Cocteau Twins : Classic or Dud

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Slocki I think the issue here is that Cocteau Twins albums all express different relational arrangements of their qualities, such that there's not really an obvious answer to "which is the second album I need". This is especially because Heaven or Las Vegas isn't at the far end of their sound's continuum, but is somewhere close to the middle. So it's like you're in a choose your own adventure and you can go down one of several different doors based on your preferences.

I'd ask: what is it that you like most about Heaven or Las Vegas?

- if it's the sharpness and drama of the tunes, try Treasure

- if it's the sensuosness of the atmospherics and vocals, try Victorialand

- if it's the lushly produced thickness of the sound, try Milk & Kisses

- if it's the concise energy of the songwriting, try Head Over Heels

I probably wouldn't recommend Blue Bell Knoll or Four Calendar Cafe as your next choice in part because I think they're slightly lesser albums and in part because they're close enough stylistically and chronologically to Heaven or Las Vegas (in very different ways to one another though) that what is loveable in them is a slant on things that are loveable in that album.

Tim F, Tuesday, 27 March 2012 21:57 (2 years ago) Permalink

No. No. No. The best Cocteau Twins 'album' is Tiny Dynamine/Echoes In A Shallow Bay, two Eps released in quick succession during the fall of 1985. Just perfect from beginning to end.

Life Is Most Assuredly NOT a Long Song (Dr. Joseph A. Ofalt), Tuesday, 27 March 2012 22:04 (2 years ago) Permalink

I would actually put Tiny Dynamine/Echoes In A Shallow Bay in a slightly different category in that (a) it's at the absolute center of the band's aesthetic, and (b) perhaps for this reason its greatness is much more evident once you've absorbed and internalised that aesthetic.

Whereas with most of the albums what makes them interesting is how they push into the spotlight a different facet of the group's sound.

Tim F, Tuesday, 27 March 2012 22:07 (2 years ago) Permalink

Four Calendar Cafe is underrated, but its merits cannot be justly appreciated without the attendant b-sides, particularly Summer-blink. I completely love Liz Frazer's 'affirmation' lyrics, I never get tired of hearing her sing 'I accept myself as I really am' and 'I'm doing a fine job.' Especially after viewing some of the psychologically disturbed interviews (see Youtube, you'll find them) of her with Robin Guthrie prior to this period. It's no wonder they can't reform, ever, at any price!

Life Is Most Assuredly NOT a Long Song (Dr. Joseph A. Ofalt), Tuesday, 27 March 2012 22:11 (2 years ago) Permalink

xpost Tim F: you are completely correct!

Life Is Most Assuredly NOT a Long Song (Dr. Joseph A. Ofalt), Tuesday, 27 March 2012 22:12 (2 years ago) Permalink

I completely love Liz Frazer's 'affirmation' lyrics, I never get tired of hearing her sing 'I accept myself as I really am' and 'I'm doing a fine job.'

For real. I like to pair it with something from Garlands for extra emphasis.

Calvin Coolranch (Deric W. Haircare), Tuesday, 27 March 2012 22:14 (2 years ago) Permalink

i really do love how everybody has a different answer and that the catalog is so much bigger than i had assumed!

great post tim.

i would say what really enchanted me about heaven or las vegas was the way the band combined that gorgeous gauzy ethereality with a driving, pulse-racing intensity

the way songs like "pitch the baby" build to a sort of euphoric climax... does that make sense?

A Little Princess btw (s1ocki), Wednesday, 28 March 2012 15:27 (2 years ago) Permalink

Yes -- see "The Spangle Maker" (1984) or "Seekers Who Are Lovers" (1996). They did that sort of thing quite well.

Naive Teen Idol, Wednesday, 28 March 2012 19:44 (2 years ago) Permalink

since this got buried beneath the fold from two years ago, let me recommend this local TV news feature about a CT show in Ohio, circa 1985:

Flat Of NAGLs (sleeve), Wednesday, 28 March 2012 19:57 (2 years ago) Permalink

Yes, that was brilliant!

โตเกียวเหมียวเหมียว aka Colored on TV! (Mount Cleaners), Wednesday, 28 March 2012 20:00 (2 years ago) Permalink

"consistently one of britain's number one bands"

Valéry Giscard d'Staind (NickB), Wednesday, 28 March 2012 20:42 (2 years ago) Permalink

I love that clip.

Also, what everyone else said. I don't care if it's contradictory, just get everything, thank me later.

Ned Raggett, Wednesday, 28 March 2012 20:43 (2 years ago) Permalink

worth it for the ethereal indie-goth look combined with a moustache - think this is quite a rare sighting?

