HEAD OVER HEELS
The cocteau twins were the most incandescent yet impenetrable of the post-punk bands. The contrast between Robin Guthrie in particular and the music he made, with its gossamer showers of guitar, was always marked. No effete dandy, his truculent refusal/inability to shed light on the Cocteaus’ creative process was always coupled with jeering derision at critics’ attempts to fill the void with their own, adjective-laden praise (“‘Gossamer showers’? You wanker!”). Liz Fraser, meanwhile, always seemed strangely disconnected from her own wordless, ethereal offerings, as baffled as the rest of us. For those who demand a strict, nutritional quota of ‘content’, the Cocteaus were always problematic, and there were some who condemned them as an airy confection. Yet while it’s hard to grasp what their music signifies, and despite its whimsical titles (“Fluffy Tufts”, “When Mama Was Moth”), it’s still rapturous and manages to pull you in deep.
Garlands, their 1982 debut, sees the Cocteaus in the thrall of post-punk’s first wave, the Banshees and Public Image Ltd. There’s also a black streak, a disturbing undertow running through their work, in songs like “Blood Bitch” and “Blind, Dumb, Deaf” which were in accordance with those more abrasive musical times. But there’s an ambience to their music which set them apart.
1983’s Head Over Heels was an affirmation of Guthrie and Fraser’s romantic bliss, to which titles such as “My Love Paramour” and “Sugar Hiccup” attest. It’s an ecstatic affair, guitars blazing like Van Gogh sunshine, with all the toxins of the debut album banished. A snowblind-white counterpoint to Siouxsie’s dark, gothic hauteur.
Treasure (1984) saw Simon Raymonde fully on board, and was a thing of pre-Raphaelite splendour. Made in a year when post-punk had all but withered away to be supplanted by the peroxide mediocrity of mid-’80s new pop, its remote, crystalline beauty was all the more conspicuous.
If this was the Cocteaus in full flow, 1986’s Victorialand saw them ebb a little?it’s subdued, more like buoys bobbing out at sea than crashing waves of guitar.
Whether you regard The Cocteau Twins as analgesic or stimulant, they are the still-vital link between the post-punk of their own era and the post-rock which they anticipated.