- By Unknown
- 21-May 1983
Where music is concerned, very few artists have crossed the fine line that separates mere brilliance from absolute spiritual oneness; that indescribable unity, understanding, between listener and creator. In fact, only the might Joy Division (and if there are others, they number very few) have ever succeeded in conquering absolutely, and tapping, this mysterious, elusive, stairway to the soul.
Scotland’s magnificent Cocteau Twins, on their recent second session for John Peel’s show at least, are mere inches from That Magical Line. All they need now is the gentlest of pushes, a single, unexplainable flash of inspiration.
But try telling them this, and although in many ways it’s a positive asset, they’ll cringe, and blush, in total disbelief.
The strangest, most beautiful voice in the world makes a most perplexing, nervous chuckling sound. The mouth from which it sometimes sweetly pours, with a rich, sensuous extravagance, and an often other-worldly mystery, is buried beneath a protective shield built of her two extremely embarrassed Scottish hands.
Cocteau Twin Elizabeth obviously finds even the most heart-felt of compliments an unbearable ordeal.
But nevertheless, her group’s second EP, “Peppermint Pig,” is on release, and THAT John Peel session—a fabulously exquisite tapestry of supreme, breathtaking power—is gratifyingly, constantly being repeated; a classic performance in the making. Something must be said.
Are you aware, Liz, that you possess an utterly unique voice; a voice so bewitching, so generously blessed with an unmatchable, alternately delicate and seething force, that you, indisputably, are emerging as one of modern music’s very few genuine innovators?
Rob (Cocteau guitarist): “Look, you’ve embarrassed her now, see?”
Oh. Sorry, Liz.
There! Are your misconceptions crawling into the light? Understandable. Misconceptions are something of a burden to the Cocteau Twins. People seem to listen to their trio of 4AD releases: the exotic “Garlands” LP, with its bizarrely constructed lyrical imagery of mysticism and witchery, plus the entrancing “Lullabies” and “Peppermint Pig” EPs—spot the accompanying sensitive artowrk—and get everything terribly wrong; much to Rob’s disgust.
“We bore everybody,” he exclaims. “Because they’ve got into us, they think we’ll look like Bauhaus and be skinny, into art and everything…They think we’ll be fucking psueds, but we’re not!”
He’s right, of course. But why should this glorious, dizzy Cocteau music, this dreamiest of guitar exoticas, this numbing wash of bass-guitar and inhumanely human drum-machines, this…VOICE; why should it mislead the world into believing its designers are PSUEDS??
“It’s just because we’re called the Cocteau Twins, that’s all,” mopes Rob. “It’s all ‘cos of our name.”
“It was good at the time,” he explains. “It’s the name of an old Simple Minds song they used to tae do when they were wee ladies…It was about a book o something, nothing tae do with us.”
“Everyone’s expecting us to be wearing bloody doom-coats, never smile, and be heavily into Joy Division—Ian Curtis died for ME—all that sort of thing, which is right out.”
But this faintly doomy music of yours…
“We don’t play doomy music, we play happy music… It IS happy sometimes!”
And this faintly Factory-type inclination towards the elegant, sophisticated, perhaps even majestic presentation of your record sleeves?
“They just look nice. I think it’s better to have a nice sleeve, something interesting, rather than just a sleeve with pictures of us on it. They’re not doomy, they’re pleasant! Yeah, there you are, quote me on that.”
“Peppermint Pig,” the new EP, although overshadowing most competition with relative ease, is clearly not up to scratch. Something’s lacking, a certain edge, dissipated by Associate Alan Rankine’s unsatisfactory production. A lighter touch…
“It’s shit,” sulks Rob. “’a new, lighter accessible sound from the Cocteau Twins’, that’s what it says in the biography… It’s a bad mixture—bad song, bad producer…bad band.”
All this clicked into place too late then, did it?
“Yeah,” Rob affirms. “Well, we’d never used a producer before, so we thought it might be good to have someone on the outside try to help, but it didnae work out, because he wasn’t interested, he didn’t like the music to start with. If he’d been into what we were doing, it would have been a lot better.”
But why record a song that, apparently, you don’t even like?
Liz: “It’s all we had at the time.”
Will: “We’re learning, we’re learning—next time we’ll wait.”
Was a big change in sound on the cards, before its release?
“No, not as big as it turned out to be.”
So, no intentions of becoming “light and accessible”?
Liz: “I don’t think we’re meant to be…”
Rob: “If we’re going to be light and accessible, it’s going to be natural, over a long time y’know? That was unnatural, overnight accessibility.”
“The next record’s going to be fuck-all like that,” the guitarist promises. “It’s going to be an LP, produced by ourselves.”
The Twins’ debut album, last year’s “Garlands,” was a shockingly fine introduction to the band’s music. Stamped with the distinctive Cocteau trademarks of mystical, pirouetting guitars and hypnotic, ghostly vocals, it shone through mountains of mediocrity like a shaft of golden sunlight, creeping through a crack in rock’s creaky basement door, revealing the futility of the numerous relics, both aged and recent, stored therein.
Or did it?
“‘Garlands’ is like a big stone hanging round our necks,” counteracts the ever-chirpy Rob. “Everybody’s expecting us to be like that all the time, and we’re not.”
Will: “Everything we do gets compared with ‘Garlands’ now, and there’s no way we can get a sound like that again, because it was created through total naivety. We just didn’t have a clue what was happening.”
There’s no apparent attempt to get away from that sound though, is there?
Rob: “No, we want to develop it and take it further, because it’s not right yet, it’s just not right. The sound, on everything we’ve done, hasn’t been how we wanted it.”
“There’s a hell of a lot more power when we play live than anything we’ve ever done on a record.”
“Lullabies,” Rob feels, is the nearest the Cocteau Twins have ever come to capturing their live sound on vinyl.
“But it still could have been a whole lot better,” groans Will, gruffly. “About 200% better!”
It remains to be seen whether the Cocteau Twins will continue along the path of supremeness, and cross That Long-Neglected Line into glory.
As always, rationality reasons it would be wisest to expect them not to, and rationality is so often, so terribly often, correct in these matters. Sad, but honest.
More instantly harrowing is Liz’s unwillingness, or rather, inability, to communicate any form of key to her mind.
Her largely unintelligible, yet brilliantly distrubing lyrics, must for now remain a mystery.
“It’s impossible,” the singer whispers shyly. “It’s impossible in as much as…No. You’d be disappointed if you found out.”
“…I might make it sound as if I think it’s unimportant, but the words are important, important to me I mean, but… I think you’re just supposed to get out of them what you can.”
Liz stops, both eyes on the table-mat which her fingers nervously toy with, and then adds…
“And they DO make sense.”
The strangest, most beautiful voice in the world, groans in frustration, and once again its embarrassed owner’s face sinks to the table, soon to be entombed beneath yet another forest of all concealing hands.
“Oh, shit,” the singer curses. “I just wish I could explain myself!”
Ahh. Sheer magic. ▣