Valéry Giscard d'Staind (NickB), Wednesday, 28 March 2012 20:48 (2 years ago) Permalink

i'd go for garlands and four-calendar café. as they are different. their first album garlands is a post-punk album with some synthesizer experiments where they are still quite rough and have not yet found their final sound. four-calendar café has tunes which are as strong as those from heaven or las vegas but here they sing intelligible lyrics. btw there are many albums by them which did not age well i find.

alex in mainhattan, Wednesday, 28 March 2012 20:49 (2 years ago) Permalink

Can't believe the Otherness ep has not been mentioned yet. Wish there was a whole albums worth of Seefeel remixing Cocteau Twins.

neutral sequence for flute (blank), Wednesday, 28 March 2012 20:52 (2 years ago) Permalink

otherness didn't live up to expectations, for me. just kind of sits there and bores me.

akm, Wednesday, 28 March 2012 21:44 (2 years ago) Permalink

So many EPs I've never heard of...

A Little Princess btw (s1ocki), Wednesday, 28 March 2012 21:49 (2 years ago) Permalink

the way songs build to a sort of euphoric climax... does that make sense?

My friend and I used to call this the Cocteau structure. It's very minimalist and repetitive for most of the song and then BAM it explodes into fireworks and confetti and sometimes swooshes of caramel and cotton candy.
They've used that specific structure throughout their career, the fisrt one was "The Spangle Maker" I think.
There's also "Donimo", "Feet-Like Fins", "Great Spangled Fritillary", "Sigh's Smell of Farewell", "Ooze Out and Away, Onehow", "Frou-Frou Foxes in Midsummer Fires", "Pur", and "Treasure Hiding".

LeRooLeRoo, Wednesday, 28 March 2012 22:43 (2 years ago) Permalink

Can't believe the Otherness ep has not been mentioned yet.

I like it a lot, but I guess on a slightly different wavelength than the one on which I enjoy most of their other stuff.

So many EPs I've never heard of...

No sweat, s1ocki. I do believe the entirety of their EP and single discography is covered by their two singles collections.

Calvin Coolranch (Deric W. Haircare), Wednesday, 28 March 2012 23:00 (2 years ago) Permalink

My friend and I used to call this the Cocteau structure.

As utilized by the Sundays to wonderful effect in "Joy", imo.

Calvin Coolranch (Deric W. Haircare), Wednesday, 28 March 2012 23:01 (2 years ago) Permalink

this was really the first band that totally enchanted me. I heard Wax And Wane on the radio and started tracking down the records, the Sunburst & Snowblind EP had just come out. then I found Head Over Heels and was hooked, when Treasure came out I was gushing to any of my friends who would listen. I remember Tesco Vee listed it as one of his favorite 1985 records in a MRR issue, alongside Swans' Cop.

the covers and general anonymity were a big part of the mystique back then, you really couldn't find out much about them and it was like... I still don't know how the hell 23 Envelope did some of those sleeves, like alien art.

Flat Of NAGLs (sleeve), Wednesday, 28 March 2012 23:51 (2 years ago) Permalink

I'd never recomment M&K as a starting point, it is really a bit to bland. You need to be hit over the HEAD with their stuff. Head over Heels or Treasure and Pink Opaque are what I'd go for.

Any of the compilations y'cant go wrong to be honest. Maybe try "Stars and Topsoil" for an overview.

zooey bechamel (Trayce), Thursday, 29 March 2012 00:17 (2 years ago) Permalink

But, I started off with Garlands after Pink Opaque, and i'mn one of those rarer "prefer Garlands/Lullabies/Pepperment Pig" people.

zooey bechamel (Trayce), Thursday, 29 March 2012 00:18 (2 years ago) Permalink

Co-sign, love the dark early stuff as much as the woozy later material.

Gerald McBoing-Boing, Thursday, 29 March 2012 02:22 (2 years ago) Permalink

the way songs build to a sort of euphoric climax... does that make sense?
― A Little Princess btw (s1ocki), Wednesday, March 28, 2012 10:27 AM

My friend and I used to call this the Cocteau structure. It's very minimalist and repetitive for most of the song and then BAM it explodes into fireworks and confetti and sometimes swooshes of caramel and cotton candy.
― LeRooLeRoo, Wednesday, March 28, 2012 5:43 PM

I feel a thread coming on...

Hideous Lump, Thursday, 29 March 2012 02:50 (2 years ago) Permalink

the kid arrested for his hair went on to drum for majesty crush.

keythhtyek, Thursday, 29 March 2012 02:54 (2 years ago) Permalink

4 months pass...

