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The Incredible Majesty of Cocteau Twins

If I were befallen of the nefarious activities of a witch or sorcerer who cursed me so that the above song were played constantly on a loop in my head for the rest of my life, I don’t think I would mind. It may even be a blessing. Oh to hear the sound of Elizabeth Fraser’s voice all day, to hear those guitars and bass lines and those most 80s of 80s drum sounds. It is perfection.

I have admired the Cocteau Twins for some time now. I remember the first time I heard Lorelei from their 1984 record Treasure, and it was a rather stunning revelation. I think anyone who hears Elizabeth Fraser’s voice or the reverb saturated production on that record for the first time must be somewhat intrigued by it. It was around this time that I also heard Fraser and fellow Twin Robyn Guthrie (who were a couple for most of the band’s tenure) perform Tim Buckley’s immortal Song to the Siren under the This Mortal Coil moniker. This version not only betters the original but is perhaps one of the greatest covers of all time. Fraser’s performance is ethereal and otherworldly, a thing of concurrent power and beauty.

Well aware of the fact that the Cocteau’s were clearly a fantastic band, I never delved very deep into their catalogue. Treasure received a reasonable workout around the time that I discovered it and I listened to Head Over Heals a little, but it was all quite cursory, rather than a truly investigative or obsessive deciphering of the band. Then I listened to Heaven or Las Vegas at work the other day and the floodgates were well and truly opened.

Cocteau Twins II

The first thing to be said about Heaven or Las Vegas is that the song writing is superb. The title track is probably the finest on the record, though Iceblink Luck and Fotzepolitic give it a run for its money. Guthrie’s (above right) craft is on full display here, through the production as well as the songwriting. The second thing to be said about Heaven or Las Vegas is that Fraser’s performances on it are probably the finest of her career. The way her voice bends and melds in and out of itself through the layering process is a thing of almost impossible beauty. Thank god for modern production techniques and multitrack recording.

Down the YouTube rabbit hole I went. I had to see clips of them playing live in their heyday. Of course they don’t disappoint. These clips capture the essence of 1980s alt-music. Check out their hair and the often times incredibly dorky outfits that Fraser adorns herself with. Check out the reel-to-reel tape player that they are using for their backing track. The understated way that they go about their business is also redolent of the time.

This is of course how I came about Crushed (above video). If any one song can be used as an example of why I so love this particular style of 1980s dreampop (see also early New Order, The Cure, The Durutti Column, Xmal Deutschland etc) it is this. The washed out, chorus heavy guitar sound, the bass used as a lead instrument, those heavily gated and reverb drenched drum sounds and the cloudy vocals. It is utterly majestic.

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