posted on June 25, 2010 at 9:38 am

a 24 carat stunner
released in 1984 or thereabouts
credited to this mortal coil
this was really the cocteau twins in disguise
the song written by tim buckley
who of course is jeffs dad
i never really grokked tim buckley
i tried but i could never really dig him
i prefer mortal coils version so much more than his
its a bare minimalistic performance
a chiming guitar like a bell at sea
elisabeth frazers (or is it elizabeth fraser?)mournful voice
her wonderful phrasing
the string thing playing in the background
truly conveys a sense of supernatural longing aching love loss
the sirens were creatures from the odyssey
with beautiful voices whose song was irresistible
they lured sailors to the island where they died upon the rocks….
of course
our hero odysseus wanted/needed to hear these songs for himself
his sailors stuffed their ears with beeswax
while odysseus
was tied to his ships mast so he can listen
my whole life i have wondered
what these terrible songs must have sounded like
what incredible words must they have sung to him
this song turns things around
it is a song TO the siren
rather than a song BY them
the odyssey metaphor is kept up through the song
with its marine lyrics
“the shipless oceans”
“as riddled as the tide”
“now my foolish boat is leaning”
and the song works on many levels of meaning
as all good songs should
including the ultra strange question
“were you hare when i was fox?”
all filled with such sad bewildered unfulfilled desire
“oh my heart, oh my heart shies from the sorrow”
this song captured me the first time i heard it 26 years ago
and it still holds me to this very day
bleak lonely desolate just like odysseus’ long journey home
sacred majestic magical stuff
the video on youtube is so so
youre better off to just hear it
and imagine the awful love which inspired this amazing piece
odysseus says :
“this was the sweet song the Sirens sang
and my heart was filled with such longing to listen
that i ordered my men to set me free, gesturing with my eyebrows
but they swung forward over their oars and rowed ahead
and they jumped up and tightened my ropes and added more…”
circe the witch who was odysseus’ lover warns :
“there is no homecoming for the man who draws near them unawares
and hears their voices
no welcome from his wife
no little children brightening at their fathers return…”
god how i would love to hear those songs

32 Responses to “sacred songs : song to the siren (this mortal coil)”

  1. avatar
    isolde | 25 June 2010 at 10:52 am #

    touch me not for i am seesaws

  2. avatar
    Thomas Thomsen, Denmark | 25 June 2010 at 10:54 am #

    I love Tim Buckley. But if you prefer This Mortal Coil's version you might like the American alternative rock band The Czars cover, too. It's quite haunting. Lead singer John Grant has one of my favourite voices in rock music. He's just released his first solo album, which is…well, beautiful…for lack of a better word.

  3. avatar
    Hellbound Heart | 25 June 2010 at 10:58 am #

    …..but doesn't listening to the sirens' song lead to irreversible madness? such beauty at such a cost…..

    love always…..

    (you look like you've had a bright idea in the photo)

  4. avatar
    Anonymous | 25 June 2010 at 10:58 am #

    Oh wonderful you
    It is indeed one of the most beautiful songs on earth
    it draws me back often
    and it is a cover that beats the original
    a rare and beautiful beast
    thanks for the reminder to return to this again

  5. avatar
    eek | 25 June 2010 at 11:00 am #

    "god how i would love to hear those songs"

    But then what?

    Would other music still be as sweet once you've heard those songs? Or would everything else sound like Jet or Lady Gaga or other such dreck?

    I think humans are built to always want more, and I'm not sure we could handle actually getting our heart's desire. Maybe it's best it's always a little out of reach.

    "the video on youtube is so so
    youre better off to just hear it"

    I've never been a big fan of music videos (I do like some live clips) because I find they very rarely add anything good to the song. And this song doesn't need visuals — it's all right there in the song. YouTube can be a great way to hear songs though, so I do use it and just don't watch. 🙂

  6. avatar
    DavidP | 25 June 2010 at 11:46 am #

    I must have first heard this song when I was in my early teens, a few years after it was released, being played by Tim Ritchie on Triple J in Sydney. Was a fan of Elizabeth Fraser immediately (how could one not be?). Got a few TMC and Cocteau Twins albums as a result.
    This song is definitely one of those songs which stays with you. Takes me back to more innocent times.

    In a way I think everyone is an Odysseus of sorts, making their way through life's ups and downs, triumphs and tragedies, trials, tests and tribulations, from life to life, making our way home eventually one way or the other.

    Me thinks that is the moon shining o'er yonder 'bove our bloggers head.

