"Garlands is like a big stone hanging round our necks. Everybody's expecting us to be like that all the time, and we're not." — Robin Guthrie
Later in 1982, Garlands was answered by a three-song EP entitled Lullabies, and was enthusiastically received by its audience, who were still reeling from the onslaught of superlatives inspired by its predecessor.
Still working out of a small basement studio in London, the trio's follow-up effort was more raw than Garlands and managed to nestle more naturally among other musical styles of the period. Agitated guitars, more muted bass, fast and repetitive drum beats, and a much louder and more animated vocalist made for quite a different sound.
"Garlands is like a big stone hanging round our necks," explained Robin. "Everybody's expecting us to be like that all the time, and we're not."
Will, continuing, "Everything we do gets compared with Garlands now, and there's no way we can get a sound like that again, because it was created through total naivety, we just didn't have a clue what was happening."
Robin: "...we want to develop it and take it further, because it's not right yet, it's just not right.
The sound, on everything we've done, hasn't been how we wanted it. There's a hell of a lot more power when we play live than anything we've ever done on a record."
Elaborating on Robin's explanation that Lullabies is the nearest the band had come to capturing their live sound on record, Will offered, "But it still could have been a whole lot better, about 200% better!" [All quotes, Sounds Magazine, 1983].
Liz's unique voice—as instrumental as anything in propelling the band so quickly to the indie forefront—is more distinctly animated and her lyrics more obscure than before. She and Guthrie continue to employ overdub as an important element to her vocal tapestries, and she begins to demonstrate a natural aptitude for elusive wordplay. The few lyrics which are remotely discernible offer little insight to what meaning they may hold:
"Spitting out oar blades..." ("Feathers Oar Blades")
"He's mocking both my lullabies..." ("It's All But An Ark Lark")
When asked about them, she tried to explain, "It's impossible. It's impossible in as much as...No. You'd be disappointed if you found out...I might make it sound as if I think it's unimportant, but the words are important, important to me I mean, but...I think you're just supposed to get out of them what you can. And they DO make sense." [Sounds Magazine, 1983].
Lullabies, too, proved to be a success for Cocteau Twins—so much so that John Peel featured all three tracks in his "Festive Fifty" radio show at the end of 1982, having already featured special recordings of "Feathers Oar Blades" and "Alas Dies Laughing" among his regular BBC broadcasts. Remastered versions of these early recordings were released in 1999 on the BBC/Bella Union compilation BBC Sessions.
In spite of what Lullabies may have had in common with other music of the time, there was equally as much about it that furthered the belief that these three punks from Scotland were onto something entirely new - something light years away from their humble roots in a dirty refinery town. For the time being, however, the band continued to keep things relatively quiet.
Early 1983 saw the release of Peppermint Pig. Another three-song EP, it stands out among earlier Cocteau Twins material as something of an oddity, which is likely attributable to the fact that this was the only instance in which the band worked with an outside producer: Alan Rankin of The Associates.
"It's shit," grumbled Robin in a 1983 interview with Sounds Magazine, "A new, lighter, accessible sound from the Cocteau Twins, that's what it says in the biography...It's a bad mixture—bad song, bad producer...bad band."
"We'd never used a producer before, so we thought it might be good to have someone on the outside try to help, but it [didn't] work out, because he wasn't interested, he didn't like the music to start with. If he'd been into what we were doing, it would have been a lot better."
"It's all we had at the time," added Liz, when they were asked why they recorded songs they themselves didn't like.
Will continued, "We're learning, we're learning—next time we'll wait." And when asked whether the strong change in sound which is so evident on Peppermint Pig was intentional, he added, "No, not as big as it turned out to be."
Liz: "I don't think we were meant to be..."
Robin, continuing the discussion, makes a prophetic statement: "If we're going to be light and accessible, it's going to be natural, over a long time y'know? That was unnatural, overnight accessibility. The next record's going to be fuck-all like that. It's going to be an LP, produced by ourselves." [All quotes courtesy Sounds Magazine, 1983.]
As the band members indicated in their interview, the overall sound of Peppermint Pig clearly reflects outside influence, and it is unlike other material recorded before or since. Peppermint Pig is, by far, the most punk/new-wave-influenced of the band's early recordings, and the production elements draw closer comparison to other young bands of the period—the Cure being one such example. Robin's and Will's guitar and bass are significantly altered, and the percussion is much heavier. "Laugh Lines" even features a very Eastern-flavored tambourine melody. Liz's voice is quite prominent and sometimes severe in its intensity and emotion, as on tracks such as "Hazel."
Not satisfied with the results of Peppermint Pig, the band have not worked with an outside producer since. This is not to imply or characterize Peppermint Pig as an unworthy or unlikely recording—which it is not, necessarily—but simply that, in the context of the band's now-extensive repertoire, it is quite unlike anything else, and as Robin and Will explained, it is quite an unnatural occurrence. This, of course, had no negative impact on the public and press response to the record.
A new recording of "Hazel" was featured on John Peel's radio programme, and included additional vocals by Gordon Sharp of Cindytalk—the only instance in which a guest vocalist appeared on a Cocteau Twins record, with the exception of "Dear Heart," recorded (again with Sharp) in the same session. The four tracks from the January 1983 Peel Session are included on the UK and Canadian CD versions of Garlands, and includes not only "Hazel" and "Dear Heart," but also versions of the Garlands track "Blind Dumb Deaf" and another new song, "Hearsay Please." All of these tracks were remastered and re-released in 1999 on the BBC Sessions double-CD.
The band once again left a marked impression on the UK independent music scene, and "Peppermint Pig" was kept from the number one spot on the UK Indie charts only by New Order's "Blue Monday."
Following another extensive tour, which had its share of mishaps, Will Heggie parted amicably with Robin and Liz (and later formed another band, Lowlife) - leaving only two Cocteau Twins to regroup and record the eagerly anticipated sophomore release Head Over Heels.