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history
Chapter Nineteen

"Things are so far gone now, I don't think it's a good idea. I don't like it when my favourite bands get back together." — Simon Raymonde


Fifteen years is a long time in the music business. Sure, there are bands like The Rolling Stones, The Cure or New Order who lasted longer, but they are the exception, hardly the rule. Few bands ever last more than a handful of years, if they're lucky. Some bands, unfortunately, don't recognize when it's time to stop. In 1998 the Cocteau Twins closed the book on a long and distinguished legacy of prolific creativity that has left an indelible mark on music that will, no doubt, endure. Perhaps it is, therefore, no surprise that 4AD and Bella Union (the independent label still run by Simon and Robin) have seen fit to continue to release Cocteau Twins music, as a way of tying up loose ends.

In 1999, Bella Union, in cooperation with the BBC, released a deluxe two-disc set of BBC radio session recordings, compiled from the band's numerous live studio appearances from 1982 to 1996. Providing fans with a impressive overview of the band's early and late periods, along with a few rare gems, the BBC Sessions fill an important space in the group's catalog. Early recordings include tracks from Garlands—performed live in the studio only months after the album was released—along with previously unreleased tracks like the Cocteaus' haunting cover of "Strange Fruit" and the instrumental "My Hue and Cry." Later recordings in the collection feature very high quality selections from Milk and Kisses promotional radio appearances, including acoustic renditions of "Golden-vein" and "Half-Gifts," as well as a performance of "Fifty-Fifty Clown," from the 1990 LP Heaven or Las Vegas.

When asked about the gap in the recordings on BBC Sessions, Simon replied, "[It was] partly because we'd had a bit of a falling out with [the late] John Peel. Nothing really you could pinpoint. There was just a weird vibe between us. Something happened during one of the sessions, we were probably being cantankerous about something. That sort of bled over through the 80s, we just weren't asked. Maybe we were seen as being a pain in the arse in the industry. We said 'No' to a lot of things, and people don't like the word 'No.' We should have done TOTP [Top of the Pops] when "Pearly-Dewdrops' Drops" was a hit. We were offered it but we said no. It was too scary. We didn't talk about the fear, but the bravado side of it was, 'This is bollocks—people dancing with balloons.' We just weren't comfortable in that world."

On the subject of Bella Union, Robin enthusiastically explained, "It's a logical extension of the approach that myself and Simon have taken to making music since we met. We're working with people and music we like and feel passionate about, and it's about not repeating the same stuff we experienced when we were younger. Being on Mercury sucked beyond belief, sucked so bad that I started to have respect for independents again! I've spent the last three years producing records, remixing records, developing a label, building Web sites, playing concerts, playing guitar for others. Now I think it's time to start a new band."

And he did just that. After Simon released his critically-acclaimed solo LP, Blame Someone Else, in 1998 (which featured Robin and Liz, among others, as guest artists) and its single, "It's a Family Thing," Robin announced that he would be writing music again. He called his new project, a collaboration with former Mono vocalist Siobhan De Maré, Violet Indiana. Violet Indiana's first release, an EP entitled Choke was also met with enthusiastic responses. It was followed by the LP Roulette, a single, Killer Eyes, and the EP Special. A compilation of selected tracks and b-sides, Casino was released in the United States.

Meanwhile, Elizabeth continued to find her vocal talents in high demand at the end of the 1990s. Following the break-up of the band, she had relocated to Bristol—home of the burgeoning trip-hop scene—and moved in with her partner Damon Reece, formerly of Spiritualized. There she with other artists, including Massive Attack, on whose album Mezzanine she sang three songs ("Teardrop," "Black Milk" and "Group Four"), and with whom she performed live during their 1998 UK tour. In another Massive Attack connection, Liz sang the song "This Love," on the 1998 Craig Armstrong LP The Space Between Us. She was also in demand from the film industry, and she lent her voice to two songs, "Take Me With You" from the British film The Winter Guest and "Dream Baby" from the American mystery thriller In Dreams. Perhaps one of the most notable events in Liz's solo career was her invitation by Peter Gabriel to participate in the Milennium Dome Project, the UK's very high profile and controversial Year 2000 celebration. For this, Liz appeared on two songs—"Downside Up" and "Make Tomorrow"—on OVO, the concept album that accompanied the December 31, 1999 celebrations.

In 2001, following the birth of her second daughter, Lily, and amid rumours that she was recording a solo album for Blanco y Negro Records, a white label twelve-inch recording surfaced from Liz Fraser entitled Underwater [Listen to an excerpt]. A lengthy trance-influenced piece, it made its way swiftly through the Cocteau Twins fanbase and into the hands of hundreds within a few days of its release. While opinion was largely mixed, anticipation for the fabled solo record continues unabated. (Later, the original mix was circulated, and opinions were more clearly favorable this time.)

Liz Fraser fans can continue to listen to the movies for sounds of her voice, as she has made two appearances on the soundtracks to the hugely successful The Lord of the Rings films: "Lothlorien (Lament for Gandalf)" from The Fellowship of the Ring (2001), and "Isengard Unleashed," featured in The Two Towers (2002). In May 2004 she contributed to a multimedia exhibit at the Victoria & Albert Museum in London entitled "Shhh..." for which she recorded a new vocal composition, "Expectant Mood," to accompany the museum's Raphael gallery. Subsequent collaborations with French composer Yann Tiersen and a solo appearance on a Rough Trade retrospective compilation have added to Elizabeth's busy post-Cocteau Twins career.