  7. avatar
    Anonymous | 25 June 2010 at 12:18 pm #

    Well that's weird. You mention Song to the Siren…I think hmm John Grant…Czars…stop me in my tracks version. John Grant…Queen of Denmark…Thomas Thomsen…connection.

    Lo n behold TT has beaten me to the comment on this!!

    (PS: The Czars 'Sorry I made you cry' also has some other interesting covers, totally transformed by John Grant's voice).

    'Paint the Moon' is another Czars worthy of an honourable mention here

  8. avatar
    Galamor the Wizard | 25 June 2010 at 12:32 pm #

    Steve, I've gotta say, I never dug this version. I also ABSOLUTELY LOVE Cocteau Twins, especially Feet Like Fins and Alyoious but thought this was poor and depressing!
    I also never dug Tim (nor Jeff….too Robert Plant!) Buckley BUT Tim Buckley's version on the end of the Monkees episode was SENSATIONAL and is my favourite version of this great song. I'm surprised it is not yours. It's the episode that had a "plant" in a spaceship that gave out a "smoke" that made everyone "groovy"(…right up your alley!!!!!)…Tim Buckley even plays a Guild 12 String! Classic 60's man!!!

    Peace and Love G

  9. avatar
    cazziem | 25 June 2010 at 12:39 pm #

    Thanks for this SK. I didn't recognise the title or the duo to be honest, so I checked it out on YouTube.

    The vid to it fits perfectly and the live version was just as beautiful, which these days is a rarity. I also listened to the original version, and whilst I found it to be nice I agree that Elizabeth's voice fits better.

    Strangely enough the song did sound familiar and it wasn’t until I read some of the comments left on YouTube that I realised it had been a track that was in a movie I watched a while ago!

  10. avatar
    Broken Toys and Heros | 25 June 2010 at 12:58 pm #

    Another incredible song with reference to the Sirens is the self-titled "Sirens" by a very underrated metal band named Savatage. The album and song was created in 1983. the band began in 1978, based in Florida. Their sound is very unique for that era of "metal" with amazing guitar work and vocals by Jon and Criss Olivia. Unfortunately Criss was killed in 1993 (RIP Chriss – your magic is missed). This band was on the cusp of greatness at that time. In 1987, their landmark album "Hall of The Mountain King" put them on the road to international success. I saw them 6 times live, each concert was better than the previous. Now-presently their long time producer and surviving brother Jon are entrenched in the beauty and creation of Trans-Siberian Orchestra. If u relish in amazing lyrics and incredible guitar work. This is THE unsung band of that era. Search them out and enjoy. Their song and album Sirens is amazing.


  11. avatar
    Shawn El | 25 June 2010 at 1:47 pm #

    Indeed. The Fraser cover of this song is really something. She has done a lot of impressive but random guest work as I am sure you know. Massive Attack Mezzanine stands out to my mind. Maybe hire her for the next Cherch record?

  12. avatar
    Anonymous | 25 June 2010 at 2:14 pm #

    Ahh…that ambient, gothy 4AD label….just another reason the 80's is MUCH better than most give it credit for 🙂

  13. avatar
    Freddie | 25 June 2010 at 2:37 pm #

    You're right is is an incredible song but i must disagree with you on one point. Tim sings it 1,000 times more lovely than those mortal birds, 😀

  14. avatar
    restaurant mark | 25 June 2010 at 2:47 pm #

    one of my all time favorites…i've got it on vinyl and cd. i could listen to liz frasier sing all day long. i've been a huge cocteau twins fan for 25 years or so. i emailed back and forth with robin guthrie on myspace a couple of years ago. he was very friendly, even sent me a link to an article where he was kind of giving away some of his guitar tricks. several songs that you would swear parts were synths that were really guitars. interesting article. their second album head over heals is a desert island record for me…just beautiful. but so is treasure, blue bell knoll, etc.


    ps-just got into florence and the machine…have you heard her? she's like the lovechild of kate bush and siouxsie…vocally anyway. the songs are big and epic…undeniably catchy…they sound almost uplifting, but then the lyrics are very dark actually. anyway…

  15. avatar
    Anonymous | 25 June 2010 at 2:56 pm #

    Have you heard Sheila Chandra's version or Robert Plant? Both beautiful too!

  16. avatar
    Thomas Thomsen, Denmark | 25 June 2010 at 3:04 pm #

    By the way, Steve. As far as I recall you like Woven Hand? They (he) have/has just released a new album, which is supposed to be their/his best yet!

