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

Twin machine

  • By Andrew Collins
  • Select
  • Oct 1993

Clank! Whirrr! Whooo-ooo-sh! Jrrinng! Simon, Robin and Liz are still mining the ethereal/wispy/majestic seam that has served them so well for a decade. Pretty enough, but let’s hope 1997’s follow-up breaks the mould…

Thank heavens, eh? For the sensation of sinking your teeth into a nectarine. For clean sheets. For a hand on your shoulder. For a warm summer evening breeze. For Frank Stubbs Promotes. For a Cocteau Twins record. Silver linings without clouds in the small print.

What could be wrong with a Cocteau Twins record? Since they struck massage oil in 1986 with the sublime ‘Victorialand’, only a regular philistine, a pathological grump or a dead man will claim not to have at least fleetingly fallin in love with (or to) the Cocteaus’ sound. Guitar tinkling away like a waterfall. Gently undulating basas. Skippy, unobtrusive drum patterns. Shit, that voice, unburdened even by the baggage of the English language! No print, small or otherwise. But what’s the catch here?

The first one’s a red herring. Due to the contractual requirements that tie the Cocteaus to the music press circus, we have discovered that the three Twins are much less magical than the music they create. A motley trio, no more immune to the blemishes and banalities of real life than you or I. One goes to football. Huh! Swiz!

The second’s more substantial. The Cocteaus — no longer 4AD’s license to print money, now appropriated by Phonogram but what difference does it honestly make? — take too long to make these blasted LPs. The last one, ‘Heaven or Las Vegas’, emerged back in 1990. Didn’t these same three people used to churn ‘em out in the early ’80s? And cracking EPs too? It seems that Robin Guthrie, Simon Raymonde, and Liz Fraser have turned into gentlefolk of leisure as they hurdle 30. Walled inside their own private riverside studio, self-producing, self-contained, self-satisfied, self-pollinating, they work very much at their own speed. Hey, don’t bust a gut for us!

‘Four-Calendar Café’ (and no calendar might be nearer the mark) is as close to taking the piss as this unique group have thus far come. The loyal and patient consumer comes away with a perfectly passable Cocteau Twins LP: ten tracks, most around the four-minute mark, that do all teh nectarine/breeze/Frank Stubbs stuff, glad to be of service, see you in 1997. Same time, same pace. It’s beautiful, of course, but aren’t they always? Isn’t that like saying Peter Greenaway’s new film is sumptuous?

What rescues it from unremarkability is the revelatory nature of the words. Yep, words. It’ still a long way from Emily Dickinson but in among Liz’s marshmallow onomatopoeia, full, evocative sentences arise. Small mercies. ‘Bluebeard’ has its unsettling “Are you the right man for me / Or are you toxic for me?” inquiry, and ‘Squeeze Wax’ clearly calls out lovingly and protectively to Lucy (Liz and Robin’s daughter). The text goes on: “Amaze me … no fantasy … I’m happy you’re growing up … There is no going back”. Ironically, as the Cocteaus’ music becomes more hermetically sealed, Liz turns her feelings into a peep-show. It’s a fascinating new twist to what might’ve become a rather dull pardoner’s tale.

However, this record knows exactly what it’s doing, and how much it’s giving away; it has not dirtied its hands with experimentation or daring. If you listen carefully, you can hear the sound of treading water. And it’s a lovely sound. (3 Stars) ▣

Twin machine