"What you have to keep reminding yourself is, 'Why do we do this? Because of the music and because of how important it is to us.' It's great that other people are into it, too, but that's not the reason you do it. You do it because you can't really imagine not doing it." — Simon Raymonde
Having recovered from the personal disaster that was the Four-Calendar Café tour, the Cocteau Twins discovered a renewed sense of purpose and optimistic outlook towards their music and their relationships to one another. "It was kind of nightmarish at times," Simon recalled. "That's the beauty of it now, because we've been through it all and come out the other end. We've gone about as low as people can go and come out still loving each other, sort of. Yes, it was incredibly difficult and I'd be a liar if I said I didn't occasionally think, 'Ah, shit! I cannot cope with this!' I just wanted to run away from it all. Being in a group, whilst on the outset seems a very glamourous thing, it's also very, very stressful. It's like being married to three people and it's weird. It's just weird."
"I think what we do when the three of us come together is make something quite unique," he continued, when asked about the group's renewed optimism. "You know, I probably would've had a problem in saying that at one point, because I would have thought it sounded quite conceited. It's because it does actually mean quite a lot to us. It means more than quite a lot. It means everything, really. What you have to keep reminding yourself is, 'Why do we do this? Because of the music and because of how important it is to us.' It's great that other people are into it, too, but that's not the reason you do it. You do it because you can't really imagine not doing it." [Music Monitor, 1996]
In the spring of 1995, the music world was treated to something the Cocteau Twins have always done exceptionally well: an EP. Two of them, in fact: the almost entirely acoustic four-tracker Twinlights, followed soon after by Otherness—four all-electronic ambient remixes that were produced in collaboration with friend Mark Clifford, of Seefeel. According to Liz, "For some reason, it made sense to use to make the first new move with the EPs rather than the album itself." [Music Week, 1995]
The two featured some new material—or versions thereof—from their forthcoming LP, Milk & Kisses (which was scheduled for release one year later) as well as some reinterpreted "oldies," such as 1985's "Pink Orange Red," which was pared down to its acoustic essentials on Twinlights. "Feet-like Fins" (from 1986 LP Victorialand) and "Cherry-coloured Funk" (from 1990 LP Heaven or Las Vegas) were recycled by Mr. Clifford into otherworldly ambient deconstructions on Otherness. Intriguing, to say the least.
"Really," explained Simon, when asked about Twinlights, "it was kind of an exercise, if you like, for ourselves. We thought, 'We write nice bits of music, but can we write a song?' You know, if you took all this stuff away, if you took all the effects off a minute, is there actually a song underneath? Four-track EPs are just brilliant because they're like little experiments. You're dipping your toe in a pool you don't normally spend any time in. You think, 'Well, look, I'd like to do something acoustic. I don't really want to make a whole album of it, because people will think this is our new direction.' With the Twinlights thing and the Otherness thing, we were able to do that and do things we don't normally do. That's a great arena for us. I want to put out two or three of these every year." [Music Monitor, 1996]
When asked by Alternative Press how they chose the older songs like "Pink Orange Red" or "Feet-like Fins" from their impressive oeuvre, Simon replied, "[We chose] the ones that worked." To that Robin humorously added, explaining how so many of the early master tapes had made their way to September Sound (the Cocteaus' studio), "Every time we'd visit the record company [4AD], we'd sort of smuggle the tapes out the back door, basically. It's terrible having to steal your own work back, but..." [Alternative Press, January 1996]
Of course, the four tracks that presaged the LP—"Rilkean Heart," "Half-Gifts," "Seekers Who Are Lovers" and "Violaine"—though aurally titillating, gave away very little about any direction the group's sound might take. With regard to the first two, Simon said only, "A couple of songs on Milk & Kisses we had already written full version of them, elecric guitars and drums and everything. Then we decided to strip them bare, and wrote different arrangements for them." [Music Monitor, 1996]
Although both EPs are considered experimental outings, Twinlights is the only one of the two to present whole songs, three of them entirely new. Sparse, warm and intimate, the four tracks reveal the Cocteau Twins at their most basic, with only the essentials of their craft at-hand: piano, acoustic guitar and voice. Listeners were startled by the uneffected clarity in Liz's voice, and the presence, once again, of intelligible lyrics that tell of self-reliance and a reclaimed identity. "You kind of go back to the age when you were being abused," Liz explained, referring to her discovery of having been sexually abused as a child. In "Rilkean Heart" she sings:
Rilkean heart, I looked for you to give me trascendant experiences
And, later in the same song:
You're lost and don't know what to do
"It's all a bit corny, really," offered Liz. "It's really simple language; it's how you have to speak to yourself at that age. That's the part of me that's so hungry."
