AN IMAGINARY COMPILATION ALBUM : #195 : COCTEAU TWINS

A DEBUT GUEST POSTING by SHA (aka Swedish Herring Accident)

Wandering round the recent exhibition Rip It Up: The Story of Scottish Pop at the National Museum of Scotland, it hurt my very soul that Cocteau Twins barely got a mention. Maybe they’re not pop, I said to myself. But now I see that we’ve reached almost 200 ICAs and not got around to addressing Cocteau Twins, I’m thinking something’s amiss. Maybe no-one’s brave or naive enough to have a crack at it – that’s a real possibility. It is, after all, a daunting body of work to reduce to a single album. But then, maybe it’s better to have a half-baked attempt than none at all. I’m definitely capable of that.

So here’s my offering. I’ve steered away from some of the more dissonant early stuff – not because it isn’t great, but because I wanted to create an album with a single sound, rather than a variety pack compilation. An album that captures the unmistakable mellifluous Cocteau Twins sensation that hovers between fluffy and deeply meaningful. Or caterwauling nonsense as my wife would put it. (JC adds….as would my wife!)

You’ll no doubt disagree with my choices – I disagree with them myself. I’ve murdered my darlings and made some unspeakably cruel omissions. I’ve also not shied away from popular/ obvious stuff just to prove that I’ve got Peppermint Pig or Moon And The Melodies. That said, this is no Best Of. Oh shut up now; just let the music flow over you.

Side 1.

Lazy Calm (from Victorialand).

An amazing and daring way to start an album, especially one as short as Victorialand. For a long time, I wasn’t certain that this wasn’t two tracks. The first half of this would form a perfect introduction to any other Cocteau Twins song. There was always a moment of tension between getting hold of a new Cocteau Twins album and playing it for the first time. “Have they lost it?” “Will it still be wonderful?” I should have never worried – within the first few moments of every Cocteau Twins album Liz’s voice would wash over me with a soothing wave of relief. None more so than this from 1985.

Love’s Easy Tears (from Love’s Easy Tears ep).

Got this from Probe in Liverpool the day it came out. I played it all evening until the others in my hall of residence asked me to stop. I thought I was the only person in the world who Liz and Robin could commune with. Then I read an interview in which Liz said this ep was some kind of tribute to 60s singers like Sandie Shaw and Dusty. That hadn’t occurred to me – not what I thought we were communing at all!

Carolyn’s Fingers (from Bluebell Knoll).

After Treasure, the wait for another album seemed interminable. Robin constantly claimed that each new offering wasn’t the real thing. Victorialand wasn’t a real album because it was just him and Liz messing around; Echoes in a Shallow Bay/ Tiny Dynamine wasn’t a real album because it was just some out-takes they’d polished up; Moon and the Melodies wasn’t a real album because it was a side project with Harold Budd. After all this methadone, when were we going to get a proper dose of the good stuff? And boy, when it arrived, Bluebell Knoll was the good stuff. And what’s this? Thank The Lord! A drummer! Carolyn’s Fingers is like a hug across the void.

In Our Angelhood (from Head Over Heels).

Head Over Heels is amazingly energetic – very little clue of the languid silkiness to come. Back when Cocteau Twins were still deciding who they wanted to be, bursting with creative spark, they put out songs like this with confidence and style.

Lorelei (from Treasure).

This is around the time the music press stopped trying to bracket Cocteau Twins – no more Siouxsie or Kate Bush analogies. They had found a voice and a sound of their own. Simon’s turned up with his safe hands on the rhythm section and his “Hyeah – I’m the bassist now” flourishes. For a while, this was head and shoulders the most exciting song I had ever heard. I thought it would need a whole Barnum and Bailey’s circus of performers to do it any justice on stage and at least three separate singers (I’m thinking twin sylph-like angels for the verse and a prowling vixen for the chorus). I still like to think that Cirque du Soleil should one day come to their senses and do a Cocteau Twins show. And when they do, this will be the opener.

Intermission

Fruitopia Commercial 1. They did an advert! It was two TV spots for Fruitopia, the Coca-Cola Company’s short-lived attempt to compete with the likes of Oasis and Snapple. I like to think that Robin finds discarded snippets like this in the bottom of his sock drawer and sells them off to passing art directors in 30-second stings.

Side 2

Bluebeard (from Four-Calendar Café).

In 1993 I was fed up with all the music in my collection and was listening to the radio in search of something new to get into. The moment I heard the gleaming guitar riff on this intro, I thought “That’s the one for me, I’ll go straight out and buy this.” By the time Liz’s vocals started, it was clear that everything I knew was true and that the world was spinning smoothly on its axis. Robin once said he couldn’t stand those Pink Floydy guitarists who can play all six strings at once; I think he manages at least three on this.

Sultitan Itan (from Tiny Dynamine).

Everything I read about Liz Fraser made her seem less real. Her favourite drink was Babycham and brandy. She cooked strawberries. Both of these were disgusting and expensive.

