Boyz, November 1995
Songs From the Siren
Mark C. O'Flaherty
The lush, transporting sound of the Cocteau Twins has been music to fuck to for over a decade (not to mention music to sell Fruitopia to). Mark C. O'Flaherty takes a walk with extraordinary vocalist Elizabeth Fraser.
Elizabeth wants to talk about sex: "I don't know anything about it," she says. "I want you to tell me...it's all such a mystery."
As befits a liaison with the prettiest third of the Cocteau Twins, we are sitting on a bench, under a tree, in a secret garden by a river. It's raining evey so slightly but the sun is shining and Elizabeth's eyes are pale, spacey and dazzling; huge and grey and blue. She's very little and she's very lovely—after an hour she feels like a new best friend.
Very, very shy, apparently she refused to interviews for years and when she sings on stage she frequently begins with her arms across her face and always, as she puts it so Fraseresquely, "goes to this place where I cannot be touched." This condition, she adds, is usually enhanced by alcohol or aromatherapy.
Elizabeth becomes most animated when I suggest that the Cocteau Twins are music to fuck to. "That shocks me beyond belief," she says. "I have had so many hang-ups about sex all my life, because of the incest and everything... I've only just started having it. When I first heard comments like, "music to make babies to," it freaked me out. It was too grown up. If that was what I was giving away then..." She puts her McDonald's hot chocolate down on the damp grass. "...it just freaked me out. Now I think it's really beautiful."
Elizabeth thinks a lot of things are "too grown up." She bought a house with Robin Guthrie, her co-Cocteau Twins member, ex-lover and father of toddler Lucy, and has now, after their split, rented a flat: "Owning a house...too grown up." She wants to learn to ride a motorbike because she wants to dress up in leather: "Driving a car...too grown up." When a wasp buzzes in her ear she stops discussing the impenetrability of her lyrics and, highly amused, giggles like a little girl: "It sounds like a fucking Boeing 747!" And loses the thread of our conversation.
In search of shelter from heavier rain, we take a walk through topiary-lined gardens past a huge fountain and continue to talk about those strange impenetrable lyrics. A few recent tracks aside, it is impossible to make out the words to songs like "A Kissed Out Red Floatboat," "Glass Candle Grenades" or "Frou-frou Foxes in Midsummer Fires."
The enigma and the sensual quality of the Cocteaus (Cocteaux?) has ensured them a rabid cult following and Fraser's amazing vocal abstractions are very much in demand. Last year's collaboration with the Future Sound of London, Lifeforms, was "disappointing," she says with a real sadness in her voice. "I sang my heart out for eleven fucking hours on that record and all that is on it is something that sounds like a sample. It was good, but it could have been brilliant."
Many musicians want just that, just a bit of the Fraser flavor to suggest something ethereal, something pretty, something to make you smile when you come off an E. You can hear the influence in One Dove or the Bristol sound spearheaded by Portishead, which she calls, "The most exciting thing to happen since punk." But no one does it like the Cocteau Twins, no one sings abstract syllables so effectively as to make you cry.
Still, fans become obsessed with her and her songs. "We have had people on the Internet who have written translations and they obviously have a natural talent for writing, their interpretations are so beautiful that sometimes I have preferred what they have written to what I actually sang, it has been much more eloquent. Those people are not so precious about us and just enjoyed using their talent and it islove to witness, but some people are very..." She stops and frowns as we come to the end of our riverside walk.
"It seems that some people are convinced they know us better than we know oursleves, and that we ought to listen to them. They want to steer us and they are very precious about us and they do not want other people to have us. If you really love something then you have to let it go and endorse everything about it that attracted you to it in the first place. It's just like a love affair or any relationship, you have to treat it in the same way or you'll just suffocate and destory it in the end if you don't."