In 2000, the Cocteau Twins' original record label, 4AD, announced plans for a Cocteau Twins retrospective. This was part of an ongoing series of such releases organized by 4AD as a way to highlight their extensive and influential back catalog of artists. The compilation, entitled Stars and Topsoil, was released in October and featured seventeen digitally remastered songs selected from the Cocteau Twins' various 4AD recordings from 1982 to 1990. The tracks had been carefully selected by the band members and were remastered by Robin. The title, given by Liz herself, suggested that the contents were a mixture of good and bad, heaven and earth. It stands out as a comprehensive overview of the band's prolific 4AD period and includes such well-known songs as "Pearly-Dewdrops' Drops," "Lorelei," "Aikea-Guinea," "Pink Orange Red," "Orange Appled," "Carolyn's Fingers," "Iceblink luck" and "Heaven or Las Vegas." In the words of journalist Martin Aston, "The Cocteau Twins' magical music box is now closed, but what wonders it contained when opened—bewitching songs and glittering soundscapes; music that could never have anything subsequent compared to it." [Stars and Topsoil insert, 2000]

In 2003, 4AD re-released the six Cocteau Twins LPs originally recorded for the label—Garlands, Head Over Heels, Treasure, Victorialand, Blue Bell Knoll and Heaven or Las Vegas. The albums were digitally remastered by Robin Guthrie, and several featured new or slightly revised artwork. Thus signalled perhaps a renaissance of appreciation for a band that, by all accounts, managed to spend an entire career largely under the radar of popular culture. With groundbreaking new artists such as Iceland's Sigur Rós and France's M83 crediting Cocteau Twins as a major influence, it's likely their name will continue to be invoked for decades to come as their music reaches a new generation of listeners.

When asked (quite repeatedly) about the possibility of an eventual Cocteau Twins reunion, or—at the very least—the release of all or part of the legendary "unfinished" album, the band members have consistently replied in the negative. However, Simon did have these words to offer in a 2002 online discussion thread on the subject:

"No, I can't really see how any of those songs could ever be released, fascinating though some of them are in the half-dressed stages they remain.

It would not be fair for any one of us to work on these songs without the full backing of the other. Things have been weird enough between members at various times, without creating more shit to deal with. And it would require an enormous amount of work, conversations and energy to get anything like that underway and I cannot speak for anyone else in the band, but I don't even have enough time to do about half of things I want to do at the moment, so this kind of project would not make life any easier.

I think what with all the EPs and albums we left a fair legacy behind of decent stuff, and whether we all agree on what was good and bad about certain albums, when a record was finished it did signal some kind of 'agreement' that that recording time was OVER. I cannot really see that happening with the stuff that was left behind.

To describe the kind of things we were working on: Everyone was working on their own to start with and then we came to together to put things on each others stuff...Liz wanted to be more hands-on with the music and was working on sampling things from old vinyls and tapes etc and getting into the computer programmes, etc., which i thought was brilliantly adventurous of her, as she had always shied away from any composition ideas apart from her amazing voice arrangements, of course. She came up with some stunningly good melodies and vocal sketches over a couple of sample pieces, but they were never really close to being finished. Robin worked on some lovely chord progressions with guitars and keyboards and a few pieces were close to completion. I had quite a few bits and pieces that were only a day or so away from being finished, but Liz had either done loads of verses and no choruses, or the other way round, so again it is very difficult to see how one could ever go back to these tracks and finish them."

The band did come close to a reunion, however, in 2005, after committing to perform at the annual Coachella Music Festival near Palm Springs, California. Fans went wild, and tickets sold quickly; there were rumours of an extended multi-city tour and even the possibility of a new album. Cocteau Twins fans around the world were beside themselves with excitement. But, alas, it was not to be. Days before rehearsals were to have begun for the Coachella show, Elizabeth backed out of the reunion, citing personal conflicts and creative differences. The reunion—as well as any hopes of a tour or new recordings—was cancelled permanently. Cocteau Twins are three people, after all: Fraser, Guthrie and Raymonde. No reunion would have been legitimate without all of them, and it wouldn't have been Cocteau Twins. Emotions on both sides—fans and band members—ran the gamut from disappointed to irate, sad and depressed. But it was simply not meant to be. A disappointed and apologetic Robin Guthrie nevertheless made the trip to California that spring and performed his own compositions at small venues in Los Angeles. Later, he performed elsewhere in Europe and North America with his solo "Lumière" music and film project.

Following the Coachella debacle, Robin reunited with old friend and former collaborator Harold Budd on a new motion picture score for Mysterious Skin, a critically-acclaimed and controversial film from Gregg Araki. "Mysterious Skin" represents some of Guthrie's finest post-Cocteau work to-date, and the chemistry between the two musicians sounds as natural as ever.

The ongoing story of Cocteau Twins doesn't—and probably won't—end there. In celebration of its 25th anniversary, 4AD and Robin Guthrie digitally remastered and re-released the full back-catalog of Cocteau Twins EPs, singles and b-sides, including all non-4AD tracks from 1993 to 1996. The new set, entitled Lullabies to Violaine, was released in November 2005.

For now, at least, fans new and old must make do with the ongoing achievements of Elizabeth, Robin and Simon in their respective solo endeavors.

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