Heaven Or Las Vegas (from Heaven Or Las Vegas).

I chose nine out ten of these tracks without worrying about what anyone else was going to think. And then I had two problems – we need something from Heaven Or Las Vegas and we need one of those epic Side Two Showstoppers to propel us onwards.

Pur (from Four-Calendar Café).

In the natural order of Cocteau Twins albums, this is the where there’s a slow nebulous calm before the epic ending storm. With Pur, it’s fragile vulnerability erupting into velvet self-confidence. Sometimes, it pays not to listen to the words, just the voice. You risk getting a glimpse like this (and Bluebeard earlier) into an unhappy and crumbling relationship.

A Kissed-Out Red Floatboat (from Bluebell Knoll).

And this is how I want to die – this song is a Chinese lantern in the sunset. Let these exquisite twinkling harmonies, these shimmering tones lift you away into the ether like dandelion clocks in the breeze. Or caterwauling nonsense – you choose.

—oOo—

Mix and Match Bonus Session: These are the other songs I considered for track three on side two before chickening out and choosing Heaven Or Las Vegas:

(i) The Spangle Maker (from Pearly Dewdrops ep) – in the end this track is too big to be an album track. Leave it where it is with a whole side to itself;

(ii) Summerhead (from Four Calendar Café) – did they come full circle? This would have fitted on any Cocteau Twins album from Head Over heels onwards.

(iii) Squeeze-Wax (from Four-Calendar Café) – late period willowy breeziness at its very best.

Simply switch out one of these, according to taste. Other Sonic Cathedrals are available.

SHA

10 thoughts on “AN IMAGINARY COMPILATION ALBUM : #195 : COCTEAU TWINS

  1. Pretty daunting task, but I’d have to include Pearly Dewdrops, From The Flagstones, Donimo, Millimillenary . . .

  2. I’ve just checked and my version of this ICA would only have one the same (including the alternatives) of this fine selection. This I think proves just how damn good the Cocteau Twins actually were.

  3. It’s hard to imagine a Cocteau Twins compilation without Pearly Dewdrops’ Drops, but perhaps that’s what I should do. Some songs I’ve heard of thousands of times and don’t want to hear again, although this is an exception. However, listening to a snatch of the rest of their catalogue is something I welcome, and should do for myself more often. Thank you for your choices.

  4. I guess any attempt would be both great, and containing at least 7 “wrong” tracks – their legacy is way beyond any single ICA. Anyway, great work SHA!

  5. This is really interesting, especially the early songs. Cocteau Twins were expensive imports in the US–we had to make do with a compilation called ‘The Pink Opaque’ to hear songs from the early EP’s. Lost track of the band so I’m looking forward to giving this ICA a good listen. Nice work, SHA.

  6. I agree and disagree with your choices.

    I agree for the simple reason that the Cocteau Twins never put a foot wrong (in my opinion) and any compilation could only be majestic.
    I disgaree because of the subjective nature of music. We’re all entitled to our favourites, right? *bun fight ensues*

    I was very surprised to read that an ICA had not be completed thus far. So much so I was all but convinced that it had and that I had actually read it. Thank you for taking the time to correct what is a glaring ICA omission with such a well thought through track list and theme. It works!

    The words of the Cocteau’s meant nothing to me. It was that voice, those vocal sounds merged with the music that did, and still does, take me to another place. I am a firm believer that my life is all the better for having had the Cocteau’s in it.

    Love’s Easy Tears being a case in point. Oh, what tears it brought. Whether accurate or not I recall it being very cold when this was released and listening to it on my Walman as I walked the beloved dog. Tears streaming down my face, either because of the bitter (possibly imagined) cold, or the sheer beauty of this monumental song. A wonderful moment in time. There have been many more wonderful moments directly associated with the Cocteau Twins.

    I think the gauntlet has been thrown down? Perhaps an noisier era Cocteau Twins will be explored? Maybe Hazel will get the outing it so rightly deserves?

    What an ICA this is.

  7. Much like some of the previous correspondents, I might swap a song or two here or there today, but tomorrow our selections could easily be identical – such is the band’s strength in depth. ‘Carolyn’s Fingers’ is an absolute must though – their finest three minutes in my humble opinion.
    A marvellously enjoyable ICA SHA, please don’t let it be your last.

  8. This is a great attempt at a very difficult ICA so thank you very much for having a go. I especially enjoyed this ‘That hadn’t occurred to me – not what I thought we were communing at all!’

  9. All credit due to you SHA. You took on a daunting task, not least of all because of the daunting depth of music to choose from.
    What keeps me from attempting compiling a CT ICA has always been just how difficult I find it to discuss the many different sounds of the band and then express how I feel about them. Cocteau Twins were the definition of complex and discussing them is the same…
    Having said that, thank you for Carolyn’s Fingers, Lorelei, and Heaven Or Las Vegas. Any of those three could start off my ICA.

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