Jesus, Liz's show is tomorrow and she hasn't cancelled yet. Trying not to jinx it, but it looks like this is actually going to happen. Haven't seen her perform in 20 years maybe and can't wait?

passive-aggressive display name (aldo), Friday, 3 August 2012 20:54 (2 years ago) Permalink

a few Cocteaus tracks are promised aren't they? so.. an Ivo here maybe or a Heaven Or Las Vegas there. it'll be very exciting either way!

piscesx, Saturday, 4 August 2012 00:58 (2 years ago) Permalink

OK, I know of one ILXor going to the RFH and have told him not to read here. I'm not prepared to spoiler it for others if some of you are going so shout up or I will review tomorrow afternoon.

passive-aggressive display name (aldo), Saturday, 4 August 2012 22:17 (2 years ago) Permalink

just put SPOILER ALERT and skip a bunch of lines....must know how it was!!

Iago Galdston, Saturday, 4 August 2012 22:53 (2 years ago) Permalink

Ok, will post a summary of my thoughts at about 1300 GMT tomorrow unless someone expressly asks me not to.

passive-aggressive display name (aldo), Saturday, 4 August 2012 23:44 (2 years ago) Permalink

fwiw a couple of robin guthrie's collaborations w/harold budd are now available on limited edition vinyl, i picked this one up a couple days back:

omar little, Saturday, 4 August 2012 23:46 (2 years ago) Permalink

This thread just reminded me of the exhilarating climax of "The Spangle Maker." Shocks me every single time.

Turangalila, Sunday, 5 August 2012 06:35 (2 years ago) Permalink

SPOILER ALERT

SPOLIER ALERT

Oomingamk!

piscesx, Sunday, 5 August 2012 10:42 (2 years ago) Permalink

OH CHRIST I WANT VIDEO FOR THIS SET PLEASE SOMEONE HELP ME

Pureed Moods (Trayce), Sunday, 5 August 2012 11:18 (2 years ago) Permalink

Like I seriously cosidered a UK trip for this but I didnt trust Liz with her withdrawing from things, and who am i kidding I couldnt have afforded a UK trip anyway, but I want to know how this went!

Pureed Moods (Trayce), Sunday, 5 August 2012 11:19 (2 years ago) Permalink

btw is that setlist for real? Its horribly mispelt :/

Pureed Moods (Trayce), Sunday, 5 August 2012 11:33 (2 years ago) Permalink

searching her name on Twitter confirms the encore repeatedly

daaaaaamn

steven fucking tyler (underrated aerosmith bootlegs I have owned), Sunday, 5 August 2012 11:50 (2 years ago) Permalink

SPOILER ALERT

REALLY, I'M GOING TO TALK ABOUT THIS GIG

LOOK AWAY IF YOU'RE GOING TO THE RFH

It wasn't very good. In fact, it was one of the most disappointing shows I've ever been at.

I've tried to think overnight about the reasons why, and there are a great many. Firstly, this feels more like a reunion show than any other I've been to - and over the past few years I've done lots; Pixies, MBV, Go4, YMG, Stooges, MC5, Flipper, Sleep, Jesus Lizard, Scratch Acid. But it has none of the energy and joy of those, there's an overwhelming sense of going through the motions. The audience doesn't help, as it mainly comprises late 40s/50somethings that look like the closest they've got to live music since the days of their youth was watching Alan Metcalfe down the wine bar doing Mary Hopkin numbers. Liz herself seems to be joining in, wearing a silver sparkly puffball skirt that clearly hasn't been out of her wardrobe since Charles and Di were still married and her keyboard player - a dead ringer for Jed Hoyle that used to dance for Howard Jones - seems to be wearing a leftover black clown costume from Bowie's Ashes To Ashes video.

Those things are trivial though. The real issues are on stage. The simple truth is that Liz's voice isn't what it was, in any way, shape or form. She's talked in recent interviews about singing quietly now and that she can't do the 'shouting over a wall of noise' any more, but the reality is that it robs her of so very much that made her so special and her range seems massively reduced too. She used to soar like a bird, with huge swooping strokes, whereas now she hops around, curiously one-note, like one of those birds of paradise that are just about their plumage. Still identifiably a bird, yes, but one to look at more than anything else. She's so quiet that she is frequently overwhelmed by the other musicians and, more tellingly, by her backing singers - one of whom is a much better singer than she is. It's also far too quiet overall for me. The guitarist, shorn of Robin's effects board and his volume, is just another bloke playing Byrdsian jangly chords on a solid body Rickenbacker. The keyboards sound like standard 80s wipes. The bass is mixed weirdly, so that the very bottom end booms (even though it is rarely used) with the mid-range muddy and is somewhat indistinct in the overall mix.