  17. avatar
    Anonymous | 25 June 2010 at 4:09 pm #

    I too love this song. And my iPod played it to me last week, after not hearing it for a long time.

    The first two TMC albums are so wonderful, the third has good moments.

  18. avatar
    valerie | 25 June 2010 at 7:18 pm #

    You make me remember the magic I forgot.

  19. avatar
    Anonymous | 25 June 2010 at 8:08 pm #

    well then, close eyes to listen… better view.

    nice light, by the way.

  20. avatar
    the dean | 25 June 2010 at 9:25 pm #

    apparently the Sirens weren't much to look at – some sort of bird-like abominations – nice voice shame about the beak!

  21. avatar
    Anonymous | 25 June 2010 at 9:35 pm #

    STTS is the only song I like from Tim Buckley's Starsailor (too much for me), but he had fine albums such as Blue Afternoon, Goodbye&Hello and Happy Sad. This Mortal Coil's perfect rendition proves the 80s had many interesting things.

  22. avatar
    verdelay | 25 June 2010 at 10:21 pm #


    Wherefore art thou?????


  23. avatar
    princey | 25 June 2010 at 11:09 pm #

    Great choice sk, I love TMC's version too, I heard that one first and then years later found out TB actually wrote it(late bloomer I am!). After listening to Tim Buckley's deep voice sing those beautiful words and knowing those words came from his heart, I have to say his version wins me over (sighhhh). Imagine him singing and strumming that song live,just him and his geetar,I'd be purrrrring like a kitten…..I kid you not!!!(sorry, getting a bit carried away here!!)

    Looking forward to song #3
    love Amanda

  24. avatar
    plumlady | 26 June 2010 at 12:50 am #

    Oh the horrible siren songs….I think those might have been Yoko Ono's (no offense John, but REALLY; awful). I'm feeling particularly connected to you tonight Steve, as I look at my painting of Circe the water witch here in my living room tonight. Just came from a very talented musicians funeral, similar energy to yours. Feeling so very sad, and tonight I feel like just lumping out on the couch with Circe as I listen to the hail storm outside.

    Tomorrow, I get my new Prius and get back to yoga; then I'll put a new perspective on life yet again. Always a new beginning after the storm, whatever that may be.

  25. avatar
    isolde | 26 June 2010 at 4:23 am #

    v are you keeping a copy of your book for me?
    not sure where I am, I seem to be in vietnam but when i go to the shop i am in lebanon, when i go to the post office i am in india, on the train i am in many back yards and railway yards, i go many miles to my work which is in the 19th century, i pass harbours and yachts and bus stops and malls and big mansions and little terrace houses
    where am i?


  26. avatar
    eek | 26 June 2010 at 4:53 am #

    Is it weird that today's pic reminds me of the Shroud of Turin?

  27. avatar
    Jasperina | 26 June 2010 at 9:13 am #

    For me its a classic from the days of Triple J. Each and every listen is a new kind of haunting. A spell song that immediately takes you out of yourself, you feel your spirit breeze and spiral about. I love its Celtic resonance… adrift in…the shipless ocean. It makes my whole being shudder.

  28. avatar
    Anonymous | 26 June 2010 at 12:03 pm #

    Our MWP did a brilliant live version of STTS a few years back now…!!!Wish I could experience those performances again,MWP is a brilliant solo performer and it's been a treat to have been able to hear his songs performed live.Blessed be I to have been at so many live performances by our band and the boys overs the years.How different my life would have been if I had never experience the music and performances of my beloved musicians.Quite a spell has been cast over me!!!!
    forever transcendented

  29. avatar
    Anonymous | 26 June 2010 at 2:59 pm #

    Isolde is prolly in melby or sydeny

  30. avatar
    Galamor the Wizard | 27 June 2010 at 10:53 am #

    I just saw "The Lovely Bones" last night and they had This Mortal Coil's version of "Song to the Siren" and Cocteau Twins' last B side, "Alice", as integral songs! Peter Jackson who did "Lord of the Rings" produced it. A man of good taste!!!

  31. avatar
    Anonymous | 29 June 2010 at 2:45 am #

    this song has stayed with me my whole life since the first day i heard it – i think tim woulda turned in his grave when he heard the rendition tmc gave to us – and i've often thought – how did they think of that interpretation – so beautiful – though it was a wonderful canvas to begin with !!

  32. avatar
    prince michael PELAO III | 1 July 2010 at 3:56 pm #

    agree with you on good ol´ timmy, and this version´s greatness…now for a cocteau fix, dead desnos withstanding 4th july sadness

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