Monday, 14 July 2014

Listening to the Colour of the Cocteau Twins

When I started my research into this often overlooked band I came across a web site that suggested they were a phenomenon. Do not be bloody silly I thought, The Beatles were a phenomenon for sure but surely not so the Cocteau Twins. But then I read and then re-read the text of the site. All the detail of their magnificent career and you know what? I came to the conclusion that the site was right and that I was wrong.

No, they didn't crash into the singles charts with a string of number one hits. They didn't pack stadiums with hordes of people nor did they ship vast quantities of 'product' on both sides of the Atlantic. So then, why the outrageous suggestion from me (and the site that set forth the proposal in the first place) that Cocteau Twins are a phenomenon?

Because they achieved something that very few people, aside from 'the fabs' and Dylan and The Smiths and a select few, have ever done. They created a musical sound that was, and still is, totally and utterly unique. A sound that even now remains as current as it was way back in 1982.

Of course there have been changes in the line up and that is hardly surprising for a group whose banner was the herald of change but far fewer changes than many other groups.

Elizabeth Fraser was born in 1963 on August 29th in Grangemouth in Scotland. Liz writes the words and it is her soaring, and quite incredible almost operatic voice, that truly defines, in many folks minds, the sound that is Cocteau Twins.

Originally the band consisted of Liz, Robin Guthrie and Will Heggie but in 1983 Will left and since then his place has been filled by...

Simon Raymonde, born April 3rd 1962 in North London, also writes songs and can be heard playing bass, guitar and piano. Certainly with out him the instantly recognisable 'Cocteau' sound would now exist as it does but would be very different indeed.

Robin Guthrie, along with Liz Fraser, is a founder member of Cocteau Twins and it is his sweeping, soaring elegant, almost imperial guitar sound that floats around Liz’s grand voice and floods the spaces with its grandiose growl. Robin was also born in Grangemouth but on April 4th 1962. Robin is also widely regarded as a very talented production man in and around the recording studio.

The mystical, and now very nearly mythical, sound hat the collective created has a beguiling quality and a majesty that is hard to describe without the benefit of audio. It has an unearthly, ephemeral feel, sweeping and swooping noise that rises up like the spires of a cathedral. , a sound that mimics architecture with its clean and beautiful lines. There are crimsons and purples, dangerous shades and shifting shapes. Although the lyric may be English there is no way anyone can clearly state exactly what language they are as Liz Fraser deliberately sings her songs with a virtual language. It could be Celtic. It could be Hebrew. It could be anything. The effect of this is to create a vocal that is truly timeless and without any lyrical pointers to attach a time or date too. Brilliant, brilliant stuff.

In chronological order, here are the albums...

Garlands 1982
Head over Heels 1983
Treasure 1984
Victorialand 1986
Blue Bell Knoll 1988
Heaven or Las Vegas 1990
Four-Calendar Cafe 1993
Milk and Kisses 1996

Anyone of these is worth listening to.

The artists that they have influenced are vast and far wider than you might at first realise. Artists such as Prince, Madonna, Massive Attack, Peter Gabriel, Annie Lennox, Perfect Circle, Lush, My Bloody Valentine all have mentioned Cocteau Twins as a major part of what has made them want to create music. I also wonder if those other weavers of sound and colour Sigur Ros were influenced in any way by these forerunners of this mode of music? I think they might have been.

Without a shred of doubt this band, hidden away in the dusty memory of music, should be standing up there with Morrissey, Ray Davis and David Bowie.

Sadly the are still unrecognised greats.

. . . Russell Cuts the Corn From The Brewers Whiskers.


Adam Everhard said...

They're so understated that people in our sensation-seeking society tend to overlook them in favor of the more flashy but far less talented Miley Cyruses of the world. I do wonder about people sometimes.

LeeKwo said...

Great read Russell/Would you believe I have never listened to the Cocteau Twins/I will make amends for that tonight based on yr advice/ Regards Lee Kwo/

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A Utility Fish Shed Blog

A Utility Fish Shed Blog