between. It all adds up to a lopsided and flawed retrospective, but it does provide some welcome insight into the workings of one of the most compelling and mysterious groups of the last 15 years.

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