She went on to explain how, following the break-up of her relationship with Robin, she fell in love during the 1994 Four-Calendar Café tour to an unnamed individual. (Many claim it was the late Jeff Buckley, including his biographer, but Liz has not discussed it openly since Buckley's accidental death in 1997; however, Milk & Kisses does bear a dedication to him, '...love and a thousandfold rose for buckley, my rilkean hearted friend'.) "My love addiction was worse than ever. I was maniacal. [Twinlights] is about that man. My last goodbye, as it were. I was too needy and he was too much of an avoidance person. Naturally."
The song "Half-Gifts" reveals a slightly different tone, one of resolution:
It's an old game, my love
The song closes with the lines:
I have my friends, my family
"I just have to remember I have my friends and family. It's not just about a man. Sometimes I cringe when I think about what I'm singing, but I've never been more real in my life." [Alternative Press, January 1996]
With the release of Twinlights, the Cocteau Twins also demonstrated a more considered approach to film, collaborating with filmmaker Dirk Van Dooren and influential UK film and graphic design house Tomato (also known as critically acclaimed musicians Underworld), on a short film for "Rilkean Heart" and "Half-Gifts." The effort received minimal support from Mercury/Fontana, the Cocteau Twins' record label, so the band set out to do it themselves, cameras in-hand. "We were very happy," explained Robin. "We shot it ourselves. We bought a 16mm camera and shot it in 16mm and Super 8 and video and multiformat. It's all cut between the formats, and lots of text comes up on the screen with some performance in between. It's quite beautiful. I'm really pleased with it—unlike a lot of our promo videos which just suck...that's why we haven't put an hour-long video out. We do have to be proud of something if we want to put it out." [the i, 1996]
With exclusive instrumental music and additional footage, the film showed a clearly more personal and intimate side of the Cocteau Twins, a fitting accompaniment to the sparsity of the recordings. Efforts to have the film released were met with a minimum of enthusiasm from the record company, and so it languished, but not before winning a Grand Jury Prize at the Charleston International Film Festival in Charleston, South Carolina.
"We think it's brilliant," said Simon.
"The film doesn't really have a name," explained Robin, "but now we can hold our heads up and say, 'We won an award in film'." [Addicted to Noise, 1996]
Beyond the EPs, only two entirely new recordings were offered: "Need-Fire," which was exclusive to the soundtrack of the forgettable motion picture Judge Dredd, and "Circling Girl," which appeared on Volume 15, a UK music magazine and compilation CD. "Need-Fire," was clearly a progressive departure from Four-Calendar Café, showing influences from ambient, techno, dub, and trance movements in music, while still being unmistakably Cocteau Twins as it is vaguely reminiscent of material from Victorialand and 1991's "Dials." "Circling Girl," however, had a more familiar sound, not unlike Four-Calendar Café's "Summerhead."
In the truly commercial realm were two 30-second commercial spots for Coca-Cola's fruit juice product Fruitopia. "...I was very enthusiastic to do the Fruitopia thing," explained Robin, "because we continually write songs that are four or five minutes long and that's the way you do things. All of a sudden you have to make the whole thing in 30 seconds. We just had to change disciplines and try different things. I found it really, really enjoyable to do, actually." [the i, 1996] In addition to the Fruitopia gig, jingles were reported to have been produced for a car commercial in Japan and a toothpaste ad in Spain. One of the two Fruitopia songs made its way onto the 1996 album Found Sound, from Spooky, who titled the deconstructed and remixed version "Hypo-Allergenic."
With so many ideas and intriguing one-off recordings bouncing around the airwaves and the Internet, the Cocteau Twins community was overcome with anticipation of their eighth proper LP Milk & Kisses which made its debut in spring 1996 and proved to be the group's swan song.