I’m currently ploughing my way through a really enjoyable book entitled Facing the Other Way, written by Martin Aston. It’s a really well-written account of the birth and growth of the highly respected and critically acclaimed indie label 4AD and already, about halfway through, I’ve learned a great deal about the music and the people involved in all aspects of the organisation.
I’ll get round to penning a full review in due course but for now would like to offer a few words on what I consider to be my favourite ever album to come out on 4AD.
The thing is, I’ve never really gotten into Cocteau Twins to any great depth and consider myself to be more of an admirer than a fan – and even then, if I listen to anything beyond about an hour’s worth of their music I get bored. Aside that is from Head Over Heels which I can listen to back-to-back quite happily.
This record forms a large part of the soundtrack to my carefree student days, particularly my first year living away from home. There were three of us who shared a flat and all of us, if truth be told, were music snobs. One of my flatmates was a huge fan of Cocteau Twins from the outset and tried hard to convince everyone of their merits. It wasn’t that I didn’t like them, but I didn’t quite get it. By late 1983 there had been one album and 2 EPs, all having the occasional track worth listening to but only in small doses. It certainly wasn’t music for going out to or for putting on if you wanted to continue the party. It was all a bit gloomy which was reinforced by my seeing them at Night Moves in Glasgow at a gig early on their career as support to The Fall.
At first listen, Head Over Heels didn’t seem too radical a departure. But on second and third listens, I began to hear things a wee bit differently – in particular the astonishing effects that Robin Guthrie had added to his guitar work. It was an album where a drum machine rather than a real sticksman seemed like a stroke of genius.
Before too long, this became my ‘go-to’ record when I just wanted to wind down after a hard night’s dancing and drinking. Maybe subconsciously I wanted its dream-like nature to settle me down quickly and peacefully within the land of nod…..that and the fact that a girl I was nuts about loved the record and it was a way of getting to talk to her without feeling too much of a dick.
Nothing came of my efforts to get to know said girl any better but I’m happy to say that didn’t lessen my fondness for this record. But having been drawn-in by the guitars, I was soon a convert to the vocals of Elizabeth Fraser. This is singing like nothing else on planet indie-pop. It’s just, for the most part, a series of noises and sounds and not actual words but they are the perfect match for the instrumentation. And in LP closer Musette and Drums you will find something that I consider truly special and up there among my favourite pieces of music of all time.
The thing is, Mrs Villain has never taken to Cocteau Twins – indeed it would be accurate to state that she hasn’t ever liked anything which features Ms Fraser on vocals – and so it’s a record that I had rarely played since 1990 when we first moved in together. But a few years back, just as I was approaching the age of 50, I began to compile a list of my favourite 50 LPs of all time and having included Head Over Heels on the long list I took it out of its sleeve for a spin and re-discovered it again, delighted that it remained every bit as special as I had remembered. I’ve never owned the LP on CD so the songs to accompany today’s words are from the 32-year old vinyl, scratches, jumps, bumps, hisses and all.
mp3 : Cocteau Twins – When Mama Was Moth
mp3 : Cocteau Twins – Five Ten Fiftyfold
mp3 : Cocteau Twins – Sugar Hiccup
mp3 : Cocteau Twins – The Tinderbox (of a Heart)
mp3 : Cocteau Twins – Musette and Drums