Those are fixable, possibly, with better sound at the RFH and a sound system which bands can use rather than one more used to covers bands at the beer festival. The new arrangements of the songs, even if purely so Liz can still sing them, can't be fixed between now and the RFH. Donimo makes me want to cry, and not in a good way. I can't even bring myself to politely clap at the end of it. Everything has been retooled and reworked, in nearly every case taking the dynamism and emotion out. Pearly Dew Drops Drops is being sung by a housewife at the kitchen sink, mumbling under her breath as she washes up. The glorious shout of joy delivered before the drum break and the end is reduced to a "woo-oo-oo". Song To The Siren features about half the tune of any of the previous versions, and unable to do THAT penultimate line the song just peters out with the the final "waiting to hold you" delivered at a rush as part of the curtailed previous line.

The new stuff is of quite a nice Lynch soundtrack feel, but overall the sound which is delivered is almost cafe jazz or World Stage Glastonbury. In fact the whole experience is like if Peter Gabriel hadn't played since leaving Genesis and then came back with the Secret World. It's just so bloody NICE - no, inoffensive. You could imagine the cd being sold on 'other people who bought also bought' Amazon recommendations alongside Take That and Elton John. You could easily imagine it being played as muzak in The Body Shop.

The thing that hurts me the most is, as I've said before, Liz lives on my street which possibly makes this just a personal observation. I see her in the supermarket, the butchers, whatever all the time. I fully expected last night to see her on stage and go FUCKING HELL THAT'S LIZ FRASER OUT OF THE COCTEAU TWINS. Instead she's made LIZ FRASER OUT OF THE COCTEAU TWINS into that woman in the supermarket. Turned the spectacular into the mundane. The anti-Midas touch. That's why I wanted to cry yesterday.

passive-aggressive display name (aldo), Sunday, 5 August 2012 12:26 (2 years ago) Permalink

wow. thanks for that, even if totally depressing.

Iago Galdston, Sunday, 5 August 2012 12:29 (2 years ago) Permalink

Oh. Wow. :/

Pureed Moods (Trayce), Sunday, 5 August 2012 12:32 (2 years ago) Permalink

The idea especially of her having fucking *backing singers* makes me ill.

Pureed Moods (Trayce), Sunday, 5 August 2012 12:34 (2 years ago) Permalink

tbh I had this feeling about "milk and kisses" (tho Ive warmed on it more since knowig about the whole Buckley angle) but yeah. Bergh.

Pureed Moods (Trayce), Sunday, 5 August 2012 12:40 (2 years ago) Permalink

Maybe I'm being too harsh but the run from Head Over Heels to Love's Easy Tears meant so much it me it was hard not to personalise it. Maybe the RFH sound will fix some of the problems. Maybe I expected too much. Maybe I wanted it to sound like it did then and just wasn't prepared to take this show at face value.

But blasting The Pink Opaque right now I don't think so.

passive-aggressive display name (aldo), Sunday, 5 August 2012 13:01 (2 years ago) Permalink

Wow, it really sucks to hear all that about the concert, but thanks a lot for the review.

NoTimeBeforeTime, Sunday, 5 August 2012 13:38 (2 years ago) Permalink

i feared something like this. holy shit though..

piscesx, Sunday, 5 August 2012 14:09 (2 years ago) Permalink

there's a very different take on last night over at Dr0wned 1n S0und...

piscesx, Sunday, 5 August 2012 14:11 (2 years ago) Permalink

I'll give him that, the very top of her register is still lovely but she only really used it on the new songs. Where she used it on Cocteaus material the backing singers were doing the bulk of the work.

passive-aggressive display name (aldo), Sunday, 5 August 2012 14:23 (2 years ago) Permalink

This is all reminding me of nothing so much as the Four Calendar Cafe tour, Liz on stage but hidden in the arrangements and barely engaging with the songs.

Ned Raggett, Sunday, 5 August 2012 14:27 (2 years ago) Permalink

I just played Donimo to Frances (who is not all that when it comes to the 'non-famous' Cocteaus songs) and she swears blind it bears no resemblance to anything that went on last night. She didn't even recognise the vocal line, or the bits of it Liz kept.

passive-aggressive display name (aldo), Sunday, 5 August 2012 15:34 (2 years ago) Permalink


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