Science Fair Project Encyclopedia
Cocteau Twins were an influential and prolific British band formed in 1980, their music becoming nearly synonymous with their record label 4AD. Their trademark sound of layered, ethereal guitar and indecipherable vocals inspired the 1990s shoegazing genre, which included numerous bands such as Lush, Slowdive, Pale Saints, and My Bloody Valentine.
The band was formed in 1980 by Robin Guthrie (guitar) and Will Heggie (bass), both from Grangemouth, Scotland. At a local hotel disco club, Nash, they met Elizabeth Fraser, who eventually provided (vocals). The band's influences at the time included The Birthday Party, Sex Pistols and Siouxsie & the Banshees. The name Cocteau Twins itself comes from an early (unreleased) song by Simple Minds. Their debut recording, Garlands, was released by 4AD in 1982, and was an instant success, as was the subsequent Lullabies EP.
Will Heggie left the group after the tour that followed the 1983 release of the band's second EP, Peppermint Pig. Since the band's sound on its first three recordings relied heavily on Heggie's rhythmic basslines, Guthrie's minimalistic guitar and Fraser's voice, Cocteau Twins' next full-length LP, Head Over Heels, had to rely solely on the latter two. This led to establishing the Cocteau Twins' signature sound: heavily effected guitars combined with Fraser's ethereal voice. Despite being very different from its predecessor, Head Over Heels was well-received by both press and fans.
In 1983, the band participated in 4AD's This Mortal Coil project (this spawned a cover-version of Tim Buckley's Song to the Siren performed by Guthrie and Fraser, which became a major hit), and during their work for that, they got to know Simon Raymonde (formerly a member of Drowning Craze ), who joined the group later that year as a bass player.
With Simon, the band released a series of critically acclaimed albums and EPs, exploring their new style. These included The Spangle Maker (1984), Treasure (1984), Aikea-Guinea (1985), Tiny Dynamine and Echoes in a Shallow Bay (1985) and Love's Easy Tears (1986). Raymonde, who was collaborating on the second This Mortal Coil LP, did not participate in the recording of the fourth Cocteau Twins LP, Victorialand (1986), a predominantly acoustic record which featured only Guthrie and Fraser. He returned to the group for The Moon and The Melodies (1986), which was a collaboration with Harold Budd, and was not released under the Cocteau Twins name.
In 1985, with a major-label release still years away, 4AD signed an agreement with Relativity Records for distribution of Cocteau Twins in the US and elsewhere. To commemorate the event, the compilation The Pink Opaque (1985) was released as a way of introducing the new, broader audience to the band's back-catalog.
While remaining a 4AD band internationally, Cocteau Twins finally signed a major-label contract with Capitol Records in 1988 for distribution in the US, and released their fifth proper LP, Blue Bell Knoll, in October of that year.
The style the group began exploring with Head Over Heels reached its peak on Heaven or Las Vegas, released in late 1990. The most commercially successful of their many recordings, the album rose to the top of the charts immediately after its release. However, despite the success of the record and the tours, not everything was well with the band. They parted ways with 4AD following Heaven or Las Vegas, partially because of conflicts with its founder Ivo Watts-Russell, and were close to breaking up over internal problems, due in large part to Guthrie's addiction to drugs including alcohol.
While on their international tour supporting Heaven or Las Vegas, the group signed a new recording contract with Fontana in the UK and elsewhere, while retaining their ongoing US relationship with Capitol. 4AD and Capitol released a Box Set in 1991 that compiled the band's EPs from 1982 to 1987, including a bonus disc of rare and/or previously unreleased material.
The band's seventh LP, Four-Calendar Café, was released in the fall of 1993. It was a departure from the heavily-processed, complex and layered sounds of Blue Bell Knoll and Heaven or Las Vegas, featuring crystal-clear, minimalistic arrangements. This, along with audibly comprehensible lyrics--something previously elusive, as Fraser tended to sing in a style that masked or otherwise obscured her lyrics--led to mixed reviews: some critics would accuse the group of selling out and producing an 'accessible album,' while others would praise the new direction as a worthy successor to Heaven or Las Vegas.
The band themselves explained that Four-Calendar Café was simply a response to the turmoil that had engulfed them in the intervening years, with Guthrie entering rehab and quitting alcohol and drugs, and Fraser herself undergoing therapy (the two had been in a long-term relationship, and by this time had a young daughter, Lucy-Belle, born in 1989).
Mid-90s and the breakup
1995 saw the release of two new EPs: Twinlights and Otherness. The former consisted of four gentle acoustic songs, recorded with only piano, acoustic guitar and voice; Otherness, by contrast, was a collaboration with Seefeel 's Mark Clifford , and featured four electronic remixes of Cocteau Twins' songs. Both EPs were labeled 'experimental' by the press, since they were very different from the EPs the band released in the past.
As it turned out, some of the tracks on both Twinlights and Otherness were versions of songs from the band's eighth album, Milk and Kisses. The record, which some hailed as a "return to form," with heavily layered guitars and voice (Fraser began once again to obscure her lyrics, though not entirely), was released in 1996 to somewhat mixed reviews. There were two singles for it, Tishbite and Violaine (both exist in two versions, with different b-sides included on each). The band, augmented by an extra guitarist and a drummer, toured extensively to support the album--their last with Mercury--and in live performances seemed to have found a cohesive freshness and power that had been lacking on their previous outing in 1993/94. A new song, "Touch Upon Touch," which debuted during the live shows and was recorded later in 1996, was the last Cocteau Twins song ever released.
In 1997, while recording what was to have been their ninth and final LP, the trio suddenly disbanded over irreconcilable differences (mostly related to the break-up of Guthrie and Fraser). While a number of songs were partially recorded and possibly completed, the band has stated that it will likely never be finished or released in any form.
Fans of the group weren't however, left entirely empty-handed. In 1999, Bella Union released a double-CD compilation entitled BBC Sessions. The collection is a complete record of the band's appearances on UK radio programs from 1983 to 1996, with some rare and/or unreleased material included. In 2000, 4AD released Stars and Topsoil, a compilation of selected songs--hand-picked by the band members--released during their years with 4AD, all digitally remastered by Robin Guthrie. Finally, in 2003, 4AD followed Stars and Topsoil with re-releases of digitally remastered versions of the first six Cocteau Twins LPs.
The former members of Cocteau Twins have remained active musically in the years since the band's demise. Guthrie and Raymonde formed the record label Bella Union , and have produced releases from new bands signed to that label. Raymonde has released the solo album Blame Someone Else. Guthrie released his first solo effort Imperial and continues to create music with his band Violet Indiana .
Elizabeth Fraser provided vocals for two songs on Massive Attack's Mezzanine in 1998, the soundtrack to the film adaptation of The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring (and the second installment: The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers), as well as for other, less known projects and groups, and is rumoured to be working on a solo album.
On January 31 2005 Cocteau Twins announced that they would be reforming to perform at the Coachella Festival on April 30, 2005, and later indicated that additional tour dates through the fall would be added. On March 16th, however, the reunion was cancelled, with Fraser pulling out for "personal reasons."
- www.cocteautwins.com the official Cocteau Twins website
- www.cocteautwins.org, a fan website
- The Cocteau Twins Forums
- Cocteau Twins at the Eyesore Database
- »An appreciation of the Cocteau Twins« fan site with complete song list and reviews of nearly all songs
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