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

“Cocteau Twins Live at Victoria Palace, London, February 26, 1984”

  • By Steve Sutherland
  • Melody Maker
  • 3-Mar 1984

Many still encounter the Cocteau Twins and hear only Siouxsie. Others hear only The Cure or starkest New Order, but such conclusions draw like veils where they should let in light. The Cocteaus start there.

Head Over Heels, their latest LP, could be what everyone’s looking for, a step further on. But it’s so guileless, so bereft of gimmicks, that many—even those paid to intuit a little in the clever pop comics—are incapable of rising above first impressions. But fall, really fall, for Head Over Heels and it takes that sound and takes off.

Robin Guthrie’s imagination may not yet stretch far enough further than A Kiss in the Dreamhouse, but Elizabeth Fraser’s voice moves beyond lyrical articulation and instrumental texture to a state of rapturous emotion. At the peak on, say, “Sugar Hiccup,” she alights on jazz, dips into pop and swerves into melodies so pure, they’ve that eternal quality—unheard, undreamt of, but instantly and forever familiar.

Between them Robin and Liz are achieving something moving and new, although this was barely evident tonight. Indeed, I’d have been sorely tempted to consider this performance a conspiracy of revenge, a premeditated suicide, if Liz hadn’t been driven to tears of frustration.

The voice that can swoop and soar like a hawk, protecting a tune by evasive acrobatics, drawing us up, on and over again and again, was strained to the point of agony. When she beat her chest for release, the voice fluttered and fell, brave but broken.

It’s possible that the luxuriant vocal isolation of their ironically successful alter ego, This Mortal Coil, misled our expectations. It’s even possible that Robin decided to take it upon himself to shed the Coil before it took wing and cast a stifling shadow over the Cocteaus, but whatever; I hope I never witness another callous display of gratuitous volume as tonight’s.

It was tragically, cruelly compelling to witness Liz tortured and raw—lunged as Robin refused to turn it all down and the songs, spawned from some reflected angst, gained new brutal dimensions through this theatre of cruelty.

In many ways tonight was a disaster, though I don’t believe there’s a crisis brewing. It’s just that the nerves, embarrassment, clumsiness and uncertainty overwhelmed their confidence, poise and desire. I think this struggle is what Cocteau Twins songs are often about, so next time the outcome may well be different.

And even if it isn’t, I’ll still gladly be there. ▣