One of the biggest ongoing debates about the Cocteau Twins relates to the "lyrics," or lack thereof. For years, journalists, fans and even record labels tried desperately to decipher what Liz Fraser was singing. In the beginning, it wasn't always so difficult to figure out (and she even wrote some of them down on the sleeves of Garlands and Head Over Heels).
Over time, Liz's vocal acrobatics became increasingly complex and almost entirely obscure before returning to relative clarity in the 1990's. In fact, lyrics were included wholesale in the videos for Rilkean Heart and Half-Gifts in 1995, and later for Tishbite in 1996. The 1996 LP, Milk & Kisses also included a few lyrics, printed on the sleeve.
Liz has had many interesting things to say in response to questions about her lyrics, some of them very insightful and worth considering:
"A lot of the stuff I was singing about [in the early 1980's] was all metaphorical. I wasn't talking like I am now. I guess it's back to how much personal power you feel that you have. Like, if I'm 17 and I don't even know when I'm hungry, am I tired, have I had any sleep - if you don't even know that, then how can you talk about lyrics that come from such an unconscious place? I always said 'I dont' know', and I didn't." [Alternative Press, 1995].
"That was the point this time [Four-Calendar Café], to make them mean something. I can see that now in retrospect. Back then [Blue Bell Knoll], with the sounds, I thought I was being really honest, but now I think I'm being a lot more honest by writing things down and then singing it." [Lime Lizard Magazine, 1993].
"I've just recently realized that I'm a very secretive person, that I'm constantly covering up for myself. I'm only just realizing how much. I don't really know what's happening. I hope it doesn't mean that I won't allow myself to do more things like Blue Bell Knoll. I'd like to be able to do everything. You see, on that album, I was still expressing the same things. I was still feeling the same feelings, but I wasn't getting caught up in them. I was just feeling into a fucking microphone. I really was getting caught up in them on this album [Four-Calendar Café]. It was very painful. And the lyrics aren't even that explicit."
"What I've got to do is get honest, to stop doing what I was doing. Unfortunately, and this is typical of me, I tend to go from one extreme to the other. To go from an album like Blue Bell Knoll, which is so heavily disguised and removed from reality, to Heaven or Las Vegas, or even more to this one, where everything on it is in English and it's all audible...it is extreme, I think. But it seems important for me to do that." [Raygun, 1993].
"It's amazing though, yeah, I mean that's...I mean really the records are...a representation of our coping skills...and I think...I was very much in denial...and I think that you can hear that on the album [Blue Bell Knoll]...you know, not one word can you grasp...giving anything away...it just wasn't allowed..."
"What they are [pre-Four-Calendar Café lyrics], are words that I've taken from...maybe seen written down...in a language that I don't understand, and liking them...and maybe...making new words as well out of them. I mean I've got reams and reams of words that I don't have a clue what they mean, but...I wanted them because, I knew I'd be able to express myself without giving anything away." [NPR Interview, 1993].
"The catch is I can barely talk English, isn't it? I quite like that. Combining words in different languages that I couldn't understand just meant that I could concentrate on the sound and not get caught up in the meaning."
"See, I find that mine [lyrics] don't have any meanings. They're not proper. Although I've got a great dictionary of them. It's like the Cockney rhyming slang or something. Writers like John Lennon. Writers that just kind of made up their own portmanteaux that caught on and people still use them. They don't mean anything, though, that's the thing. You know all the transcendent sounds. It's all sound all the way through."
"...[the dictionary] is how I got some of the words. And then I got to the stage where, I don't know, something just came in. My life was a fucking mess...and I just couldn't carry on. I mean, it would have been so easy to do that. 'Cause after Blue Bell Knoll, which was really the easiest, the easiest I've ever done to make a record...I just couldn't keep going that way. I guess that was the start of learning to be aware of what was going on and what I was responsible for."
"I went to see someone this time 'cause I really got into trouble on this album. I was just freaking out all over the place. I stopped making a lot of sounds, you know. I was talking very quietly. I was just so afraid of getting loud again. 'Cause I'm not really very loud on Four-Calendar Café. I just feel like I've lost touch with that side of me and I wanted to get back in touch with it so that I can have my quiet moods and I can have my moments when I can express myself in a very loud way, as well. 'Cause that's good for other emotions." [Preceding quotes Mondo 2000, 1993].
"We have had people on the Internet who have written translations and they obviously have a natural talent for writing. Their interpretations are so beautiful that sometimes I have preferred what they have written to what I actually sang, it has been much more eloquent. Those people are not so precious about us [Cocteau Twins] and just enjoyed using their talent and it is lovely to witness. But some people are very...It seems that some people are convinced they know us better than we know ourselves, and that we ought to listen to them. They want to steer us and they are very precious about us and they do not want other people to have us. If you really love something, then you have to let it go and endorse everything about it that attracted you to it in the first place. It's just like a love affair or any relationship: you have to treat it in the same way or you'll just suffocate and destroy it in the end if you don't." [BOYZ: Saturday November 11, 1995, page 8].
All we can really be sure of is that there are few, if any, absolute answers to the question of Liz's lyrics (other than what's in her head). At the end of the day, we may all be better off just listening and enjoying, rather than searching for any hidden meaning, although there often is some meaning to it all. According to the band themselves, Liz rarely sang "gibberish," but did occasionally resort to using foreign words or a "cut and paste" approach to lyrics. Nevertheless, some fans have managed to coax some interesting interpretations, but read them at your own risk!