Heel to toe to hair and hoof and it's head over heels and it's all but an ark-lark...

“New 2 U: Cocteau Twins”

  • By Bill Prince
  • Sounds
  • 11-Sep 1982

Hailing from Grangemouth, Scotland, the Cocteau Twins are, in fact, a three piece: vocalist Elizabeth, Will on bass, and Robbie on guitars. Mixing strong Siouxsie and the Banshees and Joy Division influences, the band are in the unusual position of having an album, Garlands, as their vinyl debut on 4AD Records.

Such confidence on the part of the label looks to be paying off with the album having reached No 2 in the independent album charts, and a recently released 12-inch single looking set to make a further impression. Will and Robbie had been playing for several years together before meeting the diminutive Elizabeth, in true “A Star is Born” style, down at the local disco. A mutual infatuation with Aussie band The Birthday Party (they supported the at the Venue) introduced them to 4AD, who agreed that an album should be cut. The shrewd ears of John Peel soon picked up on the band, and it wasn’t long before a session was recorded for the night owl’s programme and Peelie himself was tirelessly championing them on the show.

So what of the name? Do they consider French author Jean Cocteau one of the family? Robbie: “No, not really. We weren’t sure who Cocteau was until we were interviewed by the NME. We just got the name from a song by Simple Minds.” Live, the band are not too confident since some embarrassing scenes involving a broken-down drum machine, but once they have perfected the stage side of things they plan to gig more often. Until then the band are busy working on the next album, which they reckon won’t sound much like their first. Will: “Garlands is alright, but we’re sick of the songs. We wrote them ages ago. The next album, well, you’ll know it’s the Cocteau Twins, but the songs will be really different.” Roll on the next Cocteau release.

Sidebar review of Garlands

Uncontested best new band of ‘82. I almost cried when this hit #2 in the indie charts behind The Birthday Ceremony (which is only what the press would have me believe—not living in England, I can live in ignorance and sometimes even revel in it). I know nothing about them and am not impressed with the sleeve, but inside lies a truth, a way of dealing.

It don’t always work—I’m listening to the nursery rhymey “Wax and Wane,” and sometimes a warbler gives you a headache, even if it is a pretty Black-Throated Green (probably my favorite, and certainly the one I hear the most). But what’s before and after is “Blood Bitch” and “But I’m Not” (the coolest one here) as chirped by Elizabeth Fraser, all with a remote Robin Guthrie on long distance guitar and an always present Will Heggie on bass. OK, so I know all about them after all, ay? They’re from Falkirk, which is the new name for the Falklands, which is why the Brits went in—to save this trio from an Argentinian record contract, which would have insured their obscurity forever. It’s amazing what the newspapers don’t tell you.

No, I can’t let it go at that. The Cocteau Twins, bless their Siamese hearts, deserve better than that. What they deserve is…a U.S. deal with Polydor, who for some reason are holding on to the Banshees (can’t wait to be made a fool of on that one), and more airplay on MTV (you’ve got to be a Moron To Value it, like I once did).

Capsule review of Garlands

The music on this LP is the product of a quiet tug of war between the three people (and one drum machine) who are making it. The guitar is a large wash of sounds at the back of the mix, the bass seldom rises above a murmur. At the front of the sound are the intelligently-programmed drum machine and the yearning, uneasy voice of singer Elizabeth.

Tug of war: the guitar is never still, frequently both bellowing and screaming at once, in protest at the calmness of the other three elements; the lyric extracts which appear on the cover are spat out, distorted, and often unintelligible, to make a peace of sorts with everything else. The result is a moody, tense record, full of unexpected truncated melodies (the best being the one on “Wax and Wane”), which reminds me of the clammy weather we’ve been having lately. A whole lot better than most records of its type, the Cocteau Twins LP has given me some pleasure and food for thought. ▣