Review of Head Over Heels
- By Barney Hoskyns
- NME/New Musical Express
- 05-Nov 1983
The Cocteau Twins’ new record suggests infinite distance, or at least a massive space. Its first boom is like an avalanche. From there they wing a course over soundscapes that hypothesise Phil Spector producing ‘Spellbound.’
Till I heard this, I considered Liz and Rob a Banshees for the bedsit: Liz Fraser, I thought, a Siouxsie-as-Sandie-Shaw; Rob Guthrie as a doughboy McGeoch.
I still say there’s something hollow and vaporous at work here, but when Liz is singing cosmis Chrissie Hynde and Rob is striating these ice-floes with crystal shards of guitar and huge splashes of percussion and carrying the girl away in a swirling, swooshing mist of sound, I’m not going to quibble. It’s probably a good thing, too, that we can’t hear Liz’s words, if the sleeve’s snippets—“Fig up my love paramour/Ooze out and away onehow”—are any indication of their general quality. Better to think of this extraordinary voice as being just an exotic sort of instrument.
Were the sound more thistled, more thorny, Liz would be a proper Mavis of the moors, but the warp’n’woof of the lass’s warble is not one of the dulcet heather purity but of, how can I say it, dry ice. That is its mysterious charm. In her elementally naïve universe, sheets and flesh don’t figure much. Everything is sugar, tinderboxes, glass and candles. It is empty of sex; empty, too, of fear and joy. You flow to pure space, soar to endless ice-capped peaks: an alien child-world.
The record, this wreath of epic innocence, only comes undone when the Cocteau Twins get too cocooned, too gloved—in Banshees. Then they are weak. ‘Multifoiled’ is their poor ‘Cocoon,’ in fact; ‘The Tinderbox (of a heart)’ is just too morbidly deadpan. Other parts of Side Two suffer from the languor of ‘A Kiss in the Dreamhouse.’
But then, of course, the record goes out on its most exultant, unabashed, passionade, ‘Musette and Drums,’ an impossibly cavernous finale to the free flight we have enjoyed across such spectacular surfaces.
Did I mention escapism? These are garlands where I feel secure. ▣