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Stuck by Fandom for the First Time in My Life

October 7, 2020

Ethereal, heavenly, celestial, opulent, splendid, otherworldly - these adjectives form the regular staple of people who dare to describe the music of the Cocteau Twins (pronounced: cock-tow twins). Honestly, I think it’s an effort in vain. Because this band defies all possibilities of being defined by words. Cage them in artificial genres and you will fail. You can only experience their “sacred microcosm” yourself as Azam Ali so eloquently puts it.

Yes! This is the story of when I was stuck by fandom for the very first time in my life.

Early days. Robin Guthrie and Elizabeth Fraser seen here with Will Heggie. Source: official site

Early days. Robin Guthrie and Elizabeth Fraser seen here with Will Heggie. Source: official site

In the beginning…

Trying to be a fan of a band which breathed its last almost a decade before I was even born is difficult. So when I did discover Cocteau Twins I almost felt it was a decree of God Himself to show me what celestial beauty truly felt like.

It was during a breezy rewatch of “The Perks of Being A Wallflower” (delightful story. Read more about it here) that I noticed Sam (Emma Watson) confront Charlie (Logan Lerman) with the name of a funny song title. “Then I heard this old song. Pearly Dewdrops’ Drop”. Hmph. But I took a mental passing note. Now, I have this habit of digging out trivia, soundtracks, wiki etc about any movie I watch as I believe it makes my experience more “fulfilling” somehow(!) (As a more practical perk, it sure helps me in quizzes).

I remember that first time when I innocuously played PDD on YouTube wondering it’ll be a regular song. But oh boy, there it was. Intriguing and writhing with life.

The next thing I remember is going through CT Wikipedia page, fan forum pages, Pitchfork, The Guardian, Rolling Stones and what not. I was stuck by fandom for the first time in my life. And boy, was it hard.

I came out of my dazed stupor with 2 things: their official website (gold mine of info, I still go back for a nugget!) and this beginner-friendly introduction to the CT by Vice which led me in my initial days in the dark.
(NB: I had zero interest and knowledge about music till then. Maybe a popular flick here and there on YouTube but that was it.)

A Brief History of the Cocteau Twins

Cocteau Twins was a Scottish band formed in Grangemouth, Scotland and active from 1979 to 1997.

Robin Guthrie paired with Will Heggie and started producing music from around 1979. He met 17 year old Elizabeth Fraser in 1981 at a local bar called “Nash”. With the front-lineup of guitar (Robin), bass (Will) and vocals (Liz), the band delivered their debut gothic-punk dark goodness “Garlands” in 1982 under the record label 4AD.

The band took their name from a song “The Cocteau Twins” (later rewritten as “No Cure”) by a band called “Johnny and the Self-Abusers” (later “Simple Minds”). They were no kin to the French poet Jean Cocteau.

4AD remained their record label for the most prolific years of the band, releasing acoustic aesthetics such as “Head Over Heels” (1983), “Treasure” (1984), “Victorialand” (1986), “Blue Bell Knoll” (1988) and “Heaven Or Las Vegas” (1990) alongside a number of EPs and singles under it.

Cocteau Twins, with Robin Guthrie’s brilliant and shimmering guitar, Liz’s soparno vocals and Simon’s bass to anchor heavenly mess, went on to define the genre of music christened as “dream pop”, “ethereal wave” or “shoegaze”. They were one of the pillars of British alternative music in the 80s alongside The Smiths and New Order.

They signed up with Mercury Records in the UK and Capitol for the American audience and delivered “Four-calendar cafe” (1993) and “Milk and Kisses” (1996) which was, rather unfortunately, destined to be their last studio album. The band broke up in 1997 due to conflicts mainly arising from the disintegration of the romantic relationship between Guthrie and Fraser.

The band was known to be notoriously reclusive, shying away from press interviews and live performances at large. The few occassions where they did consented provides a window into the minds of the people who make music sound like nothing ever conceived, all well documented here.

The band participated in 4AD’s The Mortal Coil project in 1983, producing the spine-chilling cover of Tim Buckley’s Song to the Siren with Elizabeth Fraser’s voice at its purest and Robin Guthrie’s guitar to complement it. Simon Raymonde joined the Twins later that year as a result of this collaboration as the bassist. Will Heggie had left the band after ‘Garlands’ and ‘Head Over Heels’ was essentially a Robin-Liz production. This trio was set to lead the Twins to glory.

The band members chose their paths relatively independent of each others. Simon Raymonde found his own music label Bella Union Records. Elizabeth has lent her voice to various artist productions, most notable among them is perhaps on Teardrop on Massive Attack’s Mezzanine album. Robin recorded his solo album, Imperial with Harold Budd, which went on to become the film score of Gregg Araki’s Mysterious Skin.

Get what Cocteau Twins really are (and what they are not):

(l-r): Robin Guthrie, Simon Raymonde and Elizabeth Fraser, pictured in 1983, a year before their signature album, Treasure. Source: Google Images

(l-r): Robin Guthrie, Simon Raymonde and Elizabeth Fraser, pictured in 1983, a year before their signature album, Treasure. Source: Google Images

The soundscapes matter. Not the lyrics. Liz uses her voice as an instrument which weaves that magnificent tapestry of acoustic grandeur alongside Robin Guthrie’s guitar and Simon Raymonde’s bass. It is not conventional singing which one expects.

The CT tracks are not in any way singalongs. In fact the lyrics are so obscured, you can only ever hear the sounds in your head and heart but can never hum it in the bathroom.

CT tracks are not party music. They are really meant to be listened in solitary, perhaps with a companion (more on this later!) on a breezy afternoon with the sun rays obliquely filtering through the curtains.

The Cocteau Twins never supplied any lyric sheets with their records, save for the occasion of “Four Calendar Cafe” where Liz specifically wanted people to know the turbulence in her life and the failing marriage.

It has been recorded and documented that people have tried to make babies to their tracks(!).

A confession

Google “Cocteau Twins” and you’ll be presented with a heavily SEO’d set of webpages from major review sites I don’t wanna name with titles like “10 of the best CT tracks”, “20 of the greatest dream pop”. Don’t pay heed to those articles. They are bullshit.

How can you just pick up only the most prominent tracks from a band’s repertoire without taking into consideration their entire output? It only shows negligence when you don’t research enough and are in a rush to publish an article for a screaming boss or whatever.

But please understand it leads to a shrewd perception of reality for whosoever comes after and is counting on you to give them accurate information. (this applies to you even more if you are admired and looked up to.) You are responsible.

Closing Remarks

Steven Sutherland’s daring review of Treasure, 1984. Notice the last sentence. Source: official site

Steven Sutherland’s daring review of Treasure, 1984. Notice the last sentence. Source: official site

And just like that the Cocteaus shot into limelight suffusing our lives with joy and yearning. And as swiftly, they dispersed. Be whatever it may, as Trash Theory puts it, “for those who listened, they meant everything”.

Can’t get enough?

  1. Head over to Eric Roosendall’s exhaustive review of every Cocteau track in the most passionate manner. This is my definitive encyclopedia of the Cocteaus. Every CT fan must read the whole subsite at least once. It’s amazing.

  2. There is no higher clearing house than the official website when it comes to discrepancies or tracking rarities. Check out “News and Press”; it was particularly enthralling for a 17 y/o in 2020 reading band interviews and album reviews of the 80s.

Basil | @itbwtsh

Tech, Science, Design, Economics, Finance, and Books.
Basil blogs about complex topics in simple words.
This blog is his passion project.