- By Jonh Wilde
- May 1984
The Cocteau Twins—Robin, Elizabeth, and Simon—are sitting with me, in their usual state of incessant fidgetiness and prickly anxiety. We’re all trying to bear the awkwardness of anchoring down all the dewy-eyed world-wonder of their ethereal pop. We’re all steadily growing more and more agitated in attempting to locate the rhyme and reason in their misty storm of movement. This will not be the last Cocteau Twins interview. From now on, though, they’re going to be few and far between. It’s a real struggle, this. They HATE talking about themselves, loathe the myth that is building up around them. They blush and shudder at all the expectations and all the attention.
All in all, it has been a year of turmoil. Parting company with bassist Will Heggie during their European tour with OMD last summer, they continued as a two-piece. The rest of 1983 saw their second LP, Head Over Heels, and the EP, Sunburst and Snowblind. Furthermore, as This Mortal Coil, they made a stunning impact with their own version of Tim Buckley’s ‘Song to the Siren.’ Through all that, they have emerged as the most crucial (and fascinating) of the ‘independent’ bands, looking set to follow The Smiths in crossing over to more widespread acclaim.
New bassist Simon Raymonde (formerly with The Drowning Craze) arrived at a time when they were shot by both sides, critically speaking. Either hailed as the latest Saviours of modern pop or denounced for old-fashioned values, at least (at last) they couldn’t be ignored. Head Over Heels left a glorious trail of new colours, purer and more emphatic than the harsh, grey introspection of the debut, Garlands. By the time of Sunburst and Snowblind, they had almost consummated this swirling, epic brand of pop music. Those lazy, ill-conceived Banshees comparisons were behind them for good. Still with them, though, were the accusations of wilful obscurity, retrogressive ‘mysticism’ and a determination to play the biggest and ugliest venues as soon as possible. Their critics all seemed preoccupied chasing the absolute meaning of it all, while the Cocteaux busied themselves with these dark-rapt melodies. A law unto themselves.
To Simon, the songs might be abstract but that might be their strength. As he explains, “You don’t have to think of it all as learning and trying to get something out of it. You can talk about music until it comes out of your arse, but there are other things going on that are equally as important: films, books, or whatever. You’re not asked to explain those other things. People who watch a film make up their own minds about it. So what should be different about a song?”
If they have an enigma, it is the voice of Elizabeth Fraser—their bewildered, tense inflections making her actual words so indistinct.
“Sometimes,” she smiles at me, “I’ve remembered what songs were about. I’ve just never remembered at the right time. I don’t understand why people get so upset. It’s the only chance they’ve got of finding something for themselves.”
“It’s because the songs are so personal,” continues Simon. “Before The Drowning Craze got a singer, we were just instrumental. That was because we thought the music said enough. It just put across certain images that people didn’t have to talk about.”
Similarly, the entire sound of the Cocteaux is a myriad form of mood that is both ethereal and earthly, trembling and vivid. There is no other group so unconcerned with the theory of pop or the politics of emotions. At the same time, there is no other music at present so rich and potent in its feeling and dense atmosphere. With the latest single, ‘Pearly-Dewdrops’ Drops,’ they have reached a state of grace that is so rarely achieved within the limits of modern pop. Their heartthrob glow and chimeric radiance is like a metaphor for the highest visions, the most heavenly form of love. If you want it to be.
Simon was drawn to the beauty and the atmosphere of their songs. Like Robin and Elizabeth, he wants every gig to be special. The scale of success that is just around the corner scares the hell out of him.
“We’re not getting involved in the scale of things, though,” he assures me. “But it’s difficult not to get involved with the ‘expectations.’ We’re trying to keep as ow a profile as possible. The only urgency is the need to get better.”
Robin continues, “We haven’t changed over the last year but people’s attitudes have changed. It becomes more difficult for us to judge. We can only judge on how many records we sell or how many people come to see us. It makes me nervous. We haven’t achieved anything. The people who have gone out and bought our records have achieved something. If it is a question of fame, then we’re working our hardest against that. Not consciously but subconsciously. I think it would be easy for us to do a lot of pictures, interviews, TOTP. It would be a piece of piss. But what for? It comes back to the whole question of what people expect of us. For instance, all the fuss made about the Palace Theatre gig in March. It was simply the intention to perform somewhere different, to make it a little special. The only shitty thing about it was having to come on at the end, to play an encore. We shouldn’t have to do that. It surprises me that people expect another song. It’s just so false. It’s sad really.”
And it is not just that pretence that they find hard to live with. Pop’s newest misfits. The frantic pace and change of the last twelve months leaves them more confused. The Cocteau Twins still exist on the outside, looking in upon pop’s dishonesty and stupidity with a mixture of curiosity and disbelief. Elizabeth tells me that she worries. She worries that people expect something solid in the meaning of the Cocteau Twins. She tries to tell me how it should be.
“It has to be about emotion. It has to be. It can’t be about anything else.”
That is the closest we got to confession.
So we sit here. Figuring out where they follow suit. And we accept that the Cocteau Twins are something informal, something ambiguous, something incredible.
Simon laughs it all off.
“If people call us the Pink Floyd of the ’80s, then I can only ignore it. That person cannot know us. That idea doesn’t have any value so it doesn’t concern me. We might be accused of not having enough ‘aggression’. Well, aggression doesn’t have to be manic, thrashing chords or a booming bass. It’s only because aggression has a derivation that people have to associate with The Sex Pistols or whoever. It can be channelled in different ways. It doesn’t mean banging your head against a wall.”
Pink Floyd. The Cocteau Twins. To weigh it all up—to wear it all down. The difference, to paraphrase Paul Morley, is that of the cardboard box and the dream.
There were three figures. It was as though the heavens had fallen and Hell had risen. They found themselves in the dead of night. Beyond the twilight. Lost for words. Alone with their strange, dark poetry. Here was romance, caprice, and the softest of whispers. They were all thinking. Nobody could see it as they did. This was the beauty of it all. ▣