I haven’t listened to this album in years and in my mind, it was pastoral, soothing and easy to listen to. I thought it would be lovely early morning music but I was completely mistaken and I couldn’t listen to it at 8:00 a.m. today. Now at 7:00 p.m., it’s great. Why is it that my memory plays tricks with me like this? I’ll be remembering that Van Morrison is a sensible level headed guy soon. Anyone going to his recently announced concert next month? Only £156 a ticket.
What I can remember very clearly though is watching a recording I made onto a VHS tape in 1983 of Cocteau Twins playing “Musette And Drums” on “The Tube”. I must have watched this recording hundreds of times and I was delighted to see that it is still out there in YouTube land. Watching this video clip over and over, I always thought that I could be Robin Guthrie. All he does is look overweight and strum his guitar while being in a band with the delightful Elizabeth Fraser. I’m guessing it might possibly be a little bit more complex than that. “Musette And Drums” is the last song on Side Two of this record and is very exciting. Only Robin Guthrie and Elizabeth Fraser are performing live whilst tapes of synthesisers and drums provide a dense texture. Elizabeth Fraser’s voice is extraordinary. A few years later, Sigur Ros would build a career with singing sounds rather than words but Cocteau Twins were the trailblazers with this. There’s a point towards the end of this song when she is screaming into the microphone, the drum track is beating incessantly and the crashing drones of his guitar transport you out of this world. The coverage on “The Tube” was always excellent – it always felt like you were in the audience but with the added bonus of special features such as being able to circle behind the band. There’s an extraordinary shot at 2:50 where the screen is mainly blank with just a part of Elizabeth Fraser shown at the bottom of the screen. This is the point where the song momentarily slows before crashing back to a climax. It’s astonishing.
A favourite part of this clip is the end when Elizabeth Fraser says “Thank you.” I don’t know why but John and I always liked that part. Maybe it’s the contrast between the indecipherable sounds that she made with her voice in the preceding five minutes and the very down to earth and normal way that she says “thank you”.
“In Our Angelhood” is much faster but the style is similar. A layer of synthesisers, insistent bass guitar, crashing guitar chords and Elizabeth Fraser’s remarkable voice. It’s a cliché to say that her voice is another instrument – you could say that about a lot of very good vocalists but I think the fact that most of the lyrics are indecipherable makes it more true.
“The Tinderbox (Of A Heart)” is enigmatic. The characteristic Cocteau Twins’ sounds are all there but the guitar is playing notes rather than chords and the synthesisers give a feeling of peril and jeopardy. There’s a section towards the middle of the song, when the only instruments are double tracked voice and drums, in which the goblin is stuck in a dark cave with only antelopes for company. Or something like that – whatever your imagination comes up with – but it’s unsettling.
I haven’t looked at this album for more than twenty years. It’s very frustrating. There is nothing on the front of the sleeve apart from the name of the band. The pictures above show the name of the album above the name of the band but this important information is not on my copy. To find the name of the album you have to look on the spine of the cover. The back of the sleeve simply has 4AD – the name of the label. The inner sleeve has the track listing for Side One on one side and Side Two on the other side but there’s no indication which is Side One and which is Side Two. The actual record has a picture in the middle on one side and a listing of all the tracks on the other side but there’s no indication which is Side One and which is Side Two. So whether “Musette And Drums” is the last song on Side One or Side Two is impossible to determine (unless you look on Wikipedia). Is this important? To me, yes – I’m sure most people don’t care.
I’m one of those people who say that I only really liked Cocteau Twins early material and when they got popular they changed. It’s like people who only like early R.E.M. or early Bob Dylan. Maybe I should try one of their later albums to see if it’s more soothing and early morning. The later albums aren’t quite as gritty and have a prettier sound.
“Head Over Heels” was their second album and they released a total of eight albums altogether. I bought the first four of these and Roo bought the last four. I also have seven of their EPs. In the old days, an EP was the size of a 7 inch single and had four tracks on it, lasting about ten minutes. However, in the Eighties, an EP was a 12 inch record and the running time could be over twenty minutes. Six months before “Head Over Heels”, they released a fabulous EP called “Lullabies” which contains possibly their best song, the eight minute “It’s All But An Ark Lark”; it takes a minute to get going but soon settles into a repetitive exciting groove and Elizabeth Fraser’s best vocals. These EPs were collected together on a compilation called “Lullabies to Violaine: Singles and Extended Plays 1982-1996”.
This is wonderful music. On the day that Trump got voted out, all I can say is “Thank you”.